Japanese Nagasaki export coins 1600 AD
Imitation of Chinese Yuan Feng (Song Dynasty)
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Reference: Hartill 25.62
Weight: 3 grams; Size: 23 mm; Material: Bronze
Nagasaki export coins 1600 AD
The Tokugawa era (1600-1868) is sometimes erroneously described as the era when Japan shut itself off from the outside world and became a "closed country." The ruling Tokugawa regime greatly restricted sites of foreign trade following the 1630's and did prohibit (with certain exceptions) the travel of Japanese abroad in the interests of maintaining peace at home and abroad. Insofar as this goes Japan was partially "closed." However the volume of foreign trade did not decline, indeed it continued to grow until the early 1700's and throughout the Tokugawa period Japan maintained trading relations with just about every country within a thousand miles, and with the Dutch East India Company as well. Furthermore, Japanese coinage and bullion played an important role in the East Asian economy until the early eighteenth century.
The Tokugawa clan gave rights to certain foreign trade to the following regional daimyo domains: Tsushima domain had a monopoly of the Korean trade carried out through the merchant quarter granted it in Pusan by the Korean king; Satsuma domain monopolized the Ryuukyuu trade through Kagoshima, and Matsumae domain monopolized the Ainu trade in Ezo (Hokkaido). Each of these sites were also sites of indirect trade with China--high quality silk and cloth being the main import into Japan. The Tokugawa clan itself opened up only one port for direct trade with with China and Southeast Asia and with the Dutch East India Company, and this was the city of Nagasaki. Since all other ports than the above were closed to foreign trade Nagasaki was a most important site of interface with Asia and Europe during the Tokugawa era.
In the 17th century Japan was one of the great silver producers of the world. China imported silver from Japan and the Americas in great quantities, and indirectly was an economic engine for Europe and its colonies in America. Japanese mines also produced significant quantities of copper and Nagasaki's main exports were silver and copper. From the year 1659 until about1685 great amounts of copper coins were minted in Nagasaki and exported. These coins were based on locally carved mother coins but used the words of Song era Chinese coins. By far the most common is the formal script (kaishou) Genpou Tsuuhou (Yuan Feng Tong Bao) pictured above. It is easily distinguished from the Chinese Song coin because the Song coin exists mainly in seal script and semi cursive script. The Nagasaki coin nevertheless comes in an enormous variety of character shapes and sizes, which is suprising because the coins all come from one mint. I cannot think of any Kan'ei tsuuhou mint which produced anything near this variety.
I present examples of some of the common varieties of the Nagasaki coins and attempt a typology based upon Japanese practices of distinguishing coins. This is nowhere near exhaustive; indeed contains much less than half of the common varieties. I will write the type descriptions in Japanese and in English translation. If your browser does not support Japanese characters the Japanese will appear garbled but you can safely ignore it.
Travel back in time to storied feudal Japan - to the land of samurai, daimyo (warlords) and shoguns! This much-mythologized period has been widely celebrated in the popular media and arts. From NBC's Heroes to the novel and miniseries Sh¨gun to the Tom Cruise big-screen epic The Last Samurai, feudal Japan has captured our collective imagination for decades. The original kanei tsuho coins were made at the Edo mint, which was most likely inside Edo Castle proper, the main stronghold of the shogunate in Tokyo.
The mon was the main unit of currency in Japan until 1870, when it was replaced by the yen. It resembles and was derived from the Chinese wenor cash coin. The coins have a square hole in the middle, which allowed them to be produced using less metal than a solid coin, but which more importantly allowed them to be strung together on a piece of string, for easy transport and payment.
The "bun" mint mark is the kanji character on the reverse of the coin. It indicates that this coin was cast in Edo (modern-day Tokyo). The coins are sometimes called bunsen, because of the "bun" character. The term "bun" is the second syllable of the Japanese word kanbun. The Kanbun era is the name for the Japanese era spanning the years 1661 to 1673, during which the coins were made.
Kanei Tsuho coins are named after the era in which they were introduced. Kanei (often written "Kan'ei" is the name of the Japanese era spanning the years 1624 through 1643. Thus the term kanei tsuho literally means "money of the Kan'ei era". Even though the Kan'ei era ended in 1643, the term for the 1 Mon coins remained in use for over two hundred years!
Despite their high grade and attractive appearance, these coins are not reproductions. Each coin is guaranteed to be an original, solid copper 1668-Bun Square Hole 1 Mon, cast in Edo (Tokyo) and grading a very nice very fine. A little bit of verdigris is typical on these coins, but they are much nicer than usually found (when they can be found at all!).
For a more detailed exploration of the Tokugawa Shogunate, as well as the city of Edo and the culture of the Floating World, please see the article further down in this presentation.
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