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Wu Collection of Chinese Coinage

About 2,000 Chinese coins chiefly of the Tang through Ming dynasties, assembled by Souheng Wu, the gift of Tung Ching Wu in 2006. This collection includes many rarities and was collected over the lifetime of Dr. Wu, a research chemist at Dupont, who was careful to exclude counterfeits and imitations from his holdings.

In 2006, the Princeton University Numismatic Collection received the coin collection assembled by the late Souheng Wu, a specialist in polymer interface chemistry in the Central Research and Development Division of the DuPont Corporation. The collection of over 2,000 coins of ancient and medieval China was the gift of the collector’s widow, Tung Ching Wu, and was arranged by their son Lawren Wu, Princeton University Class of 1992; it was given to the University in memory of Souheng Wu. With the coins came a large library of specialized publications in Chinese numismatics.

Wu and Stahl

Tung Ching Wu presents rare knife coins to Alan Stahl

Though the collection contains pieces ranging from the knife and spade issues of the earliest dynasties through machine-struck coins of the modern era, its concentration is on the coinage from the ninth through nineteenth centuries,  the more familiar series of cast round copper coins with square holes, commonly known as ‘cash.’ The pieces in the Wu Collection were carefully selected to comprise a comprehensive representation of the coinage of the Tang, Sung, Yuan, Ming, and Qing  dynasties, with many examples notable for the subtle variations in calligraphy.

Rarities in the earliest group include a 4-character Qi knife coin, several hollow-handled spades, and two outstanding examples of the Wang Mang gold inlaid knife coins. The ancient round coins are well represented, with particularly interesting examples from China’s medieval period.

Among the highlights of the ‘cash’ coins are a rare example of the Tang Dynasty Kaiyuan coinage in silver, along with an impressive group of examples of the “auspicious clouds” and “auspicious sparrow” issues of the 8th century and a strong assembly of slightly later Five Dynasties / Ten Kingdoms issues.

Yuan obverseAmong the Northern Song coins are several outstanding examples of the very scarce last nianhao of the final Northern Song emperor, Huizong.  Coins of the non-Chinese Dynasties (Liao, Xixia, and Jin) of the twelfth century include examples with Kitan,  Tangut, and  Jurchen script.  In the period of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, there are noteworthy examples of the Yuan Rebel issues. The Ming and Qing Dynasties are comprehensive in their holdings, including a large number of ‘seed’ or pattern coins, and many written in both Chinese and Manchu.

 Five-cash coin of the Yuan rebels, 1279-1368

Susan Naquin, Professor of History and East Asian Studies, expressed pleasure in this fine addition to the University’s material culture resources for studying important aspects of Chinese history, especially mining and metallurgy,  inflation and deflation, and the waxing and waning of government power.

Tamar Walker

Tamar Lan Walker, Class of 2010, cataloguing coins from the Wu Collection into the numismatic digital database.