Coins and Banknotes of Vietnam and French Indochina


The Annamese have the same ideas as the Chinese concerning the efficacy of hanging coins round the necks of children, or over the beds of sick people, etc.; but no further explanation is required here, the fact being well known to those at all acquainted with the numismatics of these countries.

When dealing with the different kinds of metal employed in the manufacture of cash, it was mentioned that the Annamese Government had several reasons for employing the most fragile materials. An explanation of this is given in an excellent work published in Manila in 1858 by the Dominican Missionary MANUEL DE RIVAS, entitled Idea del Imperio de Anam. The following extract from page 103 of that book is here translated: "It is a common belief on that in the Annamese Kingdom gold and silver exist in great abundance, hidden in the bowels of the earth ; and for that reason, when the rice harvest is good, and there is an influx of money into the country, it at once disappears without any one knowing where it has gone; because what is imported is of little value, whilst the quantity exported is much larger. In the period of 1844-1846 it entered into my mind to take an account of the number of Chinese junks which went to Tunquin to load clean rice; and in the port of Hoa-phaong (Haiphong) alone I saw more than three hundred. Calculating that each junk carried away on an average five hundred quintals each, this would represent a total of $60,000 received at one port alone. At that time there was a large circulation of silver at that port, one bar of the nominal value of fifteen dollars being then only equal to forty-five strings of cash. In the other ports of the middle provinces, and in Hanoi, the exportation of grain was still larger, and so was the silver brought into the country; but three months later the silver had all disappeared, and a similar bar cost from seventy-five to eighty strings of cash, by which fluctuation many people made considerable profits. In olden times the currency of Tunquin and Cochinchina consisted of circular coins with a square hole in the middle, called Dong-thien, which were much smaller than the Chinese cash. Without being exported, these coins disappeared entirely from circulation a few months after they had been issued by the mints in large quantities. The Government then ascertained that the people were in the habit of burying all cash that came into their possession, in consequence of which the laws relating to the currency were altered; and the coins, which were previously of copper, were afterwards made from zinc mixed with lead and tin. As this material was of so much more fragile a nature and decomposed rapidly, if buried, the abuses resulting from the old custom were stopped and also the calamities arising from a deficient circulation."

The custom of burying treasure was not new in Annam, and is explained by the want of security existing at all times. In the fourteenth century this custom was accompanied by a very barbarous one, which was the invention of the "Spirit protectors of treasures." It is said that TRAU-CANH, a famous doctor of the Palace, having accumulated immense wealth and wishing to secure it, buried it in a deep cave under the guard of the Spirits. To that end, he buried near the treasure a young virgin, with a root of ginseng in her mouth to preserve her from hunger and thirst, and lighted the cave with a large jar full of oil.

The Chinese who accumulated money in Annam and could not take it to their own country, also buried it in secret places, putting it under the guard of the innocent victims converted by superstition into Spirit protectors. This custom was a universal one, all classes of society following it, as King 廢帝 PHE-DE of the 陳 TRAN Dynasty, wishing to preserve his riches from the hordes of Ciampa who had invaded the kingdom, ordered them to be buried in a cave in the Thien-kien mountain, where the people say they still remain, the secret of the position of the cave having been lost

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