Nearly every kind of metal has been used in Annam in the manufacture of coins, and there are now in circulation coins made of gold, silver, copper, zinc, and lead; and up to within a short time ago there were also coins made of iron.
Gold and silver coins were not made except under the last dynasty, and in a very limited number ; but the kings of the present dynasty have given a greater impulse to their mintage. According to the laws for casting coins in those metals, those used for paying Mandarins are to be round, and in ingots for payment to the troops in time of war. There exists also a large number of gold and silver medals with inscriptions and allegories relating to the 五寶 Ngu-bao or Five Precious Things; and these are distributed by the king in return for services to the state. These medals, however, pass into circulation and are taken as currency according to weight. The classification of these gold and silver coins and medals would lake up too much space in the present work and we therefore leave it for future consideration.
The minor currency of Annam is identical with that of China; in fact nearly all the coins which were in circulation up to the 15th century were actually cast in the provinces of 廣東 Kuang-tung, 廣西 Kuang-si, and 福建 Fu-kien, and brought direct to Annam in Chinese junks. The coins thus imported were smaller than the ordinary Chinese cash; they bore the Nien-hao or name of reign of various Emperors of the 宋 Sung Dynasty of China, and are still to be found in large numbers. In Annam coins were cast only under a few of the kings of the dynasties 丁 DINH, 前黎 former LE, 李 LY, and 陳 TRAN, who reigned before that period. The description of these coins will be found further on.
In early days, the casting of cash was the prerogative of the king, according to rules contained in the 九府園法 Cun-phu-hoan-phap, or Uniform Laws for the Nine, Phu. The text is rather obscure, but we gather from it that the cash were either cast at nine mints or stored in nine magazines in order to prevent an excessive circulation, in the following nine places: 太府 Thai-phu, 王府 Vuong-phu, 內府 Noi-phu, 外府 Ngoai-phu, 泉府 Tuyen-phu, 天府 Thien-phu, 職內 Chuc-noi, 職金 Chuc-kim, and 職幣 Chuc-te.
In the time of King 顯宗 HIEN-TONG of the 黎 LE Dynasty (1740-1786) mints were established in the capitals of some provinces, and it was ordered that on the reverse of the coins the name of the place whence they came should be indicated. At the present day two mints exist in Annam, where cash are cast for the use of the Government: one in Hue, the ancient capital of Cochinchina and now the capital of the whole kingdom; and the other in Hanoi, the ancient capital of Tunquin. Besides these, private speculators are allowed to cast cash with the permission of the Government who send deputies to inquire into the number of furnaces used and the monthly quantity of cash made, on which a contribution is levied. This contribution is usually paid twice over by the manufacturers on account of the exactions of the Mandarins.
Coins are also cast in Macao for circulation in Annam; and from a very recent report addressed by the Governor of that
Colony to the Portuguese Government it would appear that there exist at the present moment six manufactories of Annamese coins, employing twelve furnaces and three hundred and twenty workmen, and producing daily 700,000 cash.
In 1528 iron coins began to come into circulation in Annam, The Annals state that, when the usurper 莫登庸 MAC DANG-DUNG proclaimed himself king under the name of 明德 MINH-DUC, he wished to have oins cast, and having no copper made use of iron. This is the only occasion on which we see iron employed in the casting of Annamese coins.
Zinc coins appeared for the first time during the reign of the King 顯宗 HIEN-TONG (1740). They were also made by 阮岳 NGUYEN-NHAC, chief of the 西山 Tay-son rebels, who was proclaimed king in 1764. This example was followed by the King 嘉隆 GIA-LONG in consequence of the great scarcity of copper in the kingdom. This king was the first who had coins made out of lead. The reasons which led to the use of these different metals, as well as the different amalgams of copper, tin, lead, and zinc, will be explained afterwards.
Various laws were passed at different times with reference to the circulation of the currency. In 1230 the King 太宗 THAI-TONG of the 陳 TRAN Dynasty regulated the value of the cash, ordering that ouch string or tien which the peasants had to pay to the Treasury should contain seventy cash, and only sixty those which dwellers in the cities paid in. The founder of the 黎 LE Dynasty reduced the tien to fifty cash; but its value was very soon raised by his successor, who in 1435 ordered all collectors of taxes to accept the old copper cash so far as it could be put in strings, and increased the tien to sixty cash. At the present day the tien is still composed of sixty zinc cash; and ten tiens make one quan-tien.
We have searched in vain for any law relating to the different standards of copper, zinc and lead coins. Their value depends altogether on the market, which in the ports open to foreign trade is regulated by the price of the Mexican Dollar. At present, one copper cash or 錢 Dong is equal to ten zinc cash; and one quan-tien (600 zinc cash) is worth a little more than fifteen cents of a dollar. A box large enough to hold four hundred strings of zinc cash, equal to sixty Mexican Dollars, would have to be three cubic feet in size! The value of lead coins is still smaller than those of zinc, but they are fortunately very little used.
In payments to the Government six hundred and four zinc cash are counted to the tien, the four extra cash being required in compensation for the expense of transport of this cumbersome coinage.