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With the publication of the first volume of R. Allan Barker's The Historical Cash Coins of Viet Nam , it is now possible to get a handle on this vast and complex series. Barker lists the "official" cash, those which can be assigned with some reliability to known rulers and rebels, leaving for a later volume the extensive series of "small cash" (likely 17-18th C. trade coins), and other historically unassignable issues which circulated along side the official coins. For the first time a serious attempt has been made to distinguish calligraphy varieties, a rich and important collecting field, and a tool for weeding out contemporary (circulating) and modern (collector-oriented) forgeries. If only we could read in Barker that coins with square-head Tong were issued at one mint, and round-head at another, or a reverse "dot" distinguishes the issue of a particular prince, our appreciation of the coins would be magnified. But these old "state secrets" remain to be discovered, as one important function of the calligraphy was to check up on licensees, mint directors, and to spot private forgeries. Thus the information was closely held even at the time. Study of the meaning of such variations in Chinese coins is well advanced, as witness Burger and Hartill's works on Qing, and much earlier works by Japanese authors on Song. In working up my own accumulation, often amounting to hundreds of coins per reign, I have been able to find dozens of significant varieties not shown in Barker. Doubtless others remain to be spotted by astute collectors.
Hopefully one day these variations will be linked with archaeological finds or as yet unrecognized written records to enrich our understanding of Vietnamese monetary history.
Standard characters Thong and Bao are most often where Vietnam's coin designers chose to hide their coding. A look at this page from Burger will help explain the variations in the "head" of Thong, the dots in front of it, the "bei" (box like lower part) of Bao, and the "feet" below it.|
Barker's color work displays the beauty and craftsmanship of Vietnamese cash as no rubbing or woodcut-illustrated work can. Readers wondering about the uniformly high-grade, lightly-patinated specimens shown should realize that most of his collection comes from hoards discovered in Vietnam with metal detectors since the 1970s. Most of what is available in the West is more circulated.
Cross references are given to KM, C (Craig), T (Toda) and N (Novak). I have used letter postscripts to designate types not in Barker, capitals for entire new types, and lower case for what I feel are subvarieties within the Barker type. Where I can not distinguish between Barker varieties I have used a plus (+) after the first number, and indicated in the description which varieties are included. Variety distinctions become subtle in later reigns. I have created some scans just to make comparisons easier for common types.