Neil Gordon Munro and Me

This is a real funky stuff. We all know Munro wrote the best work on Japanese pre-Meiji coins, “Coins of Japan” in 1904. Yet, very few know that he was a medical doctor dabbling in anthropology and archaeology. His research on Ainu and stone-age implements are major contributions. However, we know very little about his medical practices.

We know he loved Japan and married a Japanese woman. He had his medical practice in Yokohama. From 1897-1901, he rented an office space at 85 Bluff, Yamate, Yokohama. However, he moved to 91 Bluff in 1902. I just realized I walked the same footsteps (same physical address) as Munro. The construction of a school, St. Joseph College, was underway at that physical address. The school moved to its larger quarters in 1904 from 43 Bluff.

I attended St. Joseph College for years. I can just imagine Munro working on his book in his office prior to his relocation to 91 Bluff. AND what a coincidence that the school moved there in 1904 and Munro publishing his book the same year. This is totally mind-boggling!

Check these links out for more information on Munro and St. Joseph College.


Bita Sen Market

Globalization is interesting. While being beneficial to some, it is a nuisance to others. The market of all collectibles shifted in the last decade or so with the advent of the internet and the internet auctions. This “shift” is based on supply and demand, and it is constantly changing. In the end, the market adjusts itself. However, there is an old saying that “bad items drive the good items away.”

The Japanese swords on eBay are a good example. As 99.9% of the swords listed there today are reproductions made in China, this has driven away the sellers and the buyers of genuine Japanese swords. The reproductions are improving. Especially so are the NCO swords from WWII. As there are many excellent sites devoted to Japanese swords, this is not the place for such discussions. It is mentioned only as an example.

The shift on the Bita Sen market correlates directly to the market of genuine and fake Chinese coins offered from China and elsewhere. Some of the old-timers can recall when many Chinese coins were difficult to locate in the 60s, 70s, and the 80s. Items that sold for $50-$100 then are available today for a tiny fraction. In fact, they are so cheap and abundant that the demand for them is nil.

The same can be said of the Japanese Bita Sen. They were quite costly once. However, there seems to be a never-ending supply coming out of China today. This has taken a toll on their rarities and prices. The Bita Sen market in Japan just about collapsed. Nevertheless, there are still many buyers, but they are very careful and insist on buying only the most attractive coins at very reasonable prices.

From personal observations, I noticed that the commonest Japanese coins coming out of China are the type we call the Nagasaki Trade Coins made in the mid-1600s. This is followed by the Bita Sen of the 16th century. The Kajiki Sen, made around the same period, are much scarcer. As for the common Kanei Tsuho, they seem to be a rarity. From this information alone, one can do a study of flow of coins to China and elsewhere from Japan during the 16th and the 17th centuries. Obviously, from this simple data, one can conclude that post-Edo period coins did not flow out of Japan except for the Nagasaki coins. This is understandable, Japanese History 101.

Were some of the so-called Bita Sen made in China instead of Japan? I believe so. Furthermore, some coins attributed as Japanese Bita Sen by sellers with good intention (?) are not really Japanese coins at all. The field of Bita Sen is a tricky field. A good research on the subject is necessary.

These are some of the Bita Sen I found on the net.


Kaiki Shoho

These eight coins are from the site of the Tokyo National Museum. They attribute the coins to 760 C.E. Back then, one gold cash was worth ten silver cash, and one silver cash was worth ten copper cash. So, this gold cash was worth 100 copper cash. I will be happy to give anyone 100 of my copper cash for any one of these.

Better Repros on the Market

This would be a scarce seed coin if genuine. It is nicely made with good color and good metal. If one did not know what a genuine seed coin from this mint looked like, this can be a very scary piece. This piece, although not genuine, is a good piece to own for $10 as a study piece.


Another Saka-To Seed Coin?

This image came from a Japanese auction. It realized $6000. Is it genuine? Doesn't it look quite similar to the fake coin illustrated below? What do you think?

Fake Ryukyu Kinen Seiho ?

This coin was sold in Japan as a replica. Could it be a genuine coin that has been highly burnished? What do you think?


Me Trying to Attribute Coins

This is an original drawing by my wife. It was done about 20 years ago. I don't remember ever looking like that.


Rare Kanei Tsuho Saka-To Variety

This dark brown coin with powdery green patina appeared on Ebay. It is currenty being offered at "Buy Now" for $40. The other coin with light brown, coppery color is from a Japanese auction, which brought about $1200.

The Ebay coin is very nicely made. It has a good, period patina that one often sees with Kanei Tsuho coins. The characters are well-formed. If genuine, this coin is worth $3000+ in this condition. However, it is too nicely made, and there are very minor differences in how the characters are formed. On a genuine specimen, the top of the reverse character leans to left; this character on this coin does not. The left character 寶 on this coin leans slightly left; on a genuine coin the character is written straight. The very top of 寛 , a single, vertical stroke, is written at an agle; this stroke is straight on a genuine piece. The top of 通 (マ)is also different.

This coin is very attractively made, and it may just well be worth $40 for its workmanship, as long as others do not pop-up.


Nagasaki Trade Coins

These are some nice Nagasaki trade coins made in the 17th century. All are seeds.

Informative Site on Japanese Cash Coins

There is a very interesting site on Japanese cash coins. You can post photos and comments as well. The moderator is a very knowledgeable gentleman. Since the page is huge, it takes some time to load. Try it!
Here is the link:


More Seiko Tsuho

Aiyaiyai! If a fake is being offered, please make a nice fake. This is from ebay. The seller does not mention that it is a copy.


WOW! How Time Flies on Japanese Cash Coins

Reprinted from Japanese Cash Collectors Club, 1984 or 1985

Japanese cash coins were a new thingy then. Today, they are still new. Any decent writing in the last 20 years in English? The following were two of many letters to the club. The questions and the answers are printed here without being edited. This publication was “known” for its roughness. I was young then and a rebel. I am older today but still a rebel.
By the way, these two good friends are gone. George Fisher wrote the neatest KANJI. He wrote better than most Japanese and Chinese. Owen Fleming was from down-under. He had a superb collection of numismatic literature. I was able to procure a few rare works previously owned by him through a book dealer in Australia. George and Owen were great people.

FROM OWEN: Normal one bu silver are about 23.8mm by 15.4mm with a thickness of 2.8mm and a weight of 8.66 gms, and with all four sides cut or sheared, probably weight adjusted and then cherry blossom stamped, and “sadamied.”

My mystery is 20.5 x 14 x 2.8, is only cut on the long sides, as north and south are round edged, the cut ones are not impressed with cherry blossoms and have no angled millings and weighs only 6.50gms.

A normal piece has virtually straight edges-this one has top and bottom rounded as though cast in a bar shape and the two long cut sides slope inwards when sighted from the one bu silver face. What is it?

The type is J&V I 302-Ansei and the frames either side enclosing the characters, and the characters themselves are all of the same size: not complete but have been cut through with the closer shearing, and at north/south, not even a trace of them can be seen. There are the same north/south background lines in the frames enclosing the characters and SADAME is well impressed and is possibly a little larger than some of my specimens.

(Ed. Note: At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about. I still don’t. My answer? See below.)

ANSWER---I don’t know. Anyone out there with an answer? How about you Joe Boling? You collect these “gizmos” don’t you?

FROM GEORGE: Can you tell me anything about a large (about 34.5mm x 34.5mm) “rounded square” Sendai Tsuho copper coin I have? It weighs about 18.7 grams and, with the large space available, the 4 kanji are much more elegant than those on the small Sendai Tsuho either in iron or copper. Herbert J. Cook of Olympic Coin Gallery didn’t know for sure, but thought it was an E-Sen.

ANSWER---E-Sen? That’s cute! People tend to label everything E-Sen if it is not listed in reference works. Well, I’ve seen two of these in the past and another one was offered to me for $60 from a dealer who specializes in Chinese cash. It’s worth about a fifth of that. This is just a blown-up fantasy of Sendai tsuho.

Somewhere, someone is always trying to fool collectors by making these things. They are fun and interesting, but don’t mistaken them for rarities. Acquire these issues only as a curio, and don’t pay a bundle either. This reminds me. In the Sept. 1983 Hong Kong auction by The Money Co., there was a lot#770 described as “16 Piece Sample Set of Provincial Shiken Sen, 100 Mon Coins Struck in Lead.” Come off it! An estimated value of $500 and up? These things are not old and certainly not mint made coins. Struck in lead? And I thought all the Japanese cash were cast, not struck. My pal in Japan tells me these things are fantasies created in the 1970s. Did any of you bid on that lot? Another one from the same auction. Lot#264, “The Shogun’s Treasure Oban.” Do they really expect us to believe these tall-tales? Perhaps I should start consigning my fantasies to these auctions. I could make a killing!

(Ed. Note: Japanese Cash Collectors Club was rough. I tackled everything. The above is just a small sampling. Wanna read more? Come back often. Stuff I wrote will blow your minds. Another fellow that issued these thoughts was John Novak. He wrote quite a bit in the 1960s. He was my kind of man!)


Why do Cash Coins have Square Holes?

A picture paints a thousand words.

Fantasies of Odabe

Ichiro Odabe

Probably the most famous maker of fantasy pieces during the Taisho Period was Ichiro Odabe. He had an unusual imagination and made many fantasy coins of excellent quality. They are all fine pieces and attractive; he had a fine casting technique too. Lately, since his fantasies are widely recognized and collected, many inferior castings are flooding the market. These secondary copies should not be mistaken for originals, which have no value. He never restricted himself only with fantasies and made fine copies of Tosa Kanken and Tosa Tsuho.



This is me trying to figure out whether I have a common or a rare Kanei Tsuho. From the "looks" of the TSU 通, it is a common coin. But wait, could it be a マ頭通? I should check the reverse. This is a bad joke; only the specialists of this series would understand.

Unique Hakata Ginban

Hakata Ginban

Although no collector ever possessed this rarity, its existence was known throughout the numismatic community for centuries. This elusive, historical item became a reality with the discovery of its first specimen during an estate sale (an estate that dates back to the Muromachi Period) in Fukuoka, Kyushu. An antique dealer knowledgeable in numismatics “spotted” it among numerous other articles. (This Ginban has not seen a light of day for over eight centuries.) This dealer made an offer for the Ginban, a price in the five-figures (conveted to US currency). However, Okumura Takeshi, a local historian, persuaded the owner that the item should not be sold to the dealer, and that it should remain in the community. He was successful.

The illustration above is a drawing by us. The inscriptions on the obverse are: Haka-Ta, Aratame-Sho, Shou-An-Ni-Ten 博多 改所 正安二天. It was made ca. 1300 A.D. On the reverse (not illustrated) are several characters, but only one is clear, the character of Naga 長. As you can see from the illustration, the piece was “holed” to be used as a sword guard.

Perhaps while on the subject, I should mention a sister of this piece, Hakata Kinban (one made of gold). The whereabouts of this gold issue is unknown. It was a part of a cultural history maintained by Kushida Temple. The Kinban was “borrowed” during the American occupation, and it is still being “borrowed.”


Ancient Silver Coins of Japan?

Ancient Silver Coins of Japan?

There have been sporadic illustrations of the so-called silver discs in old Japanese numismatic literatures, and the discs were surrounded with mystery, as only four specimens were known to exist. The research and study, not to mention the actual viewing of the four specimens were rare. However, in 1940, eleven silver disks surrounding a small chest were found in Shiga-Ken, Otsushi. According to some numismatic researchers of the time, the discs were attributed as simple ornaments or funeral offerings.

The measurements are as follows:
1) 8.8g….30.2mm
2) 35.6g…39.5mm
3) 10g…...30.5mm
4) 9.6g…..31.6mm
5) 8.8g…..31.6mm
6) 9.5g…..30.6mm
7) 8.2g…..28.1mm
8) 9.2g…..31.3mm
9) 6.7g…..30.0mm
10) 8.9g…..29.2mm
11) 10g……29.4mm

Some matters are too easily dismissed. Since the ten specimens average 9grams, these discs may have been used as currency. The heaviest disc weighing 35.6 grams was likely sliced into thinner pieces as this specimen is not holed, and the weight differs considerably from the rest.


Lots More to Come

Been overwhelmed with schoolwork recently, but the spring break is near. Keep checking back. Will be writing lots more soon.


Rare Japanese Paleoliths Paper by MUNRO

Rare Paper by Neil Gordon Munro

Munro’s writings are very difficult to find. Especially so are the papers he wrote for The Asiatic Society of Japan. This particular work is titled, “Reflections of Some European Palaeoliths and Japanese Survivals.” It was published in 1909 for the Society as pages 126-158 including twenty-eight full-page plates on glossy stock.

Although this work has nothing to do with numismatics, it is, nevertheless, quite interesting to read. WorldCat lists only one other holding, so it is safe to assume that this title is very rare. Someday, if lucky, 1905 edition of the Coins of Japan may fall into this hand. Does anyone know the circumstances surrounding the 1905 edition?

Rare Seiko Tsuho

This is a rare variety of Seiko Tsuho called Migi-Yori-Sei-Ko (See the article below for discussion). This particular variety is worth about twenty of the common ones.


Tenpo Tsuho Again? Yup! But this is worth $250!

This is a common variety of this oblong coin called the Tenpo Tsuho、天保通宝 . This coin is a run-of-the-mill variety. So why is this worth $250 and not $10? It is worth $250 because....

Bantan Sen バンタン銭

These odd coins resembling "cash coins" are said to have been cast in Indonesia. Other than that, not much is known about them. Japanese collectors usually add a few of these coins in their collections as a curio.

When were they made? Did they actually circulate? How extensive are the types and varieties of these curoius coins? What are their values?

They are unanswered questions. My opinion? They were made during the mid-1700s to early1800s for trading purposes and never achieved a standard as an official currency. As we find remnants of this coinage in Japan, China, Singapore, Indonesia, Netherlands and other seafaring countries, it is obvious that it enjoyed some status as a trade coinage. The value of these coins is dormant as there is no attribution guide for the series. The coins usually trade for five to twenty dollars a piece. This field is still unresearched, and anyone can become an expert, if willing.



Illustrated is a Kanei Tsuho coin from 1668. This coin was filed on the obverse and the reverse. Some farmers, during a drought, made a representation of an umbrella by using a file. They donated these coins to a local temple, saisen-bako. Did they work?

I owned six or seven such coins over the years and probably saw another five to ten coins for sale. They were all Shin Kanei Tsuho. It is likely that this "creation" was only limited to a handful of villages and only during certain period. Some have filings on obverse or reverse only. These coins are legitimate "post-casting" variety and collected as such. They retail for about $20 for a common undertype. Of course, if the undertype is a scarcer type or a variety then the price will reflect that.


Nagasaki Genho Tsuho

This is part two of this series and a final chapter. Scrutinizing for minute differences is very tiring. My school started a few days ago, and I must save my eyesight, whatever that is left, for other purposes.

Double Dot Tsu  通

This type with the double dots is a bit more difficult to attribute as there are many more varieties than the single dot type. The first part will consist of those varieties with the large characters; the second part will be of the small character varieties.

For the 2A varieties, the right leg of "Gen" 元 is long, and it protrudes from the corner of the square rim. The character "Ho" 寶 is medium sized, and its legs are about even with the bottom corner of the square hole.

For the 2B varieties, the key point of reference will be the large size of the character "Ho" 寶 with its legs positioned far below the coner of the square hole.

For the 2C varieties, the right leg of "Gen" 元 is long and curves up high; its left leg is short and seems unbalanced.

For the 2D varieties, all characters are small.

2A Both legs of 元 protrudes slightly from the corners of the square rim. The top of 通 is small. An average coin measures 24mm.

2A.1 Although the right leg of 元 protrudes slightly from the corner of the square rim, the left leg is even with the corner. The top of 通 is large.The tail of 通 is long. An average coin measures 24mm.

2A.1-1 The right leg of 元 is especially long, and it almost touches the character 豊 . The top of 通 is large like the above but its tail is much shorter. An average coin measures 24mm.

2B Although quite close, both legs of 元 do not reach the corners of the square rim. The character 寶 is large. An average coin measures 24.4mm.

2B.1 Quite similar to the above but the character 豊 is larger and the top of the character protrudes slightly above the corner of the square rim. An average coin measures 24mm.

2B.1-1 Quite similar to the above but the right leg of 元 is long, and it protrudes from the corner of the square rim. An average coin measures 24mm.

2B.2 The character 寶 is much smaller compared to the above three varieties. 豊 is written low. Both legs of 元 are even with the corners of the squate rim. An average coin measures 24mm. This is non-magnetic.

2C The right leg of 元 is long and protrudes past the corner of the square rim, and it curves up high. Its left leg is short. The second horizontal stroke of the character is especially long, and it nearly touches the right leg. All characters are medium size. An average coins measures 23.8mm.

2C.1 The right leg and the second horizontal stroke of 元 are shorter than the above. The character 豊 is written higher. and the top of it clearly protrudes above the corner of the square rim. An average coin measures 23mm.

2C.2 All characters are confidently written. Unlike the above two varieties, 通 is centered below the square rim. 豊 is written higher, and its rightvertical line of the top of its character is much longer than the left stroke. The right leg of 元 is about even or only slightly protrudes from the corner of the square rim. An average coin measures 23.6mm.

2D The right leg of 元 is about even with the corner of the square rim. 豊  and 寶 are very small and written high. This variety is unsually non-magnetic. An average coin measures 23.8mm.

2D.1 The right leg of 元 is short . 豊 and 通 are larger than the above. An average coin measures 24mm.

2D.2 The tip of the right leg of 元 curves slightly outward. The left leg of 寶is curved and kicks outward. 豊 is written slightly lower compared to the positioning of 寶. An average coin measures 23.6mm.

     END 終 FIN


Genuine or Not Genuine

There are six coins illustrated, obverse and reverse, of Mito Tora Sen, Ryukyu Tsuho, Akita Tsuba Sen, and Tosa Tsuho. Three out the six are genuine. Can you tell which ones? Just click "comment" below and that will take you to the "comment" page. Click "unanimous" and type in the letters that google displays. Click "publish." It requires no name and no email address is necessary. It is totally "unanimous," and I do not work for NSA.