The first viable paper currency system used in a national economy in world history was created about 1020 during China’s Song dynasty. When Zhu Yuanzhang came to power as the Hongwu emperor at the beginning of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), he established, in 1374, the Treasure Note Control Bureau (Bao chao ti ju si) to supervise the production of paper money in order to facilitate commerce. The Ming was the first Chinese dynasty to try to totally replace coins with paper money.
The present banknote is an example of the earliest surviving paper currency. Identical to the one held by the British Museum, it is featured in “Ming Banknote. The Threshold of the Modern World (1375-1550 AD),” part of Neil MacGregor’s “A History of the World in 100 Objects” (BBC Radio 4). It is well worth a listen.
“The first Ming notes were printed with a name in large characters across the top. It reads Da Ming tongxing baochao (Great Ming Circulating Treasure Certificate). They are often referred to as baochao, where bao conveys the notion of treasure, and chao the physical paper note…
“Ming notes were issued in several denominations: 100-, 200-, 300-, 400-, 500-wen and one guan (a string of 1000-wen) notes…Almost all the Ming notes that have survived are for one guan. The two large characters at the centre of this note read yi guan (one string), and beneath them is an image of a string of 1000 wen (coins) [strung as ten groups of 100 coins]…
“The large text box below gives instructions for use. It reads in columns from right to left: ‘The Ministry of Revenue, with Imperial sanction, has manufactured and printed Great Ming treasure certificates for circulation alongside bronze coins. Those using counterfeit notes will be executed. Informants will receive 250 liang of silver and the entire property of the criminal. On the Xth day of the Xth month of the Xth year of the Hongwu reign period’…
“Before the notes were issued, they were stamped with three official seals, still visible in red. The two seals stamped on the front of the note read ‘Seal of the Great Ming treasure certificate’ and ‘Seal of the supervisorate of treasure certificates.’ The seal on the back reads ‘Seal of the office of treasure-certificate-printing’.”–from the British Museum website.
Successful at first, the state issued too much paper money, causing hyperinflation. By 1425, paper money was worth only a seventieth of its original value, and the use of paper currency in China was suspended.
In very good condition. A bit frayed around the edges but not touching the printed image. There is one small hole and several small thin areas of the paper.
❧ I can’t resist noting: another example of this banknote is on offer at eBay for $500,000 (as of 9 March 2022).
Item ID: 8126