Translate / Traducir

Mexican 8 Reales and their use Between America and Japan

by Kyle Ponterio

Japan image 1

1859 Do CP 8 reales countermarked for use in Japan

The purpose of this paper is not to give a breakdown of Japanese history, but to focus on the role that Mexican 8 Reales played in the years directly following the opening of Japan in 1853. The Aratame San Bu Sada Gin is a foreign coin that was countermarked for use in Japan from late 1859 until 12 May 1860. More specifically these countermarks were only applied to Mexican “Cap and Ray” 8 Reales dated prior to 1860. This very specific area of Japanese numismatics is usually only appreciated and understood by the most sophisticated of Japanese collectors; to the average collector of Japanese coins, these pieces are viewed not as Japanese coins but as foreigncoins that circulated in Japan. To fully understand why these pieces were issued, one must be familiar with the history leading up to their time of manufacture.

During the reign of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868) the currency system was standardized to some degree with uniformly denominated gold and silver coins being issued. However, when the precious metals needed to make these coins became sparse the government resorted to debasement. Ten times over the course of the 265 year reign, the purity fluctuated up and down.

The first westerners reached Japan purely by accident. In 1543 a Portuguese trading vessel on its way to China from Malacca was caught in a storm, blown off course, and landed on the small island of Tanegashima off the southern tip of Japan. This resulted in the first opening of Japan, and ultimately led to its closing less than a century later.

For over two centuries Japan had followed the policy of seclusion as set forth by the edict given in 1635 by Iemitsu Tokugawa, the grandson of the first Tokugawa Shogun. The edict strictly prohibited any Japanese from going abroad or returning, and also forbade the teaching or practicing of Christianity. It was not until the edict of 1639, which finally expelled foreigners from entering the country and prohibited trade with the local populace, that Japan became totally secluded. There were exceptions; the Dutch, Chinese and Koreans were allowed to continue to trade during this time, the Dutch being restricted to Dejima, a small man-made island off the coast of Nagasaki. They were permitted to come ashore once a year to conduct business. However, all others were expelled from Japan’s shores.

Commodore Matthew C. Perry arrived with his squadron of gun boats in Uraga bay at the entrance to Edo bay (now Tokyo Bay) on 8 July 1853 to negotiate a peace and trade agreement with Japan. He set in motion the beginning of the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the beginning of the Meiji restoration. The coming of the “barbarians”, as the Japanese called westerners, split the Edo government into two factions. The conservative anti-foreigners were in favor of repelling foreigners and the progressive realists supported opening the country to accommodate foreign trade and modernization. During this turbulent time the conservatives held onto the traditional ideals of repelling foreigners no matter the cost. Progressive forward thinkers such as Lord Hotta and Lord Li favored opening the country, not because they wanted to open trade, but because Japan had been closed for so long that few advancements in technology had been achieved. They saw the inevitability of foreigners coming and were fully aware of the opium war in China, which had not ended well for that nation.

Perry’s mission was not the first attempt to open Japan by the newly founded Republic of the United States, or by other foreign powers. But he was the first to go through negotiations and come away with an actual trade treaty. On 31 March 1854, Perry signed the Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce at Kanagawa, though the articles of the treaty still left much to be desired. For example, Article VII permitted the exchange of gold and silver for goods in the ports open to the United States, but it did not guarantee trade, as anti-foreign sentiment was running hot. The only ports open to the United States at this time were Hakodate and Shimoda as stated in Article X. A stipulation was agreed upon setting the exchange rate of foreign currency to Japanese currency. Perry stipulated that the most common silver coin in circulation, the “Mexican dollar”, should be exchanged on a 1:1 ratio for Ichibu (one bu), which were small rectangular silver coins of about 98% pure silver. He was not aware that they were actually only worth approximately 34 cents. This of course was a great disadvantage to the merchants who came to Japan for trade. Though the initial treaty was imperfect in many ways, it did lay the ground work for Mr. Townsend Harris, the first Consul-General of the United States of America to Japan. He would in time obtain a treaty of his own which would become the basis for many other treaties between Japan and foreign powers. Mexico was the first country to treat Japan on equal terms, with the treaty of 30 November 1888, signed in Washington.

Aboard the U.S.S. San Jacinto, Harris, with his colleague and interpreter Mr. Henry Heusken, arrived in the small harbor of Shimoda on the morning of 21 August 1856, armed with a letter from President Franklin Pierce and full authority to negotiate a trade agreement between the two countries. They were greeted by three officials and two Dutch-speaking Japanese interpreters, Dutch being the common language used to communicate with foreigners. The Japanese were not expecting a consul nor did they want one there; they pleaded with Mr. Harris to leave but he refused. Upon his arrival he immediately began negotiations on the new treaty, which he found to be a most tedious task. One of the tactics he used to persuade the Japanese to sign the American treaty was that he was there on friendly terms, as opposed to the Europeans who employed more aggressive forms of diplomacy, particularly with China.

Throughout his time in Japan, Harris wrote in his journal that he frequently worried about three things, first and foremost the treaty negotiations. He also worried about his health and isolation due to the lack of western ships. He was constantly sick, but he still met with officials on a regular basis whether he was ill or not, eventually reaching an agreement.

After nearly two years, on 29 July 1858, the treaty of Amity and Commerce was signed at Edo, but was not to come into full effect until 4 July 1859, in accordance with Article XIV. Lord Elgin, who was negotiating the British treaty, was not particularly happy with the date chosen for the American treaty to take full effect so he chose 1 July for the British treaty, causing it to take effect first. Harris’ hard work finally paid off when he was able to resolve several of the outstanding issues from Perry’s first treaty, such as the questions of currency and residency. Article III of the new treaty permitted the opening of additional ports, allowing American citizens to permanently reside at such places as Kanagawa, opened 4 July 1859. On 30 June, in anticipation of the opening of the new ports, the consulate was moved from Shimoda to Yokohama. On 7 July, accompanied by 23 fellow Americans, Harris established the American legation. The article also stated that six months after the opening of Yokohama, Shimoda was to be closed as it was not big enough to support trade and was surrounded by mountains, isolating it from the rest of the country.

The issue of currency was high on the priority list of all the foreign diplomats, and Harris was no exception. As early as September 1856 he had suggested that the exchange of coins should be based on weight. The Japanese argued that their coins contained more alloy than foreign coins and at first wanted a 25% discount to pay for the re-coining of foreign coins. Harris countered that 5% was sufficient and that the cost in Europe or America was less than 1%. He stated that he could employ a competent moneyer from the United States for 5% or less. He also informed them that he was aware of their long history of debasing currency. After this last point was brought to their attention, the Japanese relented and agreed that there should be a 6% discount to cover the cost of reminting foreign coins. Article V of the new Harris treaty states: “Americans and Japanese may freely use foreign coin in making payments to each other” and “All foreign coins shall be current in Japan, and pass for its corresponding weight of Japanese coin of the same description”. This article also states that for a period of one year after the opening of each harbor, Americans would be able to exchange coins, weight for weight, without penalty of discount. This was apparent in the port of Hakodate where foreign coins were countermarked with Japanese numerals specifying their weight accurate to less than 1% (however, the subject of Hakodate countermarks is for another time). It also stated that with the exception of Japanese copper coins, “coins of all descriptions may be exported from Japan, and foreign gold and silver un-coined”.

After the opening of Yokohama and the stipulations of exchange (as stated in Article V) denoting where coins were to circulate, weight for weight, the coins of the realm (“Mexican dollars”) were to be stamped at the customs house. The individual stamps Aratame, San, Bu and Sada were hand applied to the cap side of the “Mexican dollars”, meaning they have been determined to be worth three bu of silver. Merchants were now able to go to the customs house and obtain Japanese currency to conduct trade. They could exchange one “Mexican dollar” for three Ichibu, or on a larger more accurate scale 100 “Mexican dollars” to 311 Ichibu, minus the percentage stated in Article V. This provided an aggregate profit of about 70% on the exchange of four Ichibu for one gold Koban, which was worth about 12 “Mexican dollars” outside of Japan.

The exchange rate in Japan of gold to silver was approximately 1:5 and was disproportionate when compared to that of the rest of the world, which used a 1:15 ratio. This resulted in a mass exodus of gold. The increased exchange of Ichibu caused some alarm with officials who tried to limit how much one could receive per day and declared that only a small amount could be exchanged per individual. One documented account tells of Mr. Jack Ketch who applied for the astronomical amount of 1,200,666,777,888,999,222,321 Ichibu to be exchanged, knowing full well that he would only receive a small portion. Another failed attempt by the Japanese to stop the out flow of gold was their issuance of the debased Nishu, which was slightly bigger in size to the Ichibu, but with a purity of about 85% silver. These were not well received by the general populace.

It is theorized that the failed attempt to stop the out flow of gold by issuing debased currency led to “Mexican dollars” being re-coined, resulting in the relative scarcity of the Aratame San Bu Sada Gin. There does not seem to be a clear start date for when the “Mexican dollars” were countermarked, but it could not have been before the opening of Yokohama on 4 July 1859. However, there is a very clear end date of 12 May 1860 when production of these pieces ceased.

Japan image 2

定(Approval stamp) 三分(Face value) 改(Change)

As stated above the countermarks were individually hand applied to the cap side of the “Mexican dollars”. In order by location (reading counterclockwise starting after the fineness) is Aratame (2 o’clock), San (1 o’clock), Bu (12 o’clock), Sada (11 o’clock). It does not appear that these were applied in any specific order, but each character was placed in a very specific location between the rays of the radiant Phrygian cap near the edge. Since these were applied by hand, the exact location in relation to the edge varies from piece to piece. The Howard Gibbs 1859 C CE piece is somewhat of a mint error having the first three countermarks in their usual locations, with Sada located between the rays at 10 o’clock. The person applying these countermarks probably applied Sada first then realized that it was in the wrong place and applied the other three in their respective locations. What can be ascertained from this is that the countermarks were in fact applied individually with very specific locations for each.

Japan – Aratame San Bu Sada (銀定分三改)
*= Institution

Chihuahua – KM-101(Host Not Listed, KM-377.2); JNDA-09-57(44A); Jacobs/Vermeule-J101; Dav-272 1858 Ca JC* – Fukushima Prefectural Museum - Eiichi Nakamura, Masako’s collection

Culiacán – KM-101.1; JNDA-09-57(44A); Jacobs/Vermeule- J101; Dav-272
1857 C CE jpegs/AnseiC.jpg
1857 C CE – sold on - Kurebayashi coin
1859 C CE – Ginza Coin Auction, 23 November 1996, Lot # 376
1859 C CE – Hans M.F. Schulman Auction, 18 & 19 March 1966, Howard D. Gibbs Collection Lot # 515(listed as Chihuahua)/Krause Plate Coin

Durango – KM-101(Host Not Listed, KM-377.4); JNDA-09-57(44A); Jacobs/Vermeule- J101; Dav-272 1859 Do CP – Japanese auction, 24 April 1994, Lot # 3-127; Early Japanese Coins by David Hartill, pg.132, fig.9.89 (Countermarks only) (2011); Auction-net mail bid sale # 10, 1 October 2012, Lot # 0428 (Ogawa Seihoro/Kyle Ponterio)

Guadalajara – KM-101(Host Not Listed, KM-377.6); JNDA-09-57(44A); Jacobs/Vermeule- J101; Dav-272 1858 Ga JG – Ginza Coin Auction, 9 December 1989, Lot # 206
1858 Ga JG – Stephen Album Rare Coins Auction # 4, 26 July 2008, Lot # 656; Heritage Auction # 3004, 4 January 2009, Lot # 21810

Guanajuato – KM-101.2; JNDA-09-57(44A); Jacobs/Vermeule- J101; Dav-272
1849 Go PF jpegs/anseiGo.jpg; 21st Tokyo International Coin Convention (TICC 2010)
1855 Go PF* – A Brief History of Money in Japan – Economic Research Department: The Bank of Japan, pg. 18
1855 Go PF – Modern Japanese Coinage: 1870 to date by Michael L. Cummings, pub. 1975, pg. 9
1856 Go PF* – Bank of Japan – Zuroku Nihon no Kahei (Plate Coin) 1857 Go PF – Ginza Coin Auction, 23 November 1995 Lot # 245 1858 Go PF* – Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History
1858 Go PF* – University of Tokyo Graduate School of Economics, Inventory # 93-E-2
1858 Go PF – Hans M.F. Schulman Auction, 18 & 19 March 1966, Howard D. Gibbs Collection Lot # 514
1858 Go PF – Heritage Auction # 3015, 7 September 2011 Lot # 24247 (Jacobs/Davenport/Krause Plate coin)
1858 Go PF – Stack’s Bowers & Ponterio NYINC 2015, Lot # 1229
1859 Go PF – sold on
1859 Go PF – Stack’s Bowers & Ponterio ANA August 2013, S-176, Ex: Master Sargeant L.B. Whittier Per. ca.1945

Mexico City – KM-101.3; JNDA-09-57(44A); Jacobs/Vermeule- J101; Dav-272 1853 Mo GC - - & archive/1387
1855 Mo GF – Kennedy Stamp Club -
1855 Mo GF – Shin Bashi Stamp -
1856 Mo GF – Numismatic Room -
1856 Mo GF* – Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History – Tobacco & Salt Museum; wiki/Japanese_currency
1856 Mo GF* – University of Tokyo Graduate School of Economics, Inventory # 93-E-1
1857 Mo GF – Private collection, bought private treaty Richard Nelson ca. 1980-81
1857 Mo GF – Kennedy Stamp Club -
1857 Mo GF – Standard Catalog of World Coins 7th edition, pg. 854 (Plate Coin) – Krause Publications 1858 Mo FH – Shin Bashi Stamp -
1858 Mo FH – Ginza Coin Auction, 19 November 2011, Lot # 296
1858 Mo FH* – Sen-oku Hakuko kan Museum
1858 Mo FH – Ginza Coin Auction, 22 November 2008, Lot # 214
1858 Mo FH – Tongchou Coins & Curios Co. (Chinese Copper Coins ad 1997, published in Taiwan (CCC))
1859 Mo FH – Hong Kong Auction, September 1989, Lot # 845
1859 Mo FH - Stack’s Bowers & Ponterio NYINC 2015, Lot # 1230
1859 Mo FH – Ginza Coin Auction, 22 November 2014, Lot # 330/D.C.
1859 Mo FH* – Bank of Japan – Zuroku Nihon no Kahei/JNDA (plate coin)

San Luis Potosí – KM-101(Host Not Listed, KM-377.12); JNDA-09-57(44A); Jacobs/Vermeule- J101; Dav- 272 1858 Pi MC – Auction-net # II, 14 December 2003, Lot # 1334

Zacatecas – KM-101.4; JNDA-09-57(44A); Jacobs/Vermeule- J101; Dav-272 1856 Zs MO – Spink-Taisei Singapore Coin Auction, 12 February 1992, Lot # 310 1858 Zs MO – Kurebayashi coin
1858 Zs MO – Nihon Coin Auction No. 25, 21 March 2011 Lot # 770
1859 Zs MO – 10th Tokyo International Coin Convention booklet (TICC 1999); Early Japanese Coins by David Hartill, pg.132, fig.9.89 (2011)

Japan – Aratame San Bu Sada (銀定分三改) by Mint and Date




Ca C, Cn Do EoMo Ga GC Go Ho Mo O, Oa Pi Zs Total
1849               1           1
1853                 1       1
1855             2   2       4
1856             1   3     1 5
1857   2         1   3       6
1858 1       2   5   5   1 2 16
1859   2 1       2   4     1 10
Total 1 4 1 0 2 0 12 0 18 0 1 4 43

Mints and Production dates of Cap & Ray 8 Reales

Alamos (A, As) KM # 377 1864-95 Not Possible
Real de Catorce (Ce) KM # 377.1 1863 Not Possible
Chihuahua (Ca) KM # 377.2 1831-95 Confirmed
Culiacán (C, Cn) KM # 377.3 1846-97 Confirmed
Durango (Do) KM # 377.4 1825-95 Confirmed
Estado de México (EoMo) KM # 377.5 1828-30 Possible, But Not Likely
Guadalajara (Ga) KM # 377.6 1825-63; 1867-95 Confirmed
Guadalupe Y Calvo (GC) KM # 377.7 1844-52 Possible, But Not Likely
Guanajuato (Go) KM # 377.8 1825-63; 1867-97 Confirmed
Hermosillo (Ho) KM # 377.9 1835-39; 1861-95 Possible, But Not Likely
Mexico City (Mo) KM # 377.10 1824-64; 1867-97 Confirmed
Oaxaca (O, Oa) KM # 377.11 1858-93 Possible, But Not Likely
San Luis Potosí(Pi) KM # 377.12 1827-64; 1867-93 Confirmed
Zacatecas (Zs) KM # 377.13 1828-97 Confirmed

“An American in Japan in 1858” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Jan. 1859, 223-31.
Barr, Pat, The coming of the barbarians, New York, NY, E.P. Dutton & Co. Inc., 1967.
Catalogue of treaties: 1814-1918, Washington, DC, Government printing office, 1919. Cummings, Michael L., Modern Japanese Coinage: 1870 to date, 1st Ed., Tokyo, Japan, 1975.
Cummings, Michael L., Modern Japanese Coinage, 2nd Ed., Tokyo, Japan, Far East Journal, 1978.
Dennett, Tyler, Americans in Eastern Asia, New York, NY, The Macmillan Company, 1922.
Griffis, William Elliot, Townsend Harris First American Envoy in Japan, Cambridge, Mass., The Riverside Press, 1895.
Howe, Christopher, The Origins of Japanese Trade Supremacy, London, UK, Hurst & Company, 1996.
Ishskawa, Gensamro Sadakuni, “History of the Coinage in Japan”, MA Thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1899.
Nitobe, Inazo, Intercourse Between the United States and Japan, Baltimore, MD, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1891.
Satoh, Henry, Agitated Japan: The Life of Baron Li Kamon-no-kami Naosuke, Tokyo, Japan, Dai Nippon Tosho Kabushiki, 1896.
Satoh, Henry, Lord Hotta the Pioneer Diplomat of Japan, Tokyo, Japan, Hakubunkan, 1908.
Soyeda, Juichi, “Banking and Money in Japan” in A History of Banking in all the Leading Nations, Ed. Editor of the Journal of Commerce and Commercial Bulletin, New York, NY, The Journal of Commerce and Commercial Bulletin, 1896.
Statler, Oliver, Shimoda Story, Honolulu, Hawaii, University of Hawaii Press, 1969 Reprint.
Sugiyama, Shinya, Japan’s Industrialization in the World Economy 1859-1899, London, UK, The Athlone Press, 1988.
Toyoda, Takeshi, A History of Pre-Meiji Commerce in Japan, Tokyo, Japan, Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai (Japan Cultural Society), 1969.
Treaties and Conventions Between, the Empire of Japan and Other Powers: Together with Universal Conventions, Regulations and Communications, Since March, 1854, Tokyo, Japan, Kokubunsha, 1884.