Chinese Sycees Resembling Spanish Cobs

Stephen Tai
December 19, 1999





Two Chinese Sycees Cast in the Form of Cob:


Inscription: Kang (Last Name of Smith)
Weight: 27+ g


Inscription: Cross
Weight: 13+ g

  • "Cob" in Latin means "cabo de barre", generally known as "silver piece cut off from the end of a bar", was a coinage used in the Spanish colonial America during 16th to 18th century. Silver cobs were denoted from 8, 4, 2, 1 reale and 1/2 reale, and such a nomination of "reale" was also a "weight unit". An 8-reale cob weighs about 27+ grams. (See Images 1-4)
  • Without being recorded too many specifics by letter Chinese histories, but indeed, Spanish cobs had been brought to and circulated in China since late Ming Dynasty, e.g. 16th century, until 18th century, which was one of the pioneer foreign silvers in China.
  • Silver cobs had been widely circulated in the coastal areas of China, such as Kuang Tung, Chekiang, Fujien and Taiwan for a long time, people used to call it "Cross Money". This can be evidenced by many hoards of cobs excavated from those areas in recent decades.
  • From 1732, silver cobs were gradually replaced by semi-machine made "Pillar Dollar" of Spanish Mexico and other colonies. The supply of cobs hence declined, until stopped.
  • From a hoard of small Chinese sycees, a few months ago author found 2 sycees as (5) and (6) illustrated, they were obviously resembled from Spanish cobs. Their weights are respectively in 27+ and 13+ grams which equivalent to 8 reales and 4 reales for cobs. (5) with cutting edges shows that its smith was sheering it as to fit certain weight standard; it was of the same measure taken in producing cobs in South America. (6) is even more interesting; a cross resembling the Spanish emblem with 2 pairs of castles and lions divided by a cross into 4 compartments which carried by every cobs is shown on this sycee. Even though it doesn’t show the details of castles, lions and other ornaments as appeared on the surfaces of original cobs, yet, it can be of no doubt that this sycee was deliberately putting on the cross to resemble a 4-reale cob.
  • These 2 Chinese "cobs" should be resulting from, either, at the time before early 18th century, while cobs were overwhelming the Chinese markets and people who could not find enough supplies of cobs for circulation called upon smiths to cast sycees in the pattern of cob. Or, after 1732 when cobs started to retire from the markets, Chinese merchants did so to prolong the supply of cobs, and it became an interim currency between Silver cobs and Pillar Dollars in China.

Any additional information highly appreciated.
Chinese Coinage Web Site