The oldest known
banknote type in the world, Chinese 1 kuanin Ming-banknote from the late 14th
talking about the first banknote in the world, the Swedish Johan Palmstruch’s
Bank and year 1661 is mentioned.
So nice it would
be (Finland was on that time a part of Swedish kingdom and therefore Swedish
banknotes could be understood also as Finnish banknotes), the truth is that the
Chinese were active on this matter centuries earlier. Paper money, or “the
flying money”, as the Chinese called it, because its lightness and easy
transportability, was taken into use in China about 650 AD.
about the paper money evidently the first time, when Marco Polo told about his
voyage to China and to the court of the Kublai after his return at the end of
13th century Venice both verbally and literally in his book ”Il Milione”.
long history, the oldest known Chinese banknotes are from early Ming-dynasty
and they are dated on the period between 1368 – 1398 AD.
themselves were called “Ta Ming T’ung Hsing Pao Ch’ao”, Great Ming Precious
Notes. Emperor T’aitsu’s reign title was Hung-wu. This nien-hao appeared on
these notes and on successive Ming issues, regardless of the fact that all Ming
emperors had their own reign titles.This was an
honor given to the founder of the dynasty. Ch’uan Pu T’ung Chih refers
to sixty different notes issued between 1368-1426. In all probability there
were many more.
beginning these notes were inconvertible and could not be exchanged for coin.
Notes of the Hung-wu reign (1368-1398AD) were issued in denominations of 100,
200, 300, 400, 500 and 1000 cash. One string of paper (1000 cash) was the
equivalent of 1000 copper coins or one ounce of pure silver. In 1389 smaller
value notes of 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 cash were printed to
facilitate trade. It is reported that the mulberry bark paper used to make the
T’ai-tsu notes was recycled from the waste of government ministries and Civil
Service examination papers. There were three distinct issues of Ming notes as
follows: all bearing the reign title “Hung-wu”. These notes circulated
throughout the entire kingdom.
1. Those of the
emperor T’ai-tsu, issued in 1375AD
2. Those of
emperor Ch’eng-tsu (1403-1424AD)
3. Those of
emperor Jen-tsung, son of Ch’eng-tsu, issued in 1425AD
inflation then being experienced, Ch’eng-tsu paper money consisted of notes
denominated 1 through 20 kuan, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50 kuan all bearing
pictorial presentations of the equivalent amount of cash coins, each coin
representing five cash. Various cloud and dragon designs adorned their borders.
Their color was gray.
emission of paper money lead later on 15th century into later very familiar problem
– inflation, and because of that eventually the people were not willing anymore
to accept paper money. At the ent of the 14th century AD an ounce of
siver cost 35 strings (3500 cash) in paper money. 20 years later the price was
80 strings (8000 cash) in paper money. The decline of paper money value
accelerated, until the mid-15th century one ounce of silver was
worth 1000 strings (100000 cash) in paper money. At this time metal money was
replacing unstabile paper money, and the Great Ming Precious Notes eventually
disappeared from circulation. After 1455 AD the Chinese historical referenced
do not anymore mention paper money. So in mid 15th century AD the
paper money was abandoned and monetary system returned on stabile metal money. All paper money was withdrawn and destroyed.
Chinese banknotes should not exist. Despite of this fact some Ming-dynasty
banknote types have survived to our times. 200 cash banknote model 1375 and 300
cash banknote model 1368-98 are known, but those are extremeley rare. 1000 cash = 1 kuan banknote model 1368-1398 exist
in a bit larger scale, and those are available occasionally at numismatic
Without question, the Ming
note most widely known, and perhaps the only specimen available to collectors
today, is the 1 kuan of emperor T’ai-tsu. Enough of these notes have survived
to be found in many museums and private collections. The story of how they came
to be preserved is an interesting one.
The note was manufactured
from recycled gray mulberry bark paper. Two vermilion seals were impressed into
the note by government officials to authenticate it. The upper of these seals
reads: “Seal of the Treasure Note of the Great Ming Dynasty”; the lower of the
two bears the inscription: “Seal of the Office of the Superintendent of the
The origin of
Ming-dynastian 1 kuan banknotes
As far as it can be
ascertained, most Ming 1 kuan notes available today came from two sources. The
first of these stemmed from an incident, which occurred during the Boxer
Rebellion. In 1908 H. B. Morse published a book entitled Trade and
Administration of the Chinese Empire containing a lithographic facsimile of
the Ming 1 kuan note. In the book he gives a complete description of the note
together with translations of the Chinese characters found on it. Morse also
tells of the manner in which the note was acquired, which goes as follows:
“This five hundred year old
instrument of credit has a curious history furnishing an absolute guarantee of
its authenticity. During the foreign occupation of Peking in 1900, some
European soldiers had overthrown a sacred image of Buddha, in the grounds of
the Summer Palace. Deposited in the pedestal (as in the corner-stones of our
public buildings) were found gems and jewelry and ingots of gold and silver and
a bundle of these notes. Contented with the loot’s intrinsic value, the
soldiers readily surrendered the bundle of notes to a bystander, U.S. Army
Surgeon Major Lewis Seaman, who was unofficially present. He gave to the Museum
of St. John’s College in Shanghai the specimen which is here reproduced”.
The second report
concerning the discovery of Ming 1 kuan notes concerns the Reverend Mr. Ballou,
a long time missionary, who was born in China and resided there until after
World War II. Reverend Ballou states that he received his Ming note from his
friend L. Carrington Goodrich who had been associated with Yenching University
in Peking during the 1930s. Mr. Goodrich related that he acquired the note
under the following circumstances:
“Sometime in 1936 one of
the walls surrounding Peking was torn down. When the laborers got to the huge
gate in the wall, they found to their surprise, a large bale of 1 kuan Ming
dynasty banknotes buried in the wall itself. After removing the soiled and
damaged notes, the workers sold the notes to those persons standing around. Mr.
Goodrich came upon his note at that time. He told Reverend Ballou that he
purchased two of them for a few coppers, which amounted to just a few pennies.”
The third story
attached into the banknote illustrated on the previous pictures was the story
how this banknote was obtained.
A Finnish female
missionary, who operated also in China at the same time as Mr. Ballou managed
also obtained (from where, it is not exactly known) a batch af these banknotes.
Also she, as Mr. Ballou, had to exit China when the communist regime took over,
and among other things she took these banknotes with her.
mid-1990’s this already aged lady lived at Spain, but she needed money in order
to finance an surgical operation to fix her eyes weakened by her age. Therefore
she commissioned a Finnish numismatic expert to sell her Ming-banknotes in
Finland. Some of the banknotes were sold at the auctions of the Finnish
Numismatic Society. Also at least one banknote (the one in question in this
article) was sold to a private collector. Among the banknotes available in
Finland (or any other seen by the owner of this banknote) this one was by far
the best of quality and so far this banknote has been second to none by its
PS. A banknote
of lesser quality and with a hole was sold at A. H. BALDWIN & SONS LTD.
auction in Hong Kong, China.
Held on the August 27th
2009 at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile, Kowloon, Hong Kong, the 47th Hong Kong
Coin Auction got of to a sensational start with lot 1 (pictured above) selling
for a record breaking US$19,000, well above its estimate of US$800-1,000.
Arguably the oldest known banknote this example of the Ming Dynasty 1-Kuan was
one of the most viewed lots in the sale.
“Banknotes and Coins of Hong Kong and China” auction held at Hong Kong January
22nd 2011 was totally 8 pieces of these 1 kuan banknotes for sale. All were
sold for high prices and the best one (Lot number 173, price estimation HK$
120 000 – 160 000) made a new price record of 440 000 HK$ + 17%
commission which equals to 50 000 EUR.
(Auction list: http://www.spink.com/auctions/pdf/11003.pdf