WHO CAST THE AN PHAP NGUYEN BAO COIN? 
“The Mac cast the small Thai Bình An Phap coin to be transported into Thuan Hoa”. The only sentence about An Phap coin in the book Phu Bien Tap Luc (A compilation of the miscellaneous records when the southern border was pacified) written by Le Quy Don in the 17th century created lot of confusion about the origin of the coin. Researchers throughout the 20th century have made several assumptions. Who cast the An Phap nguyen bao?
EMPEROR LE LOI CAST DURING THE INDEPENDENCE WAR AGAINTS THE MING?
First of all, the majority of numistatics attributed the An Phap Nguyen Bao to the period, from the end of Tran dynasty to the rise of the Later Le dynasty, which was the period the Emperor Le Loi led his peasants to fight against the Ming for ten year. This rationale has been supported by many Western numismatists. At the end of the 19th century, Edward Toda, in his book, wrote that the An Phap coin cast by Emperor Le Loi, as well as the Chinh Phap Nguyen Bao, Tri Thanh Nguyen Bao, Tri Thanh Binh Bao, Thai Phap Binh Bao and Thanh Quan Thong Bao coins (1). Toda did not provide either his rationale or the supporting document to back up his attribution. In 1900, with the same idea as Toda, Lacroix Desire added the Tri Phap Binh Bao coin in Toda’s list for this 10-year period. Lacroix’s rationale was that (2) ‘ Leur fabrication et leurs dimensions rappellent celles des autres périodes de guerres on de calamites de l’histoire du pays, et les inscriptions se rapportent bien à cette époque d’effervescence populaire, de combats, pour la délivrance de la patrie. Au début, on trouve les mots: paix, los, tandis que les monnaies frappées vers lafin dela guerres, alors que le peuple reprenait confiance en l’avenir, portent les inscriptions: sage gouvernement, sage chef`’ (“coins casting in any revolution were usually small and had the character Binh, or Phap at the beginning of the revolution and the character of Thanh when the revolution was successful”). One would think the rationale was quite interesting, however Lacroix did not explain why he did not include other small coins which had the characters of Binh, Phap, Thanh as Tuong Thanh Thong Bao, Tuong Phap Thong Bao, Thien Thanh Thong Bao into this group.
Francois Thierry, the French author of several Annam coin books published recently, was more cautious to believe that there would be several types of An Phap coin and that some of them could be classified as coin cast in the ten years of fighting of Emperor Le Loi againts the Ming, but he did not determine who cast those coins. Mr Thierry’s rationales were that:
- the character of Nguyen in seal script were first used in Nguyen Phong Thong Bao, Thieu Phong Nguyen Bao coins in the Tran dynasty (3) , so the An Phap coin definitely did not cast before the Tran dynasty.
- Per Francois Thierry's footnote, in Ting Fu Pao’s book, extracted from the Japan version of Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu (The Complete Book of the Historical Records of Great Viet), Ting wrote that the rebel Nguyen Bo usurped at the end of Tran dynasty (1391-1392) and declared himself King with the reign title of Hi Nguyen. (4) Therefore Ting classified the Hi Nguyen Thong Bao as Nguyen Bo's coin based on his above statement. [I have 2 original Vietnamese versions of Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu written in the 17th century, but I could not find any page to say that Nguyen Bo had the reign title Hi Nguyen!!!].
Edward Toda, Lacroix Desire, Miura Gosen and Francois Thierry all gave the attribution of the Hi Nguyen Thong Bao coin to Nguyen Bo without providing any supporting document in their books. Therefore, with or without supporting document, those authors concluded that the Hi Nguyen Thong Bao coin, which had the character Nguyen in seal script, was used for the first time in the monetary Vietnam history cast by Nguyen Bo. And consecutively they classified not all coins but some, mentioned above, which had the same style of character Nguyen in seal script as group of coin cast in the ending period of Tran dynasty. With that logic, the Thien Thanh Nguyen Bao was attributed to the rebel Pham Su On as well as the Thien Phu Nguyen Bao coin, Tuong Nguyen Thong Bao coin, An Phap Nguyen Bao coin and some of other coins which had the characters of Thanh, Binh or Phap were attributed to the 10- year revolution of Emperor Le Loi (5). Only Ting Fu Pao classified the An Phap as coin cast in the 17th and 18th century, Ting attributed the coin to Mac Thien Tu whose father migrated from Kuang Twung to Ha Tien and became a mandarin of the Nguyen Lord in the 17th century.
Whether the An Phap coin was cast by Emperor Le Loi or not, there are some facts I would like to present and hope that reader would make his/her own judgment for this attribution:
1. In the three main Vietnamese history books, Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu (The complete book of the historical records og Great Viet) and Dai Viet Su Ky Tien Bien (Historical records of Great Viet, Premier Period) written in the Later Le dynasty, Kham Dinh Viet Su Thong Giam Cuong Muc (Imperially Ordered Annotated Text Completely Reflecting the History of Viet) written in the Nguyen dynasty, none of the three mentioned the reign title Hi Nguyen that Nguyen Bo proclaimed. I do not know which version of Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu that Ting extracted the above data (6).
2. The official coins cast by the Tran dynasty, just a short time before the 10-year period, such as Thieu Phong Thong Bao, Dai Tri Thong Bao, Dai Dinh Thong Bao as well as the official coins cast by Emperor Le Loi, just one or two years after the 10-year period, such as Thien Khanh Thong Bao, Thuan Thien Nguyen Bao were quite hard-finding. But surprisingly, the small copper coins classified as being cast by rebels or Emperor Le Loi in the 10-year period by the above authors such as the Thien Thanh , An Phap, Tuong Phu, Hi Nguyen coins were found easily at the coin market.
3. Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu wrote about the time of adversity in which Le Loi fought against the Ming: ‘ In the month of 2, , the Emperor’s army ran out of food, nothing to cook ... in the month of 12 , the Emperor’s army ran out of food, more than 2 months, the soldier ate only wild vegetables, plan root and bamboo root, the Emperor must kill 4 of his trained elephants and his horse for food ... in the month of 1  the Emperor lead his army to the district of Nghe An, at that time, the army had not eat anything yet for 3 days .. ‘ (7). I wonder that with such difficult conditions and tough battles, how did Emperor Le Loi cast so many coins in type and in quantity?
4. After Le Loi was on the throne, the lack of copper and coin was mentioned in the Lich Trieu Hien Chuong Loai Chi (A reference book of the institutions of successive dynasties) written by Phan Huy Chu, a historian in the Nguyen dynasty. ‘ In the second year the Emperor ordered all mandarins to discuss about money. The order said that money is like blood of people, cannot afford not to have it. Our country had copper mines but ruined by the Ho, only one percentage seemed like to be in production. Recently when we need to spend on military and the Court, the national treasure was not sufficient, therefore our discussion about supplying more money to circulate to make people feel comfortable was a difficult task ? (8). He added ‘ ... At the beginning of the Later Le dynasty, the Ming took lot of natural resources under the ground when the country was occupied by them, utensils in the country were not enough for working therefore now we must care much about how to provide enough for use and must discuss about money. We wanted to cast more coins but it was diffcult when we did not have enough copper. We wanted to make paper money but we were afraid of its trouble in the future...’ (9). Under the above circumstances, would it be reasonable to say that Le Loi cast several types of copper coin in large quantity in this period of time?
5. Comparing these small copper coins which Edward Toda, Lacroix Desire claimed that Emperor Le Loi cast, with the Thien Khanh Thong Bao, Thuan Thien Nguyen Bao coin which the Viet history recorded that Le Loi officially cast, we did not see any similarity in calligraphy, size between these two kinds of coin at all.
6. If the Emperor Le Loi who was the founder of the Later Le dynasty cast the An Phap coin, why did Le Quy Don who was a mandarin of the Later Le dynasty, not mention anything about Emperor Le Loi? Instead he related the An Phap coin to Mac in his Phu Bien Tap Luc book. This kind of mistake could cost not only his life but nine generations of his family could be beheaded based on the law of Le dynasty.
THE MAC IN CAO BANG?
The second opinion is that the Mac in Cao Bang district cast the An Phap Nguyen Bao coin. Mac Dang Dung usurped the throne of the Later Le dynasty, but then later Emperor Le Trang Tong restored the Later Le with the assistance of Trinh and Nguyen. After many years of fighting, the Mac lost the war and was chased away from the capital by the Trinh. After lobbying the Ming dynasty to send a request to the Restoration Le dynasty, the Mac was allowed to live in the district of Cao Bang, a mountainous area in the North. Historians and numismatics believed that Mac cast coins in his independent territory.
When presenting An Phap Nguyen Bao coins in the book Catalogue des monnaies vietnamiennes, Francois Thierry showed 2 copper coins identified as # 200 and # 261 in his book, both coins had the lowest stroke of the root "water" of the character Phap in An Phap were not kicked very high as other normal An Phap coins. He attributed these particular An Phap coins to the Mac in Cao Bang (10). Noted that most An Phap coins had the lowest stroke of the root "water» of the character Pháp kicked high up to the top of the word. Li Tana in her book Nguyen Cochinchina, Southern Vietnam in the 17th and 18th centuries also considered the possibility that the Mac in Cao Bang would cast some An Phap coins to be circulated at the beginning of the independence of the Inner Region (11).
This rationale was based on the first sentence of this article extracted from the book Phu Bien Tap Luc written by Le Quy Don. The Phu Bien Tap Luc cited about the administrative government of Nguyen Lord in the Inner Region, therefore it provided documents about Trinh Lord, Mac Dang Dung’s successors and Mac Cuu who was the Governor of Ha Tien in the South of Vietnam under the Nguyen rule as well. If one can read the original Chinese text in the book, he/she will detect the different ‘Mac’ characters that Le Quy Don used to differentiate the two Mac. Per Professor Chen ChingHo (Tran Kinh Hoa), in the article Ho Mac va chua Nguyen o Ha Tien (The Mac and the Nguyen Lord in Ha Tien district) published in the magazin Van Hoa A Chau (The Asian culture), he explained that there is only one Chinese character Mac indicating the family name, but Le Quy Don wanted to differentiate the ‘bad’ Mac who usurped the Le dynasty from the ‘normal’ Mac Cuu by adding the root "village" to the right side of the regular character Mac when he cited about Mac Cuu and his son Mac Thien Tu. Le Quy Don did use the regular character Mac when he wrote about the An Phap coin.
There are some facts I would like to present and hope that reader would make his/her own judgment for this attribution:
1. The An Phap coin with the above-mentioned lowest stroke kicking very high is a very-very common coin and can be found everywhere in either the North and the South areas in Vietnam at the present time. Perhaps the reader would agree that the Mac lived in a small area in Cao Bang and could not cast such great amount of An Phap coins.
2. It is possible that the An Phap coin cast by the Mac in Cao Bang would be brought into the Inner Region when the Mac was chased by the Trinh Lord and fled to Thuan Hoa when Cao Bang felt into the Trinh’s hand in 1625. This type of An Phap coin was not very common because Cao Bang was a small area. Would it be the type of coin that Francois Thierry had in his book?
THE MAC IN HA TIEN?
The third opinion is that the Mac [Thien Tu] in Ha Tien cast the An Phap coin. Why didn’t Ting Fu Pao pay attention to the two different characters of Mac when attributing the An Phap coin to Mac Thien Tu ? Ting did not provide his rationale to support his classification anyway. Perhaps Ting did not read Phu Bien Tap Luc?
Currently some Vietnamese coin researchers as Ta Chi Dai Truong, Nguyen Anh Huy followed what Ting said. Ta, in his book ‘Tien cua Dang Trong: phuong dien, loai hinh va tuong quan lich su' (Coin cast in the Innner Region: the types and their relevance to history), repeated several times about An Phap coin and assumed that Mac Thien Tu cast such coin. He wrote (12) ‘ Le Quy Don said that Mac Thien Tu cast Thai Binh, An Phap’ or (13) ‘Per numismatics, An Phap were considered as coins to represent the type of ‘Annam-cast coin’ (14) which implies that a great amount of coins were produced and circulated. Another hand, the prosperity of Ha Tien and its successful commercial trading were proved that An Phap was a very common coin that. Le Quy Don saw the commercial ship to Thuan Hoa transported the An Phap coins. An Phap coins were well-circulated in the north of Vietnam because of the great amount of such coin. An Phap nguyen bao is the coin of Ha Tien'.
With the same rationale [without providing evidence] as Ta, Nguyen Anh Huy, a Vietnamese numismatist in Hue (VietNam), wrote in his article ‘Nhung phat hien moi ve ho Mac duc tien‘ (New discoveries about the coins cast by Mac) that (15) ‘After several years of research, we have enough evidences to prove that the An Phap nguyen bao coin were cast by the Mac in Ha Tien'. However throughout the article there is no such evidence presented. The author also classified 42 other coins as the coins cast by Mac Thien Tu.
I wonder if the An Phap coin was attributed to Mac Thien Tu because those authors misunderstood the sentence of Le Quy Don when they did not have the original Chinese text of Phu Bien Tap Luc and read only the Vietnamese translation? Recently, the book Nguyen Cochinchina, Southern Vietnam in the 17th and 18th centuries written by Li Tana is translated into Vietnamese with the title Xu Dang Trong, lich su kinh te - xa hoi Viet Nam the ky 17 và 18, however the footnote mentioned about the two different Mac characters is missing in the translated copy. That unlucky missing note made researchers in Vietnam still unclear on the issue of which Mac cast the An Phap coin?
There are some facts I would like to present and hope that reader would make his/her own judgment for this attribution:
1. Based on the Chinese text, definitely Le Quy Don related the Mac in Cao Bang to the An Phap coin.
2. The majority of the An Phap coins found are in north Vietnam much more so than in south Vietnam. Most of the time the coins found is the kicking-high type.
3. There has been none of archaeological evidence that showing Ha Tien district either had any coin minting factory or had much ancient coins, even An Phap, in its soil.
4. Comparing to the Inner Region and the Outer Region in the 17th century, Ha Tien district played a minor role in the economy of the nation. Therefore I could not find the answer myself if one suggested that the Mac in Ha Tien cast such great amount of An Phap coin being circulated all over the North and then carried back to Thuan Hoa, the capital of the Nguyen Lord.
The unification of Vietnam in 1975 gave the researchers a better chance to find out about the fact of the An Phap coin. After the unification, the collectors in the south of Vietnam knew that the An Phap coins were found much more in the North Vietnam as well. Who cast the An Phap coin? Definitely the assumption about King Le Loi, supported by the Hi Nguyen coin, which was another assumption not to be backed up by any historical record, is not acceptable. The assumption about the Mac in Cao Bang is more acceptable than the Mac in Ha Tien based on Phu Bien Tap Luc. However, this explanation cannot be the conclusion of the issue of who cast An Phap coin if one wonders why the coins were circulated so well in both North and South Vietnam that archaelogists found the coin in many archaelogical sites. Perhaps the Mac in Ha Tien copied the An Phap coin when the Mac in Cao Bang fled into the Inner Region to escape the Trinh Lord? Or were the copy versions made from several different sources? We all know that in the Le Trinh period, commoners in the Inner Region were authorized to cast coins. And in the Outer Region, law forbade coin casting from time to time; but several types of small copper coin, copied-version coin were attributed to the Outer Region.
(1) Edward Toda. Annam and its minor currency, reprinted from The East Asia Journal 6, 1983, page 42 and 43.
(2) Lacroix Désiré. Numismatique Annamite - Publications de l’École Francaise d’Extrême-Orient, Saigon 1900, page 77 and 78.
(3) Francois Thierry. Catalogue des monnaies vietnamiennes. Bibliothèque Nationale published, Paris 1987, page 41.
(4) Francois Thierry. Catalogue des monnaies vietnamiennes. Bibliothèque Nationale published, Paris 1987, page 36.
(5) Lacroix Désiré. Numismatique Annamite - Publications de l’École Francaise d’Extrême-Orient, Saigon 1900, page 77.
(6) Francois Thierry. Catalogue des monnaies vietnamiennes. Bibliothèque Nationale published, Paris 1987. Footnotes (DVSK, cité dans Ting 1940:191) and Bibliographies for Ting: Ku chi’en hsueh kang yao, Ting Fu Pao, Sanghai 1940. Reprint Taipei, 1975 and for DVSK: Toyo bunka kenkyujo, Tokyo 1986, 3 vol.
(7) Dai Viet Su Ky Toan Thu. Khoa Hoc Xa Hoi published, Ha Noi 1993, vol 3, pages 241, 248 and 254.
(8) Phan Huy Chu. Lich Trieu Hien Chuong Loai Chi, translated by Cao Nai Quang, Law University of Sai Gon, published 1957, page 411.
(9) Phan Huy Chu. Lich Trieu Hien Chuong Loai Chi, translated by Cao Nai Quang, Law University of Sai Gon, published 1957, page 413.
(10) Francois Thierry. Catalogue des monnaies vietnamiennes. Bibliothèque Nationale published, Paris 1987, Planche 2, coin # 200 and 261.
(11) Li Tana. Nguyen Cochinchina, Southern Vietnam in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries, Cornell university published, NewYork 1998, page 93.
(12) Ta Chi Dai Truong. Nhung Bai Da Su Viett, Thanh Van published, California 1996, page 295.
(13) Ta Chi Dai Truong. Nhung Bai Da Su Viett, Thanh Van published, California 1996, page 296.
(14) In Ku Ch’ien Ta tz’u tien by Ting Fu Pao, other coins as Dai Dinh thong bao (cast by Duong Nhat Le, Thiên Thuan thong bao (unidentified coin) were noted as ‘Annam cast’ as well, but these coins are not easy to find in the coin market. Ting did not implie the common coins as he noted ‘Annam cast’.
(15) Nguyen Anh Huy. Article ‘Nhung bai phat hien moi ve ho Mac duc tien’ in Xua & Nay magazin, special edition for Money, 300 years in Saigon, Ho Chi Minh city published.