Yuan Dynasty Da Chao silver cash

Vladimir Belyaev
September 03, 2000
Obverse: Da Chao Tong Bao (top bottom right left)

Reverse: plain; two chopmarks:

Metal: silver
Diameter: 21.5 mm
Weight: 3.2 g

Refs.:Ding Fu Bao 1695/96, Schjoth (Hancock ed.) 1097-A, Tsai 467

Reference Peng Xin Wei (transl. by E.Kaplan):

         Even before the Mongols took control over China, they had begun to cast Chinese-style coins, like the Great Dynasty Circulating Treasure (Da Chao Tong Bao). There are a number of variant forms of this coin. Most are not carefully made. Individual coins vary in weight from 2.7 to 3 grams. The strokes on the three characters for "large", "circulating" and treasure" resemble the calligraphy on the Northern Song Daguan coins. Some specimens have taken on a grayish color, which has hitherto been considered as a sign of the silver having been alloyed, but none of them has undergone chemical analysis. Some of the coin reverses bear seal marks, either one or two of them. Some people infer from these that such coins had been in circulation.

         Great Dynasty was the name the Mongols used for themselves before they changed their appellation to Great Yuan. Weng Shupei, Collected Investigations of Ancient Coins, includes an investigation of this. For the Great Dynasty Circulating Treasure silver coin, cf. Xuan Yugong, "Great Dynasty Circulating Treasure Continued Investigation", Encyclopedia of Ancient Coins, latter compendium, three-stroke section, pp.95-97.

     The above Peng Xin Wei note about countermarks on the silver Da Chao coins is quite interesting. One of the shown above countermarks is definetly non-Chinese and leads us according to P.Petrov suggestion to the S-tamga of Mahmud Yalavach family. Mahmud Yalavach was one of the Khublai khan viziers. By some references (Orlando Tsai) Da Chao coin was issued in the 1260 AD by Khublai khan (Ginghiz khan grandson) when he was raised as a ruler in China.

     Below is the image from one of books which shows strange character on the reverse of this coin. Probably it is not countermark but original reverse design. This strange character is similar to Mongke khan tamga.
     It must be noted that I have some doubts in the shown below coin. Probably it is not genuine.

     Note from Dr.T.D.Yih (05-Sep-2000):
         The Da Chao cash are a very intriguing group of cash coins. They occur both in silver and also in bronze.

         I know that several years ago there was a paper on them in Zhongguo Qianbi. One of the illustrations (unfortunately of very low quality) showed on the reverse, some inscriptions, that looked like arabic. I did, however, never receive any answer on my letter to the authors.

         As you might realize "Da Chao" is not a reign legend. Actually it means something like "Great Court" and I was considering the hypothesis that it was actually nothing more than the Chinese version of the arabic legends "al Urdu al a'zam", that occurs on a number of early Chaghatayid coins (the trilingual pieces).

     Chinese Chao have next translations that can be useful in context of Dr.Yih's note:
  • an [Imperial] Court (Government)
  • a dynasty
  • a market, a bazaar
     Arabic al Urdu al a'zam - a 'Great Horde'.

     Searching in the American Numismatic Society on-line database gives only one coin in it's collection. It is silver coin with plain reverse and size 23 mm.

     Expanded message from Dr.T.D.Yih (08-Sep-2000):
         You are of course correct that one of the meanings of the Chinese word Chao is dynasty. As such it is used in Chinese books on numismatics and history and it will be logically to accept translation for "Da chao" as "Great dynasty".

         However, another meaning is also "Court" means a residence of the emperor or king. Hence, an alternative meaning for "Da chao" might be "Great court". I know I am sticking out my neck a little bit, but I could not refrain of making a comparison with the legends found on a number of Chaghatayid coins from the Xinjiang region (Yih, 1993). They bear the arabic legends "al Urdu al a'zam" also meaning the "Great court". This might be a reference to the capital-mint. Some of those pieces bear the date AH662 corresponding with AD1263. Other not-dated pieces bear an phagsba inscription. Since this writing style was introduced on the order of Khubilay around AD1269, those pieces should be dated after AD1267.

        Interestingly, several years ago Lei Runzhe published a paper on a silver Da chao coin found in the Ningxia region (Lei Runzhe et al., Zhongguo Qianbi 27, no. 4, p28-31, 1989). It contained a picture of a Da chao piece with apparently a non-Chinese inscription on its reverse. Although the illustration is not very clear, I am inclined it is an arabic inscription. The same coin was illustrated in 1995 amidst a number of other Da chao coins by Sheng Guanxi (SHENG Guanxi, "Dachao tongbao" yin qian kao lue 'Dachao tongbao silver coins', in ZGQB 1995/3 (50), pp.18-22. [thanks to Helen Wang, the British Museum, for the exact reference - V.B.]). Finally, last year Niu Dasheng published a paper on leaden Da chao pieces. This author differentiated the pieces in large and small specimens. Moreover, he mentions the presence of characters on the reverses that still have to be identified (ZGQB 1999, 4, p 17-22). Furthermore, the paper contains a nice table with finding places.

    [Sorry, currently I have not good quality illustrations - V.B.]

         In conclusion, I am tempted to think that with the legend Da chao also nothing else is meant than Great court referring to an issue of the capital-mint, but now in the former Jin territory in northern China, where Khubilai started to construct his capital in 1267. The legends Da chao or al Urdu al a'zam might also be used to emphasize that these coins were issues of the Great khan. We should remember that in this period Khubilai was involved in his struggle with Qaidu.

         I hope that this short note will start a discussion on the meaning of "Da chao".

     Next message from Dr.T.D.Yih (09-Sep-2000):

    The Da chao cash are known to exist in silver and in bronze.
         The piece published by Lei Runzhe was reported to be a silver one with the legends Da chao tong bao. There are, however, also silver Da chao pieces the characters jin he instead of "tong bao". Drawings of these pieces are present in the well-known numismatic book of Lockhart on the Glover collection.
         Find enclosed a picture of a Dao chao jin he piece from the Ethnographical Museum at Rotterdam. I am not sure wheter it is guinine. To me this piece seemed to be made of bronze. If it is silver, the silver content is low.

         Furthermore I retrieved some data on other finds. Possibly, I had it from an issue of Numismatic International 1995 (I am still looking after it).

    • 1985 one silver and one copper DC-coin dug up in Qinan county, Gansu
    • 1993 September 100 DC silver pieces dug up at Tianshui in southern Gansu; W. 3.8 g
    • 1994 March 11 silver pieces dug up in Yang county, Shaanxi(Shensi); W. 2.2 g

     Da Chao Jin He legend reading variants:
  • 'The Great Court of the Golden Unity'.
  • 'The Great Unity of the Golden Court [Horde]'.
     In the Chinese history the Yuan Dynasty period often named as 'Period of Great Unity'. At the website of The National Museum of Chinese History can be read next quote: In 1271 Khublai khan changed the name of his empire to Yuan, and in 1279 conquered the Southern Song. By this time the Yuan Dynasty was in control of all territory formerly under the Western Xia, Jin and Southern Song, unifying the whole of China, including present day Xinjiang, Yunnan and Tibet.
     As we have seen earlier the Court is equal to the Horde. Really the Golden Horde realm was held in the Russian steppe territories so I'm not sure in this version of reading.

     And finally once more crazy :-) version of reading - The Great Unity of the Jin Dynasty which leads us to the Zhurzhen's Jin Dynasty.

     Any additional information about silver Da Chao countermarked coins highly appreciated.

Chinese Coinage Web Site