Monday, December 21, 2009

PRC Mints Silver Coin Celebrating Ancient Coin Collecting

The PRC has issued a silver 10 Yuan coin to commemorate the 14th Beijing International Coin Exhibition. See The new issue depicts ancient coin designs from the Han Dynasty and the Sassanian Empire. (The Sassanian Empire was centered in today's Iran, but its coins also circulated in Central Asia, including what is today part of China. The modern Chinese coin appears to depict the portrait of Ardashir I, the dynasty's founder, from a silver dinar.)

The decision to issue such a coin should not be all that surprising. In the last decade or so, collecting ancient coins has become very popular within China. Just like in the United States and Europe, the vast majority the coins available to Chinese collectors are completely unprovenanced. The difference, of course, is what types of coins are collected. Chinese mainly purchase ancient Chinese coins because they want to collect, preserve, and display artifacts from their own culture. In contrast, for now at least, there are only a relatively few Chinese who collect ancient Western coins (see Meadows, Andrew R., and Richard W.C. Kan. 2004. History Re-stored: Ancient Greek Coins from the Zhuyuetang Collection. Hong Kong: Zhuyuetang Limited.).

In the United States, the converse is true. Relatively few Americans collect ancient Chinese coins. In contrast, many Americans (mostly of European decent) collect ancient Greek and Roman coins, particularly those struck in what is now Italy. Again, it is often because they identify these coins with their own cultural backgrounds.

What is another difference? Well, through the efforts of our own U.S. State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the AIA (see and and ) unprovenanced ancient Chinese or Cypriot coins cannot be legally imported into the United States without the fear they will be seized, and the AIA is actively working to extend this ban to the heart of the ancient coin market in the United States, Greek and Roman coins from Italy. See

So, while Chinese and Cypriot collectors continue to be able to enjoy adding unprovenanced ancient coins imported for their collections, our State Department has bowed to the narrow interests of foreign cultural bureaucracies and the AIA to preclude Americans from enjoying what these foreigners can do.

Perhaps, if the AIA gets its wish and the U.S. ultimately extends import restrictions to ancient Greek and Roman coins struck in Italy, Chinese collectors and dealers will take advantage of the situation just as they have with newly restricted (for American collectors) Chinese artifacts. See and

Will the PRC coin commemorating the 20th Beijing International Coin Exhibition depict an ancient Chinese coin along with a Roman Denarius or a Syracusian Tetradrachm? If current trends continue, perhaps so.

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