East Asian Coins on Display at National Museum of American History

New Donation From the Family of Private Collector Howard F. Bowker
November 7, 2017

A greenish piece of arched metal with a creature's head at either end

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will display selected numismatic objects recently acquired from the collection of Howard F. Bowker beginning Nov. 8. The New Acquisitions case within the “Value of Money” exhibition will show 19 items ranging from fifth-century B.C. Chinese bridge and knife money to 20th-century Chinese money minted in the U.S.

The selection is part of a recent donation of more than 380 objects from the Bowker collection of East Asian coins, banknotes and stamps. The collection includes rare modern Chinese coinage such as a 500 cash coin made from copper and tin in 1927 and a silver “Old Man” dollar from 1837, as well as a wide variety of 19th- and 20th-century Japanese and Korean coinage.

“The Bowker collection presents an ideal opportunity to explore what numismatic objects can reveal about the historic trade and technological connections between the United States and East Asia,” said Ellen Feingold, curator of the National Numismatic Collection.

A set of 1902 gilt brass-proof pattern coins also are included in this acquisition. These coins were struck in the U.S. by the Ferracute Machine Co. of Bridgeton, N.J. The coins contribute to the understanding of that connection and further illustrate the ties between North American and Chinese numismatics, economics and trade.

The donation also includes 12 ancient Chinese knives and 20 pieces of ancient Chinese bridge money. Of the knives, seven are known as “Qi knives” and five are known as “Ming knives.” The newly acquired knives and bridge money will help the museum to tell the full narrative of Chinese numismatics through material culture.

The museum recognizes the generosity of the Howard F. Bowker Family and Michael Chou for their support to promote research and enhanced public access of the National Numismatic Collection through exhibition and digitization efforts.

Bowker’s passion for collecting began when he was stationed as a U.S. naval officer in Hànkǒu, Hubei Province, China, following the end of World War I, and he collected more than 10,000 historic East Asian artifacts.

East Asian monetary objects have been a part of the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection since the 19th century. Today, the National Numismatic Collection has strong East Asian representation and is a national resource for the study of East Asian money. The National Numismatic Collection opened the “The Value of Money” exhibition in July 2015, and it links American history to global histories of exchange, cultural interaction, political change and innovation. “The Value of Money” allows visitors to explore the origins of money, new monetary technologies, the political and cultural messages money conveys, numismatic art and design and the practice of collecting money.

Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History explores the infinite richness and complexity of American history. It helps people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future. The museum is located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. For more information, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.

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