The Island of Gold

Three finely illustrated manuscript scrolls, scroll I: 9720 x 260 mm., scroll II: 8420 x 260 mm.; scroll III: 6600 x 260 mm., on fine thin paper & later backed with mica-embossed paper, with numerous explanatory captions, blue silk brocade endpapers at beginning of each scroll, wooden rollers, preserved in an old wooden box.

[Japan: 1816 or after].

A fine, complete, and uncommonly well-illustrated set of scrolls concerning the famous gold, silver, and copper mine on Sado Island, illustrating all the steps from mining to refining to minting, along with the administrative and commercial activities associated with the mines. We have had several sets of “Sado Island Scrolls” and this is by far the finest in terms of the quality of the illustration, completeness, and richness of detail. The skilled artist of these scrolls has provided an enormous amount of valuable factual content by labeling each depicted person’s role in the production of gold, silver, and copper.

For a really excellent account of the history of mining on Sado Island and the scrolls produced there, see Hamish Todd, “The British Library’s Sado Mining Scrolls” in The British Library Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Spring 1998), pp. 130-43. Our description is largely based on this wonderful and beautifully researched article.

Gold, silver, and copper mining on Sado Island, just off the coast of Niigata Prefecture, had its beginnings in ancient times. With the discovery in 1601 of the rich Aikawa gold and silver mine, Sado experienced an economic boom. The Edo shogunate assembled miners and slave laborers (mostly the homeless) from throughout Japan and sent them to Sado to exploit the Aikawa mine and three other principal mines. It soon became the largest gold and silver mine in Japan, attracting a population of 200,000 and, to a very large degree, financed the Edo shogunate for several hundred years. A series of unique mining, smelting, and minting technologies developed at Sado were disseminated to other mines within Japan. Today, the Sado complex of mines is on the “Tentative List” of Unesco World Heritage Sites.

The Aikawa mine was one of the few mines at the time to be based on kodobori (mine-digging). A series of pre-modern mine management systems and mining-related technologies ranging from mining to smelting were developed at Sado, including methods for extracting gold from silver, such as the Chinese haifuki cupellation method brought in from the Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine (Shimane Prefecture); the yakikin method; as well as manufacturing-based operational formats such as the yoseseriba. It is particularly important to remember that the entire series of processes, from mining and smelting to ultimately the production of gold coinage, were carried out at this single mine and its environs.

The finely drawn scrolls depict every process of extraction, refining, and minting. Each scroll has a title on a label on the outside: “Sado kozan saikutsu jikkei” [“Actual View of Sado Mining”]. As we unroll the scroll, we find another title, “Sashu kingin saisei zenzu” [“Sado Gold & Silver Extracted & Processed, Illustrated”], and a grand index of the pictorial contents of the three scrolls.

The first scroll begins with a map showing the Aikawa mountain and the numerous entrances to the mining complex, with names and locations of refining buildings. This is followed by wonderful paintings of the main entrance to the mine and the surrounding buildings; miners entering and working in the shafts; the ladders made from logs into which steps have been cut; lamps made of iron dishes to hold oil and attached to long iron handles; buckets and pulleys to remove water; baskets to carry ore; government officials, the mine operator, and surveyors discussing the best location for a new tunnel; carpenters constructing support beams; etc. Each person has a label, so we know his exact title and function.

The remainder of the scroll takes place outside of the mine: blacksmiths making tools; women removing waste material from the ore and placing the ore in sieves to be washed, under the watchful eye of government supervisors; the administrative center for the mine where the ore is graded for sale to the smelters, with a bookkeeper recording all the transactions; a back office where managers, senior administrators of the mine, and accountants are meeting; a room where the ore is examined once again; the ore sewn into sacks and carried out to be loaded onto oxen to be transported to the smelting works; a storage area with big locks; another government office, where mine workers turned in their ID cards at the beginning of their shifts; the building known as Kanaba, where the ore was pulverized to win the precious metals; a horsetail sieve to separate the ore into various constituents; grinding of the ore using ishiusu (grindstones); the process of nekonagashi, which used cotton cloth in wooden troughs to extract the very smallest particles using the gravimetric principle, etc.

The second scroll depicts the smelters called fukidaiku, with men operating the bellows, all watched by a guard. The gold/silver/lead alloy was then taken to an area called the Haifukidoko, where the alloy was subjected to roasting in a cupel. The following scene shows the government office where the gold (sujimengane) and silver (yamabukigin) samples are examined.

Now we shift to the scenes showing the processing of copper. We see the pulverizing and winning of the copper using methods similar to those for gold and silver, with the addition of extensive smelting scenes employing large smelting furnaces (nibukidoko, mabukidoko, and nanbandoko). There are a number of processing scenes (including daifukisho), which are not present in the BL set of scrolls.

From the copper works we move to the coast of Sado, where we see the extraction of alluvial gold and silver from the sand of the beaches by means of a technique called sluicing or nekonagashi. An Archimedes screw is used to draw water up to form a flow that could be used for sluicing. The material is then taken to a building called the Hamanagashi no seriba for further processing.

The third scroll is devoted to minting in the Kobandokoro, where small coins called koban were produced. Using the cementation process called shioyaki, the partly refined gold is further refined. Above is a criss-cross construction of wooden planks known as a senryodana, designed to trap any gold dust mixed with smoke from the smelting. The workers are wearing only loin cloths to prevent theft. The powdered gold is then mixed with salt and shaped into cones. Then the cones are burned slowly for seven or eight hours. Further processing steps are shown, finally resulting in balls of gold called yosegane, suitable for minting.

Next, the silver by-product is shown being processed and refined in a series of scenes.

The following series of scenes show the gold being formed into metal strips called nobegane, which were then polished by salt before being sent to the office run by the Goto family (the Goto Yakusho). We see Sanemon Goto 2nd (d. 1845) in his office. He succeeded to running the Goto Yakusho in 1816 (and this is the basis for dating these scrolls). In this office, the strips were tested for purity before being cut into small sections.

In fine condition. There is minor marginal worming in the beginning of the second and third scrolls.

Price: $27,500.00

Item ID: 7024