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Wednesday, 10 June 2015

191) Coinage and Currency of South Korea: "Won" and "Jeon": (Part 1): The Historical Development of the Coinage of South Korea:

191) Coinage and Currency of South Korea: "Won" and "Jeon": (Part I): The Historical Development of the Coinage of South Korea:

The Currency of South Korea is the Won, sub-divided into 100 Jeon.

About Korea:

Korea is called the “Land of the Morning Calm” and is situated in a peninsula in North Eastern Asia, bordering China.

Oral tradition has it that Korea had its own distinctive civilisation from over 4000 years ago, but recorded history is available only from about the first century BC.

Around 935 AD, the entire territory was named “Koryo” or Korea, when three kingdoms merged into one to form a bigger and more powerful State.

In 1905, Korea became a Japanese Protectorate and was annexed to Japan in 1910.

During the Japanese Colonial era, the Won was replaced at par by the Korean yen.

In 1943, the Cairo Conference, resolved that, Korea “should be free and independent”, but, in 1945, towards the end of the World War II, the Soviet Union attacked Japan and invaded Manchuria and Korea from the North. Around the same time, US forces landed in the South. After World War II, when Korea was liberated from the Japanese, the Potsdam Conference resolved that the country be split along the 38th parallel with the North becoming the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (under Communist influence) and the rest of the territory in the South, becoming the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

In 1948, the Soviet Union barred UN personnel from supervising free elections which could have led to a reunification of the North & South, as a result, the Republic of Korea, with its capital at Seoul, was formally proclaimed on 15.08.1948.

On 25.08.1948, unsupervised elections took place in the North and the Democratic People’s Republic, with its capital at Pyongyang was created.

In 1950, North Korean forces quickly overran the South. US forces under a UN mandate, intervened in the conflict which saw several fiercely fought battles for territorial supremacy, with heavy casualties on both sides, till China mediated a truce.

Ever since, both Koreas have been in a state of warlike confrontation with the US actively supporting the South.

No one knows who actually won, as both countries have been using separate currencies called the “Won” which replaced the Korean yen at par. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun. (:-).

Evolution of coinage before the Division of Korea:

From 996 AD, Korea had a copper cash currency for many centuries.

In the 17th Century a new series of coins known as “Shang Ping” (Stabilisation money) was circulated.

About 1742, a second series of coins was introduced.

Until 1888, these coins continued to be in circulation when they were replaced by small silver and bronze coins from 1 to 3 Chon. These coins were struck on modern presses.

In 1892, the coinage was reformed when the silver Yang sub-divided into 100 Fun were circulated.

In 1893, the Hwan of 5 Yang or 500 Fun was circulated.

Around 1903, the Won of 100 Chon superseded the earlier circulating currency. The denomination on these coins was mentioned in English and all other inscriptions were in Chinese characters. These coins also depicted a Phoenix or dragon on the Obverse.

During the brief reign of the last emperor, Kuang Mu, a few gold 10 and 20 Won coins were minted.

In 1910, when the country was annexed to Japan, only Japanese coins remained in circulation, till the liberation of Korea in 1945.

In South Korea:

Bank of Korea (BOK):

The Bank of Korea is the Central Bank of South Korea established on 12.06.1950 at Seoul, South Korea under the Bank of Korea Act. As the Korean economy following the liberation of the country on 15.08.1945, was in the grip of rampant inflation, the Bank of Korea’s primary task was to rein in the severe inflation and bring about a semblance of price stability and financial order. Accordingly, it had a wide range of powers in regard to the Monetary, Credit and Financial policy, Bank Supervision, Foreign Exchange policy, as well as, having the exclusive right to issue Banknotes and coins. In effect, the Bank of Korea took over the functions of the Bank of Joseon.

The Central Bank maintains close co-operation with other Central Banks and multilateral organisations like the BIS, IMF and acts as the Central Bank of the G-20 Summit nations.

The first South Korean Won was sub-divided into 100 Jeon.

On 15.02.1953, the first South Korean Won was replaced by the “Hwan” sub-divided into 100 “Chon” at an exchange rate of 1 Hwan to 100 Won.

In 1953, a Series of Banknotes was issued which denominated in the Hwan, with English lettering. These were the first issues of Hwan Banknotes.

Until 1959, no coins were issued.

In 1959-1961, a series of 3 coins from 10, 50 and 100 Hwan were issued. These coins had the numerical/denominational value of the coins on the Obverse and pictorial depictions on the Reverse, showing a rose of Sharon – the National Flower of South Korea (10 Hwan), a turtle warship (50 Hwan) and a bust of the first President Syngman Rhee (100 Hwan).

The 50 Hwan coins of this Series and the 5 Won coins of the 1966 Series featured the “Turtle warship” or the “Geobukseon”, invented by Admiral Yi Sunsin. With a fleet of these ironclad vessels, he defeated the Japanese in Chinhai Bay in 1592, which was a decisive action at Sea, akin to the defeat of the Spanish Armada against the English under Francis Drake in 1588.

In 09.06.1962, the Second South Korean Won Series was introduced which replaced the Hwan at an exchange rate of 1 Won to 10 Hwan.

 Until 1966, 10 and 50 Hwan coins (revalued as 1 and 5 Won) were the only coins in circulation.

On 16.08.1966, Won coins in the denominations of 1 (Brass) depicting the Rose of Sharon, 5 and 10 Won (both denominations struck in Bronze – depicting the Geobukseon and the Dabotap Pagoda respectively) were issued.

These were the first South Korean coins to show the date in the Gregorian calendar. The earlier coins had followed the Korean calendar.  In this Series, pictorial images were depicted on the Obverse and the numerical denominations of the coins were seen on the Reverse. Some of the depictions included – the Dabotap Pagoda, the turtle warship etc.

In 1968, the metal content of the 1 Won coins was changed to Aluminium, as it was no longer economical to issue this denomination in Brass due to inflationary pressures.

In 1970, 5 Won and 10 Won coins were struck in Brass and Cupro-Nickel 100 Won coins (depicting Admiral Yi Sun-Sin) were circulated.

In 1972, 50 Won Cupro-Nickel coins (depicting a stalk of rice) were put into circulation.

From 22.03.1975, the Won became the sole legal tender with the Hwan denominations of 10 and 50 Hwan being demonetised on 22.03.1975.

This Series has been permanently in circulation in South Korea, though recently with standardised issue of coinage.

On 12.06.1982, 500 Won coins were introduced.

In January 1983, for the purpose of standardising the coins and increasing the security features to prevent counterfeiting, a new Series of Banknotes in the denominations of 1000, 5000 and 10000 Won and Coinage in the denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 Won were issued.

Assigning Series Designations to Banknotes and Coins:

The Bank of Korea designates Banknotes and Coin Series in a unique manner.

Instead of putting those Banknotes or Coins of similar design and issue dates, but of different denominations, in the same Series, the Central Bank assigns Series number say “n” to the “nth” design to individual  denominations.

For example, the Series number for the 50000 Won Banknote issued on 23.06.2009, the Series number is I, because, it is the first time ever, this denomination of Banknote is issued under the 2006-2007 Series. Similarly, within the same Series the 1000 Won banknote is designated Series III, because this is the third time ever that this denomination/design of Banknote has been issued.

Third Series of Coinage (1982 onwards):

The Obverse of the 1 Won coin depicts the Rose of Sharon, & the denominational value in Hangul.

The Rose of Sharon: The plants traditionally referenced by various authorities are – a kind of Crocus which grows in the coastal plain of Sharon, Tulip Montana (which is a bright red Tulip like flower) found in the hills of Sharon, Tulipa agenensis (or the Sharon Tulip), Lilium candidum (or the “Madonna Lily”) and Narcissus.

In modern usage, the name also applies to two different plants which are different from the ones referred to in traditional sources: Hypericum calycinum – which is an evergreen flowering shrub found in Southeast Europe – and southwest Asia and Hibiscus syriacus – which is a deciduous flowering shrub found in East Asia. 

The Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) is the National Flower of South Korea

The first references of the Rose of Sharon (“Mugunghwa” – the name which was first used by the poet Lee Gyu-bo – 1168-1241 – of the Goryeo Dynasty) in Korea are found in an article written over 1400 years ago. Later, in a mythological fiction “Xuanzhongji” written in the Eastern Jin Dynasty of China, there is a reference to this flower viz.” The Land of Wisemen is spread for 1000 li where Mugunghwa flowers bloom plentifully”.

The Reverse of the 1 Won coin depicts the denominational value in numeral “1”, the year of issue in the Gregorian calendar and the Bank title in Hangul.

The specifications of this coin are:

Metal Composition: Aluminium; Diameter: 17.2 mm; Weight: 0.729 gms; Edge: Plain. Year of first minting: 1983. Series designation: Series III

The above is the Obverse of a 5 Won coin showing a Geobukseon (turtle warship), issued in 1983.

The Obverse of the 5 Won coin depicts the Geobukseon, & the denominational value in Hangul.

                        The above is an image of replica of a Geobukseon.
                           The replica of a dragon head of a Geobukseon
                        The replica of the spikes on a Geobukseon.

“Geobukseon” (or the Turtle War-ship): This was a large two-masted, wind and oar-driven Korean warship that was used by the Royal Korean Navy during the Joseon Dynasty from the early 15th century till the 19th century. The ship derives its name from its protective shell-like covering.

It was designed by Admiral Yi Sun-sin, the most famous of Sea Admirals of all-time. Turtle warships participated in the War against Japanese Naval forces supporting Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s attempts to conquer Korea from 1592 to 1598. These warships were used alongside the “Panokseon” warships in sea battles against the Japanese.

The Turtle warships were between 100 to 120 feet long, with a dragon head large enough to fit upto four cannon inside – it could belch poisonous smoke or cannonballs depending on the intensity/closeness of battle, serving as a form of psychological warfare aimed at striking fear in the hearts of the Japanese sailors. The ship was equipped with a battering ram.

 The Turtle ship was covered with metal plates making it a form of ironclad and the first known ship of this kind in naval history. The roof over the upper deck was covered with iron spikes to prevent boarding by enemy combatants, which the Japanese were adept at. The spikes were covered with empty rice sacks or rice mats to lure the Japanese into trying to board the ship, where the potential boarders would be gored to death/serious injury by the spikes.

 The cannon used on the Turtle ship were the “Chonja” (Heaven), “Jija” (Earth), “Hyonja” (Black) and “Hwangja” (Yellow) type cannon. There was also an Arquebus (a portable gun supported by a tripod or trestle or placed upon a forked rest) known as “Sungja” (Victory). The Sungja cannon ranged 200 metres while the Hwangja was the lightest with a range of 1200 metres. The Geobukseon could carry upto eleven cannon on each side.

The turtle ships were used as close-assault vessels, intended to ram enemy ships and sink them. They could attack Japanese ships continuously by firing fire-arrows and unleash a broadside of cannonballs through repeated alternate approaches, even as close as 18-30 feet, destroying the enemy vessels completely without any damage to itself as the heavy timber and iron plating deflected arrows and Arquebus rounds.

                  The Reverse of a 5 Won coin issued in 1983.

The Reverse of the 5 Won coin depicts the denominational value in numeral “5”, the year of issue in the Gregorian calendar and the Bank title in Hangul.

The specifications of this coin are:

Metal Composition: Brass (65% copper, 35% Zinc); Diameter: 20.4 mm; Weight: 2.95 gms; Edge: Plain. Year of first minting: 1983. Series designation: Series III.

The Obverse of the 10 Won coin depicts the Dabotap Pagoda, & the denominational value in Hangul.

Dabotap Pagoda: The Stone Pagoda “Dabotap” is located in the temple of Bulguksa in Gyeongju, South Korea. It is also known as the “Pagoda of many treasures”.

This Pagoda was built in 751, during the reign of the Shilla King Gyeongdeok.

It is a three-storey pagoda standing at 10.4 metres tall, which was built in an ornate style usually not seen in other Buddhist countries. The sculpture techniques used are unique for its time and include very subtle features.

The Pagoda was dismantled by the Japanese in the 1920s, when Korea was under Japanese occupation.

The Dabotap along with another Pagoda, the Seokgatap also located in Bulguksa reflect a story in the Lotus sutra.

Dabo (or “Prabhutaratna”), a Buddha who had achieved enlightenment, riding the Tower of Many treasures, appeared in person to attest to the validity of Sakyamuni’s sermons at Vulture Peak. Both Dabo and Sakyamuni then sat side by side within the tower. Dabo represents the “objective truth”, while Sakyamuni represents the “subjective wisdom” to realize it.

The Dabotap Pagoda is highly decorative and exhibits feminine features symbolising “the complexity of the World”, while the Seokgatap Pagoda is a highly simplified structure exhibiting masculine features symbolising “the brevity of spiritual ascent”.

The Reverse of the 10 Won coin depicts the denominational value in numeral “10”, the year of issue in the Gregorian calendar and the Bank title in Hangul.

The specifications of this coin are:

1983 issues:

Metal Composition: Brass (65% copper, 35% Zinc); Diameter: 22.86 mm; Weight: 4.06 gms; Edge: Plain. Year of first minting: 1983. Series designation: Series III.

2006 issues:

Metal Composition: Copper plated Aluminium (48% copper, 52% Zinc); Diameter: 18.00 mm; Weight: 1.22 gms; Edge: Plain. Year of first minting: 2006. Series designation: Series IV.

The Obverse of the 50 Won coin depicts a Stalk of Rice, & the denominational value in Hangul.

The Reverse of the 50 Won coin depicts the denominational value in numeral “50”, the year of issue in the Gregorian calendar and the Bank title in Hangul.

The specifications of this coin are:

Metal Composition: 70% copper, 18% Zinc, 12% Nickel); Diameter: 21.60 mm; Weight: 4.16 gms; Edge: Milled. Year of first minting: 1983. Series designation: Series II.

The Obverse faces of 100 Won coins issued in 1986, 1988, 2002, 2004

The Obverse of the 100 Won coin depicts a portrait of Admiral Yi Sun-sin, & the denominational value in Hangul.

Admiral Yi Sun-sin (28.04.1545 – 16.12.1598): He was a Korean Naval Admiral, famed for his victories against the Japanese Navy during the “Imjin War” during the reign of the Joseon dynasty. Yi is also the famed inventor of the “Geobukseon” (or the turtle War-ship), which was the World’s first Ironclad Warship.

 He was well-respected both by his men, as well as, his adversaries. He is remembered as the greatest Naval Commander in the history of Naval combat and he remained undefeated against insurmountable odds despite having no naval training although he underwent training as an infantry officer. He remained undefeated in over 23 naval battles, the only Naval Commander ever to have such a phenomenal record. His most memorable military achievement was in the battle of Myeongnyang.

Yi fell out of favour with the Joseon King, who was a weakling given to court intrigue and his opponents always conspired to keep Yi from gaining men, material and operational freedom. So much so, they even contrived to get King Seonjo to have Yi imprisoned and tortured to the point of death. King Seonjo, himself, feared that Yi’s growing popularity might make him challenge his own title to the Korean throne. Yi was demoted in rank and made to serve under junior officers.

Meanwhile, in 1597, the Japanese launched a massive attack on Korea, with about 140,000 men and 1000 ships. Yi’s successor Won Gyun’s fleet of 150 Warships (with 30000 men which had been carefully assembled by Yi),  was caught unawares and destroyed except for 13 ships that Admiral Bae Seol managed to flee the engagement with.

King Senjo fearing his own safety, hurriedly pardoned Yi and reinstated him as the Commander of the vastly reduced fleet of 13 ships.

Yi’s fleet was vastly outnumbered 133 warships (and 200 logistical support ships) to only 13 and he was forced to make a last stand in the defence of Seoul against an invading Japanese Army, but he managed to destroy 33 of the enemy vessels, striking fear among the Japanese navy, which retreated in disarray. There is no other engagement in history involving such an outnumbered fleet emerging victorious.

He died in the Battle of Noryang on 16.12.1598, when he was struck by a stray bullet, with the Japanese army on the verge of being completely pushed out of the Korean Peninsula. His famous dying words were “The battle is at its height … beat my war drums … do not announce my death”. His nephew put on his battle armour and Yi’s passing away was only announced when the Japanese were completely routed.

It is said that the weak Joseon king only showed a “blank expression” offering no signs of sadness or shock on hearing the news of Yi’s passing away.

Nevertheless, public sentiment forced King Seonjo  to  acknowledge Yi’s patriotism and contribution as the most capable Korean Naval Commander and he  was given the title of “Chungmugong” (Duke of Loyalty and Warfare), and enrolment as a “Seonmu lldeung Gongsin” (First class military order of merit during the reign of King Seonjo), “Deokpung Buwongun” (The Prince of the Court from Deokpung) and  “Samdo Sugun Tongjesa” (meaning “Naval commander of the Three Provinces”), which remained the title of all succeeding Naval commanders of the Korean Navy till 1896.  

Admiral Yi’s posthumous title, “Chungmugong” is used as South Korea’s third highest military honour, known as “The Cordon of Chungmu of the order of military Merit and Valour”.

Even in North Korea, the military awards the Order of admiral Yi sun-sin to Flag officers and naval commanders for outstanding leadership.

Several movies/films/TV Serials have portrayed Yi’s successes against his adversaries & several /streets/memorials and a City stand in his name. A naval submarine in South Korea has been named after him.

The Reverse faces of 100 Won coins issued in 1986, 1988, 2002, 2004.

The Reverse of the 100 Won coin depicts the denominational value in numeral “100”, the year of issue in the Gregorian calendar and the Bank title in Hangul.

The specifications of this coin are:

Metal Composition: Cupro-Nickel (75% copper, 25% Nickel); Diameter: 24.00 mm; Weight: 5.42 gms; Edge: Milled. Year of first minting: 1983. Series designation: Series II.

                    The Obverse of a 500 Won Coin issued in 2001.

The Obverse of the 500 Won coin depicts an image of a red crowned Crane, & the denominational value in Hangul.

                              An image of red Crowned Cranes.

Red Crowned Crane: The Red Crowned Crane is also called the Japanese Crane (Grus japonensis). It is among the rarest Cranes in the world and is regarded as a symbol of good luck, longevity, immortality, nobility and fidelity. Adult red-crowned Cranes are named for a patch of red bare skin on the crown, which becomes brighter during the mating season. 
It is found predominantly in Japan, East Central China, and Korea where they migrate during the winter season from Siberia, North-eastern China and from Mongolia.  Overall they are snow-white in colour, with black on the wing secondaries, which can appear almost like a black tail, when the birds are standing, but the real tail feathers are actually white. The species is among the largest cranes in the World, with an average size of about 158 cm (4’ 11” to 5’ 2”) with an average body weight of 7 to 10 kgs or 15 to 23 lbs. 
In Japan and Korea, this Crane is called “tanchozuru” and is believed to live for 1000 years (although its life expectancy is about 30 to 70 years).

              The Reverse of the above 500 Won Coin issued in 2001.

The Reverse of the 500 Won coin depicts the denominational value in numeral “500”, the year of issue in the Gregorian calendar and the Bank title in Hangul.

The specifications of this coin are:

Metal Composition: Cupro-Nickel (75% copper, 25% Nickel); Diameter: 26.50 mm; Weight: 7.70 gms; Edge: Milled. Year of first minting: 1982. Series designation: Series I.

Commemorative Coins:

Since 1975, when the 30th Anniversary of the Liberation of Korea was celebrated, South Korea has been minting several gold and silver Commemorative coins. One such coin was a 100 Won Silver coin portraying Admiral Yi Sunsin, the inventor of the Turtle warship.

The Obverse of the 100 Won silver coin depicting Admiral Yi Sun-sin. In the background is a Geobuseon or a turtle warship. Notice that the dragon head is belching smoke to strike fear in the hearts of  Korea’s Adversaries.
Indian coins minted in South Korean Mints during, 1985, 1997 and 1998:
During the above period, when indian mints did not have the capacity to meet domestic demand,  South korean mints came to the aid of the government of India and minted the undernoted coins:
The Seoul Mint (South Korea),  has a ”five-pointed star” under the date of the coin, directly below the last numeral of the year of issue i.e. under the numeral “7”  and “8” in our two specimens given here. 

These two 2-rupee coins were supplied by Seoul, South Korea, in 1997 and 1998.

The Taegu Mint (South Korea), , has a “five-sided star” , but this mint mark is placed below the first numeral of the year of issue. In our specimen, the mint mark star is given below the numeral “1”.  This 50 paise coin has one of the most beautiful floral designs of Independent India issues.  

Also,in a lighter vein, if you see in the floral pattern, there are dots, diamonds, and no marks, apart from the five pointed star , below the first numeral of the year 1985 ,which is the Taegu mint mark.  It is only my observation, that this coin exhibits all the mint marks of Indian mints as well – the five-pointed star  (Hyderabad mint), no mark (Kolkata mint), Diamond (Mumbai mint) and dot (Noida mint), but then it is only my opinion, not to be taken seriously by numismatists or researchers.

(Two 100 Won coins and the 500 Won coin is from the collection of Jayant Biswas. Coins scanned and post researched and written by Rajeev Prasad)


1) Coinage & Currency of South Korea: (Part II): Historical Development of Banknotes

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