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Friday, 23 November 2012

Did you know Series (14): Shanghai Museum :A treasure trove of ancient Chinese , Indian and Islamic coinage

Did you know Series (14): Shanghai Museum : 
A treasure trove of ancient Chinese , Indian and Islamic coinage:

 Shanghai Museum : A brief:

The Shanghai Museum is located at the People’s square in the Huangpu district of Shanghai, China and is spread over an area of 38000 sq. metres . The museum was founded in 1952 at the former Racecourse club house and was opened at  its present location on 12th October 1996.
The exterior of the museum has the shape of an ancient “bronze ding” (an ancient bronze cooking vessel) or a “Chen Ding”.  The inspiration for the design has come from an exhibit in the museum called the “Da ke Ding”. Its unique architectural form of a round top with a square base, symbolizes the ancient Chinese philosophy that the square Earth is under a round sky.

  A frontal view of Shanghai museum.

Dedicated primarily to the ancient Arts , it branches into eleven galleries, ten permanent ones being:
coins and currency (numismatics), ceramics, paintings, Ming and Qing dynasty furniture, seals, jades, calligraphy, sculpture, ancient Chinese bronzes and crafts of China’s National Minorities. Exhibits include acquisitions from abroad, including India, Arabic countries etc.

The numismatic collection of the museum is almost 1800 pieces of coins and currency, which is a treasure trove of ancient and modern coinage and currency for the numismatic enthusiasts, researchers and historians.

The following photos were taken by Mr. I. Chandra Sekhar, during a visit to the Shanghai museum and he has contributed them for this post on learning of my interest in Numismatics. One can easily see that Mr. Chandra Sekhar has a keen interest in the field of numismatics and has taken very detailed photographs which were a delight to compile in this post.

Introductory plaque of the history of money circulation in China from the pre-Qin period (pre -221 B.C.), through the Qin and Han dynasties (221 B.C. - 220 AD), to the Song dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) when paper currency was brought into circulation, to the modern Chinese coins (1875 - 1908 A.D.).

Weight metal ingots and round coins with holes.

Introduction of silver ingots during the reign of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.), in addition to the round coins with holes.

Some  specimens of coins of the Qing dynasty.

Methods of casting/minting coins from the pre-Qin period onwards. eg: bunch casting, stacking casting and sand mould casting.

The molten metal was poured in the round compartments and the mould was folded through the middle and pressed till the coins had taken shape.

Some more varieties of moulds used for coin minting:


Since 1890, China adopted Western coin minting techniques and Chinese copper and silver coins (dollars) were issued for circulation.

This plaque tells us that engraved wooden plates or cast metal plates were used for the first time in the 10th century for paper money printing.  Later, in the nineteenth century stone plate and machine printing was introduced for paper money printing. Some of the plate designs used for the purpose:

A manual, single coin minting machine, which minted coins by applying downward pressure of the screw bolt.

This plaque tells us that the above equipment was used to mint copper dollars in the late Qing period.


This plaque mentions the inflow of foreign coins into China through trade connections during the Ming and Qing eras.  Some of the foreign gold coins which are shown below have inscriptions in English on the periphery of the coins:

The first coin on the left top hand side has the inscription" EL PODER EN LA CONSTITUCION" and the coin is dated 1846.

The second coin on the top right hand side has the inscription "4 CENTENARIO DO DESCOBRIMENTO DO BRASIL" and is dated "1900". Below the figure of the person depicted on the coin is mentioned "PADR ALVARES CABRAL".

The third coin shown on the bottom left hand side has the inscription "EPISCOPUS HARBERSTAD DUK   BRUNSVIC ET LUNE HENRICUS JULIUS DEI GRA NOSTUIAI"

The fourth coin shown on the bottom right hand side has the inscription "BRUNSVICENSIS ET LUNE BURGENSIS FRIDERICUS ULRICUS DEI GRATIA".

 A plaque telling us about the Paper money of the Qing Dynasty. The Central Government issued the notes of "Shunzhi Chaoguan", "Daqing Baochao", Hubu Guanpiao" and official bank exchange notes. The provincial Banks and financial institutions issued their own paper currency.

Paper currency exhibits from the Qing period. 

It is interesting to know that when travellers/merchants transited on lonely roads with their gold, silver and other valuables, they were often robbed of their riches by robbers/thieves/dacoits on the way. This was one of the reasons that paper currency/promissory notes gained currency in usage by travellers travelling through unsafe passages.

 Since 1840, several foreign countries have set up their own Banks for issuing currency notes in China.

 Bank notes issued by foreign Banks in 1900 (Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation - a five dollars note issued from Shanghai) and 1907 (Deutsche Asiatische Bank - a 20 tael note issued from Peking).

A five dollars Bank Note issued by the Chartered Bank of India, Australia & China in Hong Kong in 1918. (For more on Coins and currency of Hong Kong, please click here ).

A 100 dollars  note issued by the International Banking Corporation.

These gold coins are from the period of Khusro II (590-628 A.D).

These gold coins are from the period of Hormazd IV (579-590).

This plaque tells us that the early Kushan coinage was influenced by Greek and Roman mints having Greek lettering  and Gods (1 - 3 A.D.). By the end of the first century , in the reign of Kushan King Vima Kadphises, the Kushans had their own mint which showed the King standing on the obverse and Shiva, the destroyer (in the Hindu Trilogy) standing with "Nandi" the Bull, (which was used as his Ride).

Coins of Kujula Kadphises.


 Gold and copper coins issued during the reign of Vasudeva during the Kushano - Sassanian period (230-400 A.D.).The plaque given below tells us that in the 3rd century, the Sassanians defeated the Kushans and the Kushan territories were given in the charge of a Sassanian prince. Nevertheless, (as shown above), the coinage still continued to be issued in the Kushan tradition with the King Vasu Deva standing in a stately pose on the obverse, while  on the reverse was an image of Shiva (the destroyer in the Hindu trilogy) standing with "Nandi" the bull (his ride) on the reverse of the coins.

Later when the Sassanians were defeated by an Islamic power, silver coinage of the Sassanian King (now a vassal state) was in circulation, although the governor's name and year of issue etc. was mentioned in Arabic.

 An exhibit of coins issued during the time of Ardashir Kushanshah I.

Gold and copper coins of Kanishka II, showing the standing King  on the obverse.


Gold coins of Kanishka III with the standing King  on the obverse.

Gold coins minted during the Gandhara period.

More gold coins from the Gandhara period. Notice that the edges have been smoothed out into round shapes.

Gold coins of Vasishka.

Gold coins issued in the Magadha kingdom (7-4 B.C.).

Gold coins issued in the Kosala kingdom (7-5 B.C.).

 Gold coins issued in the kingdom of Taxila.

Gold coins and ingots used in the kingdom of Taxila between 8-1 B.C.

This plaque tells us that ancient Indian coinage had only the punchmarked symbols instead of any lettering. The weight of coins varied and was measured by a certain flower seed weighing 0.104 gms to 0.177 gms in weight. This was the traditionally accepted practice of using plant seed as the standard unit for weighing goods. In China a millet seed was used called "shu". In ancient India, the weights and measures system commonly used for commodities etc. was the seeds of "wheat berry" and "ratti"( with 12 "ratti" being the equivalent of one "masha" and 12 "masha" being equivalent to 1 "tola" or 11.66375 gms. These measures are still used in India by Jewellers).

 Gold coins issued during the Avanti period (in 5-4 B.C.) and the Mauryan empire (321-187 B.C.)

Square shaped gold coins issued during the Sunga period (187-75 B.C.).

This plaque tells us that with the rise of Islam in the Arabian Peninsula, Middle and West Asia, Coinage minted along the "Silk Road" carried Islamic characteristics. Since no idol worship is there in the Islamic religion, these coins carried sentences/verses from the scriptures as well as the Caliph's name, both written in the Kufic script.

Gold coins issued during the Umyyad period (667-749 A.D.) and Abbasid period (749-1258 A.D.) in the afore-mentioned manner.

Gold coins issued during the period of Nuh (942-945 A.D.), Malik I (954-961 A.D.), Mansur I (961-976 A.D.), Mansur II (997-999 A.D.) etc.

Gold coins issued during the times of  Badayu (1295 A.D.), Mahmud Ghazan (1295-1304 A.D., the Mongol ruler of Persia), and Uljaytu (1304-1316 A.D.)

Gold coins issued during the period of Abusaid (1316-1335 A.D.)

 An acknowledgement by the Shanghai museum to the contributors of several of the coins displayed in the museum.

A photo of Mr. I. Chandra Sekhar taken at the Shanghai museum.

(This post has been compiled by Rajeev Prasad and photos edited by Sumita Chaudhry).


1)Currency-and-Coins-of-Macau: A Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China 

2) Yuan Shih-Kai or "Fatman" or "Big Head" silver dollar

3) Currency of the People's Republic of China

4)Currency & Coinage of the Spl. Administrative Region of Hong Kong