Buried Treasure of Emperor Wan Li of The Ming Dynasty--A Hoard of 50 Tael Boat Sycee
Pic-1: Sacred Path to the 13 Mausoleums
Pic-2: Emperor Wan Li's Buried Sycee Treasure
In April, 1999, while attending a 3 day conference in Beijing, I took a day off to visit the 13 Mausoleums of the Emperors of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) which is about half an hour drive from Beijing downtown. Since a hoard of sycee has been recently reported excavated from Wan Li (1572-1620)'s mausoleum, I was interested to find out what kind of sycee had the privilege to be the Emperor's eternal companions in the afterlife.
Although the sycee in Ming Dynasty, was widely circulated and became a major currency in China, the implementation of the "Paper Money Only" policy of Emperor Hong Wu (1368-1398) for several decades, caused sycee to drop out of circulation. Most of them were forced to be hidden or used secretly and privately, and no smiths would dare to leave inscriptions on sycee specimens which could cause them troubles with officials. As a result, official silver sycee are very rare, and most of the private sycee are either uninscribed or have a few inscriptions, collectors have to identify them by their shapes or other clues.
One of the two reasons that Ming sycee are very rare, is that sycee was also the major currency throughout the successor Manchurian and Ching Dynasty, when annual silver consummation quadrupled. To supply the immense and diversified needs of silver sycee, countless foreign silver coins and old sycee were melted down to cast new sycee. As a result, few Ming specimens were preserved for more than 260 years, and most were probably recycled.
After walking along the Sacred Path of about 2 miles, I came into Chang Ling (Chang Mausoleum) the resting place of the 3rd Emperor--Cheng Ju (1402-1424). In this magnificent building, various buried treasures of Emperor Wan Li were exhibited, including 19 pieces of eye opening 50 tael Boat Sycee.
Those buried sycee were specially chosen from the submitted tax silver from Jiangsu, and were all in great shape, no rust, no scratches, and not a single sign showing they had ever been circulated. Their excellent preservation made them look just newly cast. Their rims were intruding but not as outstanding as Ching's boat specimen, and the bottoms were all flat. Inscriptions were done by engraving and in good calligraphy characterized in Ming style. Given this, I realized that my Mn/2 is one of the kind, since it is a 20 tael piece and wasn't chosen to accompany the Emperor in the lunar world.
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