British Museum collections, £12.99
Weight: 26.520 g
Gift of the United Reform Church
Room 68: Money
Silver 8 reales coin with chopmarks
Minted in Spanish Peru, modern Bolivia, AD 1780
A Spanish-American coin which has been tested
by a Chinese
Portuguese merchant ships first arrived on the Chinese coast in 1517. The traders came to buy luxury goods such as silk and porcelain, for which the Chinese favoured payment in silver. As a result, during the eighteenth century European silver coins were exported to China in great quantities, through trade. At one stage almost the only coins used in southern China were European silver coins.
Most of this silver was Spanish, much of the metal coming from the Spanish silver mines of the New World. In order to increase trade, the Spanish colonial administration at Manila in the Philippines arranged for silver coin from her American colonies to be shipped directly to Manila. The best known of these coins were the famous 'pieces of eight', the 8 reales piece. Chinese merchants in Manila then carried the silver coin to China where it circulated, mainly in the south-east.
The use of silver coins in Chinese trade continued well into the nineteenth century, when silver dollars were often melted into ingots to provide payment as tax. Chopmarks on this 8 reales piece indicate that a Chinese money-changer has tested the quality of the silver. Forgeries were a common problem and cutting into the coin showed whether it was solid silver or just silver coated.
J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)
W. Bertsch, 'Chinese chops - a bibliographical survey of Western publications', Oriental Numismatic Society In, 29 (January 1998)