More First Hand Accounts(*) Georg H. Forster

Collecting coins with Chinese chops (1) leads to many questions, wich usually cannot be answered satisfactorily like where, when and by whom have these chops been applied and where have chopped coins been mainly used?

So the search for more first hand accounts must go on in order to find one day all those answers which up to now cannot be given.

On my last visit to London I had J.E.A.N. No. 7 (1995) with me, where Bruce W. Smith had published his article "Chopmarks - An Introduction and Some First Hand Accounts". Bruce mentioned the British Parliamentary Papers as holding a wealth of information on currency in use in China but unfortunately had not made copies of the reports seen.

So I went to the Guildhall Library where the British Parliamentary Papers are housed. Under the heading "Correspondence Relating to The Supply of Silver in The Markets of China" I found a number of letters, reports and proclamations of interest not only to the chop collector, but also to collector of Latin American coinage.

I read with much pleasure about the efforts to change the "unjustified" preferential status of the "Old Carolus Dollar" (2) in comparison with the "new republican" dollars brought from Mexico, Peru, Bolivia and Europe.

The combined diplomatic interventions of the Consul of Great Britain, France and the United States lead to a Proclamation by his Excellency Chaou, Superintendent of Customs, in Shang-hai, dated 23rd July, 1855, decreeing the general circulation of all dollars, whether of new or old coinage:

Since a long series of years in China, in the provinces bording on the sea, the mercantile classes have employed as a circulating medium in their commercial transactions the dollars and silver pieces coined by foreign countries. Those formerly in circulation varied both in form and device, some being round and circular, and others being elongated and oval, and some representing the emblem either a horse, a sword or a human face...

But during the Ch'ien reign (3) the round dollar with the human face coined by Spain was first bought into circulation in China; it weights 7m. 2c. of silver, not equal to nine-tenth of our Chinese Standard purity of silver, but having the advantage of being of one uniform purity and weight, it was preferred by the trading classes as a more convenient coin for rating prices...

The Spanish dollars consequently coming into general use, and at this date in the Kiang-soo province they are popularly know by appellation of "THE OLD CAROLUS" (2), all the other dollars formerly in circulation have long since disappeared...

As Spain ceased to coin these (CAROLUS) dollars, they are in consequence gradually disappearing from circulation in China. On the other hand, the lower classes of Chinese, attached to their local customs and prejudices, fancy that without this particular dollar they cannot get along. Dishonest merchants then, turning this to their profit, engross or forestall the market, and thereby raise the price of the dollars...

Shang-hai was established in the year 1843 as a port of foreign trade (4), and on coming to this country, the merchants each brought their own national coins, having its respective form and device. Being so new to the Chinese, who saw these dollars for the first time, they rejected them from the commercement, but afterwards accepted them under the denomination of the "new coin"; actually compared with the CAROLUS dollar, they are at a discount of from 20 to 30 per cent.

The foreign mercantile community, dissatisfied at the present injurious system of currency, and alive to the hardships which it neccesarily entails upon them in business, have solicited their respective Consuls to consult with me, and agree upon a better system of circulation.

Fearing lest the new dollars (Mexican) might probably be inferior in purity to the Carolus dollar, I convened the Consuls of the three treaty powers (5), at the new Customhause, where, with the aid of experienced ore smelters, the process of melting the dollars was gone through in our presence, and it was found, after calculation, that the new (Mexicans & c.) dollars were alike in purity to the Carolus. Where, therefore, can be the motives for the merchants for requiring, in their business transactions, so much as 20 to 30 per cent premium on all payments made in the new (Mexicans & c.) dollar?

However, considering that this evil is not of the growth of a single day, should we cause the Old Caroulus dollar to be placed at once, without further notice, on a par with the new dollars, and only allow them to circulate at that rate, then the Chinese tradepeople have hitherto been conducted through the medium of the Carolus, and whose mercantile operations are still underdeveloped, and have not worked themselves out, would no doubt be exposed to serious losses, and be involved in ruin by any sudden change effected in the currency.

Hence I, the Taoutae (6), in the administration of affairs, having at heart the interest of my people, and unwilling to adopt any preconceived ideas, have maturely discussed the matter with the Consuls of the three treaty nations, and we have come to the conclusion that a preliminary proclamation, giving amplie notice beforehand, should be issued through this office, pointing out to the mercantile classes the ficticious high price to wich the Carolus dollar is raised by dishonest men, who dupe them, and giving all assurance that no inconvenience can arise from the old Carlolus dollar being lowered, and put on a par with the new dollar; the only point to be considered being the weight and purity of the dollar, and no longer whether it be an old dollar or a new one, so long as it preserves its intrinsic value ...

To this effect I have received a joint official letter from the foreign Consuls, in wich they agree that the new currency shall come into operation from the coming Chinese New Year.

In order more fully to give effect to the new system, I have, in a report to the Governor of these provinces, submited the whole of the above circumstances to them, with a request that they may issue general orders throughout their jurisdiction ...

But the high appreciation of the Old Carolus dollar did not change that quickly and that easily.

Yang, Taoutae (6) for the Circuit of Loochowfoo, Lungkiangfoo and Taichangchow, also Acting Comissioner of Finance for Loochowfoo, and other places in the Province of Keangnan, issued the following Proclamation in Heenfung, 6th year, 1st month, 26th day (= March 2nd, 1856).

It is well known that the dollar has been in circulation in China since a long period of time; traders and people generally have adopted it and have put faith in it. With the single exception of the "copper-mixed-dollar", the "inlaid-with-lead-dollar", the "light-dollar" and the "Foochoow-dollar" (7), all other (Spanish) dollars used to pass current at one and the same rate. But there are cunning stockjobbers who have been getting up a set of clever nicknames, wich they have given to the dollars purely in their own interest, and to the prejuice of the people. Once before I, the Acting Comissioner of Finance, published a proclamation wich was posted throught my jurisdiction, whereby I strictly prohibited (the abuse).

Some time have elapsed since then, the money dealers have ceased to fear the law in their respect, and they now recklessly seize the most frivolous excuses for depressing the value of the coin, and extorting a discount, an abuse which is daily increasing. It is a most fragrant breach of the law.

The dollars come into this country from the outside; it forms a commodious medium of circulation. Why, therefore, these absurd tricks of detecting a flaw in a coin, when it is neither light in weight nor inferior in touch? And as regards the dollars with numerous chops upon them, of various sizes, they are for the most part stamped in this way by people who at the time of passing them into circulation do so to verify their contents, lest there should be copper or lead mixed up with them, the more, therefore, and the longer they have been in circulation, and nothing more; a greater reason, without the least doubt, for putting faith in them; the chopping of the dollar in no way influencing either their intrinsic touch or weight of silver (4).

Nevertheless, there are some lawless persons who still contrive to get up various curious appellations for the dollar; some they call "the large-chopped", "the small-chopped", others, "the dummy", "the rotten stamp", and so on, as it suits their purposes; they lower or raise their value, and carry on a lucrative trade by those means.

The proclamation explains that the poorer classes do suffer more through those illegal downgrading of coins than the wealthy traders and merchants and describes what happened to a money changer who was placed in the cangue (8) for his wrongdoings, a frightening example for all money dealers.

It is also mentioned, that the authorities of the Chekeang province issued similarly strong orders for a strict prohibition of all abuses. Furtheron the proclamation stresses that...

If any shopkepers or others are found in the slightest degree either depressing the value of the dollar, or exorting a discount, those persons who have offered them the dollar to be changed are authorized to bring such shopkeepers before the local authorities... If the dollars are not mixed with copper or lead, but only belong to the "large chopped" or "small chopped" kind, then, being it evident that there is fraud on the part of the shopkeeper and an evasion of the prohibitions, in order to secure a profit to the prejudice of the people, he shall be put in the cangue (8) and in that manner be promenaded through every street of the town, and be stationed one whole day at the door of every money-changer's shop, exposed to public view, in order that the may endure in his own person disgrace and shame, and cause him to repent, whilst it will strike terror into the minds of the passers by as it catches their view.

All official clerks and runners who shall attempt to screen or give such offenders undue protection, or privately release, shall be taken into custody and punished.

The Memorial by L. Tsiuen-sun, Governor of Fukien, as published on November 7, 1855, holds the following information:

... In the province of Kiang-nan he observed that the foreing money in use among the people was greatly esteemed, and valued above sycee; the reason of which is difficult to explain. The perfect coins of this money weigh 7m. 2c. ... It is designated "fan-ping" (foreign cake) and "hwa-pien" (flower bordered), the generic name being "yang-ch'ien" (foreign money). When assayed, each piece only gives 6m. 5c. pure silver. It was first introduced in Kwang-tung and Fuhkien, then into Kiangsoo, Chekiang and Kiang-se, and now it is very generally current in Ngan-hwei and to the south of the Yangtse-kiang. In Fuh-kien and Kwan-tung chopped dollars are much used and, although greately defaced and injured, their value is equal to that of sycee. In Che-kiang and Kiang-soo the chopped dollars are not current, but a kind called bright money is preferred. Originally a dollar was worth upwards of seven mace; the value gradually rose to eight mace, and it now exceeds nine mace. Amongst the people its touch is not taken into account, nor it its weight. It is very convenient to carry about, and they have become accustomed to it, and hence its price does not diminish the favour in wich it is held. It is not only in large cities that persons who understand this money are to be found, but they also exist in every country village. With sycee, the reverse in the case, for it needs a shroff's establishment to decide on its purity and weight. Accordingly, everybody changes any sycee he may have for dollars. Nor, either, is it only for trading purposes in town or country, that these are esteemed; they are always taken in payment of the taxes by the local authorities ....


(1) The pleonasm "Chopmark" should not be used as "chop" means "mark". (More info about that here).

(2) "Carolus Dollar" is the name given to the 8 reales coined in Spanish American mints from 1772 to 1808 with the bust of the Spanish kings Carolus III and Carolus IV. It is the first dollar with a human face (or foreign face = fan-mien).

(3) Already during the Ch'ien Lung reign (1736-1796) the "Carolus Dollar" was brought into circulation in China.

(4) The treaty of Nanking (1842) forced China to open -in adition to Canton- also the ports or Amoy, Foochow, Ningpo and Shang-hai to foreign trade.

(5) Great Britain, USA and France.

(6) Taoutae (or Tao-T'ai): the Intendant of a Circuit of Prefectures with control over all civil (and military) affairs.

(7) Foochow-dollar: Eduard Kann (The Currencies of China) reports in Appendix IV: "A feature of Foochow currency is the chopped, or rather the scooped, the scraped, the cut, the punched dollar. This maltreatment often obliterates all trace of the original markings, some assuming the shape and appearance of a mushroom suffering from smallpox. It is obvious that such coins must pass by weight ..."

(8) The word "cangue" is derived from the Portuguese "canga" (= yoke). It means the heavy square wooden collar, which for certain offences criminals had to wear during the day thus depending on other persons for food and drink as being unable to help themselves.

(*) Published on the Journal of East Asian Numismatics (J.E.A.N.) issue 19 (winter 1998), reproduced here with the authorization of the author.

Fecha documento: 14-09-2000

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