Monday, October 4, 2010

The Story of the Five Ancient Chinese Notes from Tang to Ming Dynasty

Left: Tang Dynasty 30 Kuan 860-874
Center: Southern Sung Dynasty 20 Taels 1275-1276
Right: Yuan Dynasty 4 Kuan 1330-1332

Left: Ming Dynasty 10 Kuan 1403-1425
Right: Ming Dynasty 1 Kuan 1643

For over 150 years, these five notes had been the prized possession of some very savvy collectors and dealers who believed they were genuine surviving specimens of ancient Chinese paper money.

The notes purport to come from German collector George Pflumer of Hameln. In 1926 Pflumer sold his entire collection to the Marquess of Bute of Great Britain who, in turn, sold the collection to Spink's in 1970. The notes were later acquired by Ted Uhl, a well-known U. S. paper money dealer.

Around 1983, Uhl sold the notes to George D. Hatie, General Counsel and immediate past President of American Numismatic Association (ANA). Hatie had some misgivings about the authenticity of these notes. He sought advice from several experts in ancient Chinese money, among them, Bruce W. Smith and Sup Loy.

For many years, the sole reference for ancient Chinese notes was an 1833 Chinese numismatic catalog, 泉布统誌, Ch'uan Pu T'ung Chih (Ancient Coin Catalog) by Lin Meng. The catalog was later translated by Kojiro Tomita for Andrew McFarland Davis, who published it under the title "Ancient Chinese Paper Money as Described in a Chinese Work on Numismatics" in 1918. Many Asian scholars noticed inconsistencies in the catalog and concluded it's a hoax, and the notes, copied from those described in the catalog, are forgeries. These notes are believed to be printed in the 1800's, and began turning up in the West in the early 1900's. Many now believe the notes are the product of someone's imagination. Genuine ones simply do not exist and never did exist. The work may have been based on forgeries that the author believed were real, but the other possibility is that the author was the forger. In any event, the book and the notes are bogus.

Upon learning that these notes were not genuine, Hatie returned them to Uhl for refund. So what happened to these five notes? They somehow ended up in the collection of William H. McDonald, Founder and first President of Canadian Paper Money Society (CPMS). I bought the notes from his son-in-law who inherited them.

How do we know the Ch'uan Pu T'ung Chih is bogus? Bruce W. Smith wrote:

1. First, every Asian scholar who has mentioned the work, has labeled it a fraud. These scholars include Dr. Lien-Shen Yang of Harvard; Dr. Thomas F. Carter, author of the standard work "The Invention of Printing In China"; Paul Pelliot, the French scholar; and Karl Wittfogel in his book "History of Chinese Society - The Liao Dynasty".

2. These scholars pointed out errors in the texts of the notes; terms that hadn't yet been invented; place names that were not in use at the time of the notes; etc.

3. The first clue to the bogus nature of the book is that the notes, though covering an 800 year range, all look pretty much alike. In fact, they are all based on the Ming note. All have a heading at the top, decorations around the edge, a pictorial representation of the value in the upper center, and a date and text about counterfeiting at the bottom. It is reasonable to assume that the first Chinese notes would be rather simple looking, and that the design and layout would change over 800 years.

4. Furthermore, the names and denominations of the notes described in the Ch'uan Pu T'ung Chih do not agree with descriptions in official government records of the various dynasties. (as published in the official dynastic histories).

5. Finally, there are in existence today a number of plates used to print notes of the Chin (Jin) and Yuan dynasties. These have been published in various Chinese and Japanese works, but are little known in the West. These plates do not match the notes shown in the Ch'uan Pu T'ung Chih. Also, there are some genuine notes of the Chin (Jin) and Yuan dynasties extant today. Several different notes have been found by archaeologists and are preserved in Russia, Sweden and China. These notes have been published in those countries, but are almost unknown to collectors, especially in the USA. These notes also do not match those in the Ch'uan Pu T'ung Chih.


Jimmy said...

Like the old Chinese saying, your story 'got head' but 'no tail'. So, what was the verdict? Are these notes gunuine or what?

Nutmegcollector said...

I have added additional details to the story.

Alex said...

Any reasonably experienced collectors of ancient Chinese paper money could tell these are fakes on first glance.

David Schrock said...

When you see the loyalty credit on your statement, please know that we are subtracting that amount from your total. At Sterling Currency Group, we are very happy to have this program for our loyal customers and want to be certain that everyone clearly understands the benefits it provides when buying dinar or other currency. This is a very simple program and it is designed to be a benefit to our loyal customers. Here you can find a lot of useful information