Book review by Tony Merson:
David Jen Chinese Cash

Chinese Cash: Identification and Price Guide Chinese Cash. Identification and Price Guide. David Jen. Krause Publications, 2000.
(xi + 341p., extensively illustrated throughout. $42.95 U.S.,around ?30 in the U.K.).

       To a collector relatively new to Chinese coins, this recent Krause paperback catalogue should have been the ideal essential reading. Whilst there is much of interest hidden in it, the catalogue is instead an editorial disaster.

       David Jen is apparently a dealer in Chinese coins in the United States, although this is not made clear in the catalogue beyond oblique references in the Foreword to "People often meet me at coin shows…" and his "personal field experience". It is not easy to recognise how his trading activities might have influenced the content and the prices quoted.

       The catalogue is divided into four sections. This is perhaps the author's biggest mistake.

       The third section is 32 pages of seed coins, patterns and trials. Genuine examples of these master coins and mother coins, which are used in the stages of making the moulds for casting the ordinary circulating cash, are all rare and expensive. It is not clear that including some of them here will help the ordinary collectors and dealers who are assumed to be the target users of the book. (Methinks our ex-Colonies are perchance plagued by a plethora of fakes and fantasies?).

       The fourth section is far and away the most interesting. Five coin types are taken as examples, including the common Wu Zhu and the earliest of the Kai Yuan Tong Bao of the Tang Dynasty. The author then starts to explain how to recognise the different issues or the different calligraphic variants of the selected types. These descriptions bridge the gap between simply collecting by types and proper numismatics. They could have been extended and much more similar material in the English language is needed.

       This is followed by an entertaining three-page summary on the ever-present and serious problems of some of the different ways in which the coins are faked, how to recognise particular kinds of fake, and a summary of the key characteristics to consider - legend, alloy, sound, colour, smell (jest not) and the overall "feel" that the author calls the "profile" or "Shen". This is a posh word to distinguish the genuine coin from the one that "just doesn't feel right" to the beholder. But wait. To read this secret lore you must at least buy the book to be initiated. Finally there are the usual tables of dynasties, emperors and reign titles etc., unfortunately not without uncorrected errors.

       The first, and longest, section of the catalogue is devoted to the "mainstream dynastic issues" with accompanying notes. The second section is more of the same "to avoid a cluttering of material" but without notes.

       The user's problem is that there is no apparent rhyme or reason as to why a particular coin is included in one or other of these first two sections, or indeed why some types have been chosen for exclusion from either section. It is all very, and unnecessarily, confusing. Even the author seems to have become befuddled.

       So far, six instances of the same coin being duplicated in both of the first two sections of the catalogue can be reported.

       The Tang Kai Yuan with reverse Chang is Jen 146 and again Jen 1060, but at a lower price. The Ming Da Zhong cash Jen 511 is repeated as Jen 1290, but with the VF price reduced by one-third, the VG price being unchanged. The Ming Hong Wu 3 cash Jen 534 reappears as Jen 1320 at one-third of the price in both grades. A Hong Wu 10 cash variety Jen 542 is re-listed as Jen 1336 at three-quarters of the earlier price and the Tai Ping coin Jen 884 appears again as Jen 1486 at one-third of the value. More confusingly, the Hong Wu 2 cash with plain reverse (Jen 529, Fisher's Ding 1908) reappears as Jen 1316 with an incorrect reference to FD1912, that having reverse Jing, and at less than one-third of the price (VG down from $1,000 to $300 and VF down correspondingly from $2,000 to $600).

       The price discrepancies are not insignificant, so perhaps it will be a case of using one section when buying and the other when selling?!

       Apart from those, the other errors, most suspected to have arisen at the editorial and production stages, are catastrophically numerous. It would take another book to tabulate them all. Some of the major errors, and some of the types of error, must suffice as the warning to the user. CAVEAT OMNES who open here!

       In the first section, the numbering of the illustrations and catalogue entries gets out of synchronisation with the bracketed numbers in the accompanying text.

       The system starts to hiccup on page 89 (for 390 read 389; 391 is 390; 386 is 396; 399-491 is 399 & 401) and page 91 (for 405 read 404 and, incidentally, 1161-70 A.D. should read 1161-90 A.D.) and page 99 (the first 446-7 is 444-5) and page 101 (409 is 449). Then it all crashes completely at the start of the so-called Ming Rebels coinages on page 131 (621-2 is 625-6, et seq.). The resulting gap is reduced to three numbers when 666 beastly-well disappears from the erroneous text. But, lest boredom set in, the reader is left to work out how further errors chance in parity being regained before the end of Section I.

       The text notes are useful, interesting and entertaining, even if the American-Chinese version of the English language is sometimes quaint. However, it would have been nice to have been able to read the text to Nos. 161-179 inclusive, Ten Dynasties Nos. 1 to 8 of 10. Did the Chinese invent the black hole as well?

       There are so many silly errors, and some serious ones, that only their broad categories can be listed, with a few typical examples:

       Spelling: "uncculated condition" on page x. Weights: 536g for Jen 60. Pricing: Jen 147 at VG $40.70; Jen 349 and 350 VG price repeated for VF; Jen 426 prices are for the rare copper, not the common iron coin; page 141 is beyond recovery by the reader; Jen 810 and Jen 1303 have the prices omitted. References: Jen 286 is S640 and Jen 287 is S639; Jen 537 is not in Schjoth and Jen 538 is FD1943; Jen 545 is S1158. Legends: Jen 344-6 are Jia Tai not Jia Ding. Metal: Jen 354 is iron (text confirms). Chronology: on page 103, 1350 A.D. should read 1355 A.D. Omissions: on page 113, Zhe - Zhejiang is left out of the list of mints (Jen 510). Denominations: on page 119, Jia Jing, for 1 cash read 10 cash; Jen 798 is value 10 not value 100.

       Some of the pricing errors are the more serious for not being obvious. Did a finger held too long on the keyboard uplift the common Northern Song Ming Dao cash (Jen 218-9) to the price of the preceding iron coin? Similarly with Jen 223-4? Jen 1285 was priced at 5 cents in Ding and $7 in Fisher's Ding and your reviewer had change out of 50 pence for one recently. Perhaps $10 and $20 were intended, rather than $1,000 and $2,000? What similar problems remain to be found?

       Nevertheless, there are overriding plus points which still make the book worth having. There are rare coins illustrated, having only been discovered since the commonly used English language standard works appeared. The descriptive paragraphs accompanying Section I and in Section IV contain interesting and useful information.

       An early second edition is essential. The numbering system will be a problem, since the first two sections should be merged. Section III should be compressed, or even dropped, and Section IV could be extended. Your reviewer's copy is now pencilled throughout with corrections noticed in passing. Some users may consider the errors to be so many that the catalogue nears the English commercial law threshold of being unfit for the purpose for which it was sold. Krause would do everybody a favour by a prompt, but - please - unhurried, reissue, at a more nominal cover price to compensate.

       Not up to their usual standard, but still buy it.

       R.A.M. Copyright.
December 2001


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