The Island of Gold

Two finely illustrated manuscript scrolls, scroll I: 11,500 x 268 mm. & scroll II: 11,880 x 268 mm. on fine paper, with numerous explanatory captions. [Japan: late 18th century – early 19th century].

A fine and complete set of scrolls concerning the famous gold and silver mines on Sado Island, illustrating all the steps from mining to refining to minting.

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 nearby mines. It soon became the largest gold and silver mining site in Japan, attracting a population of well over 50,000 and it, 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 (and much of our description is derived from the detailed article prepared for submission to Unesco).

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. The first scroll depicts the entrance to the mine on Aikawa mountain; miners in the mine shafts; ladders and lanterns; buckets to remove water; baskets to carry ore; government officials, including surveyors; ventilation systems; scenes outside the mines with sheds; men cutting wood for support beams; blacksmiths making tools; water courses to wash away gravel and soil; security devices to prevent workers from stealing gold; a scene depicting dealers at an auction bidding on the unrefined ores; office workers keeping records; transportation of the rocks by humans and oxen; the village, with scenes of a restaurant, merchants carrying coal, oil, and other supplies to the mine; methods of crushing and grinding the ores; more water courses to separate the precious metals from the gravel and stone; Archimedean screws; techniques to separate gold dust; the steps of the haifuki cupellation method; government assayers; and other refining techniques.

The second scroll depicts further refining methods to separate gold, silver, and copper. These are highly detailed, including images of each tool with its name; government offices; shore quarries; etc. The scroll goes on to the minting process. We see government officials watching workers further refine the ores; bags of gold dust; melting of gold and silver in large furnaces; casting of long thin ingots of gold; breaking down these ingots (always closely observed by government officials), and the minting of coins. The same process is shown for making silver coins.

In very fine condition with fine coloring.

Price: $19,500.00

Item ID: 5642