China: Ming Emperor Hongwu, 1368–1398. 1 Kuan note printed under Hongwu, the first Ming Emperor, 8 3/4” X 13 3/16” (the largest paper money ever issued). Small chips and tears at the edges (many natural, all outside the borders), 1/4” paper flaw to the left dragon border, the red seal a little faded but withal, PMG slabbed and graded “Very Fine 25” hence, authentic and, almost as important, never repaired in any way. Block printed in black ink on dark gray mulberry paper. The Chinese text at the top reads “Da ming tong xing bao chao” (right to left, in regular K’ai Shu style), translating as “Great Ming Circulating Treasure Note.” Below this the denomination is printed in 2 characters “yi guan” translating as “one string” meaning the equivalent of 1,000 copper cash, and there is a picture of a string of 1,000 copper coins, arranged in 10 groups of 100 coins (then worth 1 tael of purse silver or 1/4 tael of gold). The center is flanked by 8 Chinese characters “Ta Ming Pao Ch’ao, Tien Hsia T’ung Hsing” (in Chuan Shu style), translating as “the Great Ming note circulates everywhere.” Below that are instructions for use with a threat to punish forgers. The outer surrounding frame is ornamented with dragon patterns. Overprinting all, are 2 red (vermilion) handstamps, one on each side, having the function of signatures on modern banknotes (the reverse one is the imperial seal). These notes are from a series of the earliest numismatic prints, the earliest obtainable commercial printing on paper, and very nearly the earliest obtainable printing of anything, a full lifetime before Gutenberg, and they are banknotes from a nation that now prides itself on advanced science, but always connected to its ancient roots, so they have just bred a man with a rabbit to produce a human with a lucky foot. Ref: Pick AA10 S/M#T36–20. very fine. Item #506
China was the first country in the world to use paper money (credit currency) beginning in the late 11th century, and our note is one of the earliest examples of it now available, as all those that are earlier (and they are just a little earlier) only survive in fragments held by museums, university libraries, and the like. Marco Polo saw the predecessor of our paper money in the 12th century, referring to it as “flying money” and he likened the ability to print money, that was equal in commerce to gold, as alchemy. Here are Polo’s own words from his Book of the Marvels of the World: “…all merchants arriving from India, or other countries, and bringing with them gold or silver or gems and pearls, are prohibited from selling to anyone but the Emperor. He has 12 experts chosen for this business, men of shrewdness and experience in such affairs; and these appraise the articles, and the Emperor then pays a liberal price for them in those pieces of paper [money]. The merchants accept his price readily, for in the first place they would not get so good a one from anybody else, and secondly, they are paid without any delay. And with this paper money they can buy what they like anywhere over the Empire, whilst it is also vastly lighter to carry about on their journeys. And it is a truth that the merchants will several times in the year bring wares to the amount of 400,000 bezants [a gold coin associated with Byzantium] and the Grand Sire pays for all in that paper. So, he buys such a quantity of those precious things every year that his treasure is endless, whilst all the time the money he pays away costs him nothing at all. Moreover, several times in the year proclamation is made through the city that anyone who may have gold or silver or gems or pearls, by taking them to the mint shall get a handsome price for them. And the owners are glad to do this, because they would find no other purchaser giving so large a price. Thus, the quantity they bring in is marvelous.” –Chapter 24.