David Hill of the American Numismatic Society published a great piece on the ANS Pocket Change blog about the world's oldest
surviving paper money, the Ming dynasty notes from China. -Editor
In 1923, Dr. Richard Ehrenfeld of Vienna wrote to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to announce that he had in his possession the oldest bank
note in existence, a one kwan (or guan) issue of the Ming dynasty from about the year 1375, discovered in 1888 during the demolition of an old house
in Beijing and acquired by his father, paper money collector Adolf Ehrenfeld. Richard had inherited the note and, suspecting that “European
collectors or Museums nowadays have not the money to acquire so valuable an object,” he turned to America instead, looking to part with it “should a
price approximate to the value of the note be offered me,” a figure he put at about fifty thousand dollars (roughly one million dollars today).
The Met passed Ehrenfeld’s letter on to the ANS, which left curator Howland Wood to deliver the bad news. His father’s note was not
worth fifty thousand dollars. It was worth five dollars. Wood knew this because he had sold fourteen of them himself for that price. There
were many others in New York alone, Wood told him, including several in the collections of the ANS.
The problem for Mr. Ehrenfeld, as Wood explained, was that his treasured item was not as rare as it once had been. In 1900, some
European soldiers, who had been sent to China to restore peace during the Boxer Rebellion but who were instead ransacking the imperial
Summer Palace, discovered a large quantity of these notes under an overturned statue of Buddha. (An entire bale of one kwan Ming dynasty
notes would be discovered in 1936, hidden in an old wall outside of Beijing.) Ehrenfeld was right about one thing. Well, almost: with very
few exceptions, these are the oldest examples of paper money known to have survived.
The Chinese not only invented paper, they invented paper money during the reign of emperor Chen Tsung (998-1022 AD). Examples predating
the Ming notes are rarely encountered and are limited to fragments, modern facsimiles made from brass plates recovered in excavations, and
a few notes reportedly held in museums. In 1988, Bank Note Reporter announced the discovery of two notes dating from 1265, one at the
Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg and the other illustrated in a book published by the Inner Mongolia Numismatic Research Institute.
These notes date from the period just before the arrival of Marco Polo at the court of the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan.
To read the complete article, see:
THE WORLD’S OLDEST SURVIVING PAPER MONEY
Wayne Homren, Editor
The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization
promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at coinbooks.org.
To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor
at this address: email@example.com
To subscribe go to: https://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/esylum
Copyright © 1998 - 2012 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.
NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster