Japan – Ansei Trade Dollar (“Aratame San Bu Sada Gin” or San Bu)

With the ANA auction just around the corner, collectors and dealers are gearing up for one of the biggest and best shows of the year! With many interesting, rare and specialized pieces crossing the auction block, this Japanese Trade coin certainly fits right in. These countermarked pieces circulated for less than a year accounting for their scarcity — our records indicate 36 different pieces with 25% of these examples in museums and institutions. Of the examples for which we can find records, this particular piece is not only the finest graded, but also one of the finest examples known.

Since the opening of Japan to trade in 1853 when Commodore Perry was anchored in Edo Bay, (now Tokyo Bay), to the Meiji restoration in 1868, Japan had been going through monetary reform with foreign coins now starting to circulate. When Perry signed the Treaty of Peace, Commerce and Navigation on March 31, 1854 at Kanagawa, Article VII of this treaty permitted the exchange of gold and silver for goods. Although this treaty permitted trade with Japan it did not guarantee it, as there was still anti-foreign sentiment among the Japanese population. One stipulation of this treaty was that $1 U.S. was exchangeable for one Ichibu, a small rectangular silver coin about 98% pure equal to approximately $0.33. This was a great disadvantage to American merchants who had come to Japan for trade. It wasn’t until the newly appointed Consul-General of Japan, Townsend Harris, arrived in Shimoda in August of 1856 that things started to change. He immediately started negotiations with hesitant officials who ignored him for some time, although he was eventually able to come to an agreement. On July 29, 1858 after nearly two years of negotiations, the treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed at Yedo, but was not to come into full effect until July 4, 1859 in accordance with Article XIV. This treaty also permitted foreign coins to circulate freely alongside Japanese coins of equal weight as stated in Article V. When Yokohama opened up for trade in 1859 the ratio of exchange of gold to silver in Japan (1:5) was disproportionate when compared to the rest of the world (approximately 1:15). With the ratio of gold to silver being so unbalanced in Japan, foreigners could exchange four “Mexican Dollars” for 12 silver ichibu and in turn exchange those for three gold Kobans, with each of the Kobans being worth four “Mexican Dollars” (Mexican 8 Reales) outside of Japan. At the time that Yokohama opened and Article V permitted foreign coins to circulate weight to weight, the coins of the realm were also ordered to be stamped at the mint (this is referring to “Mexican Dollars”). These “Mexican Dollars” were countermarked with four individual stamps — “Aratame San Bu Sada” which made them equal to three Ichibu. Even though these coins could now circulate freely, many of them were traded in to customhouses in exchange for Ichibu. Around the same, the Japanese issued the Nishu pieces with approximately the same purity to help suppress the outflow of gold. However, this was to no avail, as these Nishu pieces were not well received. It is theorized that they are the traded-in Mexican 8 Reales that have been re-coined, but not refined. In May of 1860 the production of these countermarked 8 Reales was discontinued.

This Ansei trade dollar is a lovely example of this rare and mysterious issue of Japanese numismatics. With light toning in some of the devices and well placed and executed countermarks on the obverse, this piece is deserving of its MS-62 designation by NGC. Look for this and other rarities in our upcoming August ANA Sale. For details please refer to the Auction Schedule/Details link under Current Auctions at While our Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio ANA sale is closed for further consignments, we are currently taking consignments for our November Baltimore, January New York International, and April 2014 Hong Kong sales. If you are interested in consigning your coins and paper currency (whether a whole collection or a single rarity) be sure to contact one of our consignment directors.

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