Yo-Tsu-Ho-Sen and Mimi-Shiro-Sen (Mimi-Jiro)

One of our readers, David, asks:

In the JNDA and elsewhere, there are various names for the types of New Kanei, such as 四ツ寶 銭. Is there a list anywhere of what all these names mean? I note there is one name 耳白 White Ear???? which is not in some of the other catalogues, although it is in JNDA. Has this coin been renamed?

First, we thank David for his questions. Second, although of some interest, we should not get too concerned about names of coins in general. It is like Coca-Cola. Some call it COKE; others call it SODA or POP. No matter what we call it, it is all the same.

Yo-Tsu-Ho-Sen simply refers to those coins made at Edo Kameido, right after Mt. Fuji erupted in 1707. If David lived in Edo during the first-quarter of 18th century, he may have called this series of crude, small coins %&*^#$@!*&, and his term may have sticked for generations to come. He would have been so used to receiving nicely made, large coins with BUN on the reverse. All of a sudden, he is getting these lousy, small coins. I, too, would have called them %&*^#$@!*&.

After seeing this lousy coinage in circulation for seven years, David sees a new coin. It is a very large coin. In fact, it is larger than those BUN coins. This new coin is wide rimmed. So, instead of calling this coin %&*^#$@!*&, he names it MIMI-HIRO-SEN, but he pronounces it as MIMI-SHIRO. David, being a child of Edo, cannot pronounce some letters correctly. Instead of HIRO, he pronounces it SHIRO.

If one were to use Yahoo translator, this combination of characters 耳白would yield "white ear." Although this character 耳 means "ear," most of the time, in this case it means "flair." We call our ears "ears" because we were told to do so. Before this word existed, our ears were nothing more than a pair of flairs that stuck out from our big heads. When David called it MIMI, he was referring to the rim of the coin. This new coin does have a very wide rim. As for 白, this character does mean"white." But David's original word is HIRO 広, meaning "wide." So, the original term was MIMI-HIRO 耳広, meaning wide rim.

David asks, "Is there a list anywhere of what all these names mean?"Yup! If David is diligent and have an excellent understanding of Japanese language, he can search the web and compile such a list.


Bunkyu Eiho 文久永宝 文久永寶

We have a question from Bill about one of his Bunkyu coins. He writes:

I am seeking your opinion on 2 Bunkyo Eihou coins that I have had difficulty in my attempts attribute. As you can see from the attached jpegs, these 2 coins do not match the rubbings in your "History and Guide to the Copper Cash Coinage of Japan" in which you list 11 varieties (3 of which are of this variety) or in the JNDA Catalogue, which lists a total of 6 varieties. Every kanji has an unique feature than the others that are listed in the above mentioned resources. The coin measures 26mm wide (outside rim measurement), 20mm wide (inside rim measurement), 7mm square inside hole (the same as Jones #256) and is 1mm thick.

The Bun character's horzontal line is only slightly tilted upward to the right, the Kyo character is squattier and wider, the Ei character's upper right arm ends in a very definitive upward stroke that is "squared off" at the right edge, and the legs of the Hou character are unique to all of the listed varieties. I have owned the coin on the right for several years, but it was not until I recently acquired the example on the left that I thought to pursue this as it is a very good example of the coin. It clearly shows the characters and their unique features.

First, nobody should use my catalog to attribute Bunkyu Eiho. That listing was placed there asおまけ (omake). This coinage is not popular with collectors. Perhaps the reason is that it was cast so late in the Edo Period (1862- 69). For those interested in varieties of this coinage, they need to get a specialized catalog. I know of two, but both are long out-of-print and very difficult to find: Bunkyu Eiho Bunruifu by Shigeyuki Kobayashi and Bunkyu Eiho by Bonanza. I guess one could also use Showa Senpu, but it is pictorial and not descriptive. I owned all three catalogs once, but that was many years ago. Because Bunkyu coins are not highly regarded, and that attribution guides are difficult to find, this series is still a sleeper. Collectors should set aside varieties whenever possible. Attribution can come in good time.

Bill provides us with good description of his variety. Being old and not smart, I confuse easily nowadays. So, I have to do things my way. Some people can follow instructions very well. I cannot. When putting together plastic models or whatever, I don’t read instructions. On first try, I mess things up. On second try, it’s better but not quite right. On third try, I am able to assemble but with a few parts left over. If something works without those parts, I figure it is good enough for me.

For Bill’s coin, the first thing I looked at was the position of HO. Its position is much lower than most other varieties. This low HO happens with Fuka-Ji variety. At least that is what I call it. It means “deep characters.” But some Japanese collectors call it Shin-Ji. This character深 represents “deep.” So, when we use this character to describe the variety, no matter how we read it, it still means “deep.” The problem is that the characters on his coin are not genuinely deep. But this is not to say that they are shallow. They are something in-between.

There are some varieties that Japanese call Fuka-Ji-De. I believe we talked about this DE before. It simply means “in the manner of” Fuka-Ji. Within this Fuka-Ji-De series, we find similarities in how the characters are written, without them being deeply cut like that of Bill’s coin.

Now, we have to take note on how the character BUN 文 is written. Its legs are quite short compared to most other varieties. The legs are well inside the corners of the square rim. Within Fuka-Ji-De series, there is a good match with a variety called Tan-Kyu, meaning the character 久 is short. Why the catalogs never relate to how BUN is written is beyond me. It is much more recognizable than the character KYU 久. We can now call Bill’s coin a “Fuka-Ji-De-Tan-Kyu.” But wait, Bill’s coin has filing marks. Because of it, some collectors may say that Bill’s coin is a special coin that needs additional categorization. It is also On-Shi-De. On-Shi-De is a special coinage made for high ranking officials or “masters” to be handed out as gifts. So, his coin is now, “On-Shi-De Fuka-Ji-De-Tan-Kyu.” That’s a mighty sounding title for a coin! But then, there are sub-sub-varieties within this sub-variety that nobody seems to care.


Shin KanEi TsuHo Sendai Mint Guide

Make sure you click the pics to enlarge.

I've been attributing Kanei Tsuho for 30 years now, or at least trying to attribute them. Sometimes, the more I look at them the more I get confused. I think I did a decent job describing them in my catalogs, but they can always be improved. Through this blog, I intend to do so.

Today I wanna talk about a few coins from Sendai mint. If you have about a hundred Kanei coins on your desk, how do you find the Sendai coins from this bunch? First thing you have to do is to separate them by sizes: small, medium, and large. Sendai coins would fall in the medium sized group. What you do next is to look at the character “HO” 寶. This character is unique with Sendai coins. It is slender and tall.

Now comes the nitty-gritty attribution part. This is where the headache begins. We all see things differently. Japanese catalogs on Shin Kanei Tsuho tend to follow the catalogs of the past. They all have a fancy name attached to each variety. If a variety is called, “something-something TSU,” that variety should have major differences with the character TSU 通, compared to other varieties within the type. But that is not often the case. Most of the time, the differences are so subtle that it is very difficult to compare against another variety.

I have pictured four coins from Sendai here. The numbers are from my “Attribution Guide to Shin Kanei Tsuho.” I am not listing other varieties, as they are quite obvious ones.

#76 Isho Sha Ho 異書斜寶 1728
#77 Isho Shin Kan 異書進冠 1728
#78 Isho Cho Tsu 異書長通 1728
#79 Isho Tei Kan 異書低寛 1728

At a glance, these coins all look alike. So, where does one begin? Look at the legs of KAN 寛. If you have the legs that look like this 見, firmly connected to the body, then you have either #76 or #78. If there is space between the legs and the body, you have either #77 or #79. So far so good?

Now, #78 is called Cho Tsu, meaning the character TSU is larger and longer than that of #76. If you have eagle-eye, you may be able to detect it. There is an easier way, however. Look at the right leg of KAN. On #76, its leg is almost even with the corner of the square rim. On #78, it is well inside of the square rim. Of course, there are other minor differences between the two varieties, but the right leg of KAN is where you need to take note.

So, what are the differences between #77 and #79? On #77, the corner of フon永 points up; whereas, フon永 points down slightly on #79. Next, note the character 通. On #79, its left part 辶 is connected; on #77 there is a space. In addition, the top part of 通 (コ) is longer/larger on #79 than it is on #77. Also, note the crown of 寛 on both varieties. On #77, its crown is off-centered, leaving much space to its left. On #79, the crown is well-centered, but a portion of it seems blurred. This is not from wear. It is from using seed coins with weakness in this area.


One of our readers, Bill, writes: I just visited your site and want to write you to say "THANK YOU" for taking the time to post this very informative tutorial. As you know, I spend many hours attempting to attribute the coins in my collection and having this type of English language reference is invaluable. And as a bonus, it is Sendai, my personal favorite and the birthplace of my mother. Again, thank you!

I appreciate your comment Bill! Hope this helps you some.

Another reader, Fernando, writes: Wow, thank you for your help and for your great blog; without it, it will be very very difficult to me to collect ancient japanese coins cause i don´t understand nothing of japanese languaje and much minus ancient japanese; but because exists some people like you who writes in english about it I can continue with mi collection :-D Thanks so much again!!!

It is true that most collectors have no command of Japanese language, and very few things are written on the this subject in English. In the last 30 years, nothing seemed to have changed.


JNDA Authentication Service
In the early 80s, a friend of mine sent a few Japanese cash coins to ANACS. Those coins were no good. He knew that too. But when he got the coins back, they had a stamp of approval from ANACS. We just laughed. Since they never tell you who does the authentication, I figured there was John Suzuki in the backroom flipping coins: heads, genuine; tails, not genuine. Does anyone know if ANACS still exist, and if so, do they authenticate cash coins?

As for JNDA services, I also wonder, but because I do not know enough about them, I cannot comment. However, I do know that if a coin is not a known variety, they will not authenticate it, even if it is from the period. In other words, they will toss aside good, contemporary circulation issues if the varieties are not cataloged.

The problem with these certificates is that they can be reproduced and faked. If you hand over a sample to a jobber in China, the workshop will not only make a certificate for you but a coin to match it as well.

Very Rare Wado Kaichin

This coin has a starting price of about $25,000 on Japanese Yahoo auction! The seller simply describes it as being off-centered (slip in the casting). There are no weights and measures. This guy is really on the cheap, as there is a sticker for another coin on the reverse of this 2x2. Guess he recyled this two cent holder. I am not joking about this listing. It is for real!


This is a nice set of Hatome-Sen. Early ones are quite large. Photo provided by Neal.


15th Century Ryukyu Coins?

I have been busy writing about 19th century American silhouettes for the last five years on my silhouette blogs and have neglected this blog on Japanese cash coins. I believe I have written enough on silhouettes. Now, I would like to get back to writing about Japanese cash coins. Please check back often, as I will write something on this subject quite a bit from now on. Please remember THIS PAGE belongs to all of you. Comments are welcome. If you wanna write something for the blog, that is also very welcome. Many people read what I write, but they always stay silent. Let’s change that!

Uehara Shizuka touches on an interesting subject of Ryukyu coins in her recent paper in “The Journal of the Okinawa Archaeological Society” (南島考古). She writes about a recent “dig” where a partial cast branch (money tree) was recovered. It was nothing more than a branch; no coins were attached, and no coins were found at this site. She somehow believes there was a minting activity at this particular site in the 15th century. Hold your horses, Shizuka. This “branch” is no proof that coins were cast; it may have been used to cast something other than coins.

Other copper items (bronze, brass, whatever term you prefer) were also recovered from this site. Over yonder, somewhere in the hills, she (her team?) digs up a single Seiko Tsuho (Seko Tsuho to some of you). She had this coin tested for its metallic content. Of course, she also has tests done on the copper items found on her dig site. They match! Now, she firmly believes this Seiko Tsuho was cast where she dug up that “branch.” She can certainly connect the dots to her advantage.

The problems: Shizuka, not being a numismatist, does not mention which variety of Seiko Tsuho she found. She does not even illustrate her find. Furthermore, she does not mention how that coin and other items were analyzed. She does mention who did the tests, but she gives no analytical results. Her final statement was basically that the copper and lead used were from recycled material. Even I could have told her that. Does anyone know of any 15th century copper mines on the island? Or from any period? I sure don’t. On the tests, I wonder what the Pb ratio was.

I am sure Shizuka knows a great deal of Okinawa archaeology. Perhaps she may want to read up on coins in the future. I guess I was a bit rough on Shizuka. By the way, the Seiko Tsuho illustrated here was gotten from the internet. It is NOT her find.

On a different note, if you ever try to search Japanese keywords on the net, Google really sucks, as it gives results in Chinese most of the time. For Japanese words, gotta go with By the way, if you ever thought of using Google or Yahoo translator, Japanese to English or English to Japanese, do not waste your time.