Small Oriental Chest with Vintage Japanese & Chinese Coins


The images within this post are from before Dad died. Having spent much of his military life as a child and as an adult in Asia, he saved some evocative artifacts when he had the chance– the stuff boys love to save in treasure boxes with feathers and stones.  During some down time when visiting last November, I played around with his interesting old Japanese and Chinese coins for some still life ideas. The little oriental chest was a long time presence atop his dresser. But, I honestly do not know where he bought it or if it belonged to his parents who were stationed in the Orient.  While I love knowing the story behind every little thing, there is a certain mystery when you are not quite sure of the provenance of an item. In fact Dad was in China when Japan invaded in 1937 and the family had to leave for Japan. Dad’s story was that he was around 12 and the Japanese had a strict lights out order in place at the hotel they were staying in –well everywhere period.  Dad was reading a book by candle light when someone knocked on the door and ordered the candle extinguished. Amazing they could tell a young boy was reading by candle light up in his room.

The coins pictured are not rare or in mint condition but probably date to the Meiji Period (1867-1912) or after. I am interested in learning the Japanese characters to determine period and year. Its fun and not too complicated, you just have to set aside time and learn the scheme. They generally go by which year in the period and you have to add that to the first year calendar date of the period. So Meiji year 45 is 1912. But you need to read the characters to determine the period, then the same to determine the period year, such as 45 and then add to 1867 for the year the coin was made.  Its a bit of fun if you enjoy the interesting characters. Other periods you start over on year 1 and add to a different starting calendar year. Don’t hold me to it though, I am far from expert.

The little box on the third image is very light as the material you make model airplanes with so I presume it is balsa wood. On the top of the box it says in a young boy’s handwriting “Keep Out” ” Old Coins.”  The contents in the photo are not whatever Dad had in the box as a kid but maybe. More likely a silver dollar perhaps was in there.

I suppose I inherited my father’s affinity for such things.









~ by Judy on October 21, 2018.

10 Responses to “Small Oriental Chest with Vintage Japanese & Chinese Coins”

  1. Hi Judy, this was fascinating to read, and there is something charming and universal abouf the little treasures that little boys and girls, and grown men and women, collect, the meaningfulness of the objects usually known only to the treasure keeper. My own father had his own collections in old cigar boxes on his workbench in the basement. It, too, included old coins, American not Asian, and some arrowheads he had collected near his childhood home in Pennsylvania. I always wanted to ask him the story about the arrowheads but never did. Your love for your parents always shines through in your posts about them. Best, Babsje

    • Oh wow, that reminds me of Dad too. He had arrowheads also. His grandfather had a farm in Alabama where the arrowheads were collected. When they flooded the mounds of Alabama, his grandfather lost the best part of his land. They compensated but it was still the loss of his best. And I guess that might have been the end of the arrowheads. One I remember having was a clovis point and we gave it to my favourite teacher who was an amateur archaeologist….from whom I got my first love of the science. It had a glob of stuff on it we were sure was Mammoth blood. Some years ago my jewelry box was stolen from my house. Within it were my three arrowheads and a couple of trilobites. The loss of the box was way more than my rather insignificant jewelry. May we all keep our childhood fascination with small treasures.

      • Mammoth blood, how very cool, what great fodder for the imagination. I’m sorry for the loss of your grandfather’s farm land, and for your loss of the arrowheads and trilobytes and treasures in your jewelry box, too. Let’s hear it for small treasures. Small treasure boxes would be fun to create and save for the next generation, with included notes about each treasure for the recipient to better know the stories. Best, Babsje

  2. With these posts, I really like the color better than the black and white. I think the color helps to highlight the changes in the metal that show the age of the coins. My own dad was a coin collector. He focused on U.S. coins, but had a small collection of foreign coins. The ones with the square holes in the middle are very familiar. I know he had some of those. After he died, Mom and I got rid of his coin and stamp collections, although I still have just a few coins, and some of his full sheets of stamps. There was so much — we never would have done anything with them, and it was better to pass them on to someone who would appreciate them.

    Collections are interesting. When I was a kid, I started collecting rocks at the places we visited. Eventually, those got thrown out, too, but I started again, and now I have a wonderful copper basket filled with everything from Arkansas crystals to chert balls from the Texas hill country.

    Your mention of the balsa wood reminded me that Velveeta cheese used to come in balsa wood boxes. Do you remember that? My mother kept the lid to one of those boxes as her weapon of choice when a little bottom needed a swat. I don’t remember being swatted more than a time or two — after that, all she needed to do was ask, in a mild tone, “Would you like me to get the cheesebox lid?”

    • Collections are interesting for sure and how they play into the personality of the collector. I do come from a family of collectors and appreciate the things that have been passed down to me. Never thought I wanted Carnival glass but my mother selected for color and I got some lovely examples to hopefully pass down in turn. Though she did sell off her collection after letting us choose some pieces. I have no idea what happened to her stamps though. You and I must be a lot alike as I have a rock collection too. I fear letting my husband know that is what is in a bunch of shoe boxes in our utility room…have had those since 6th or 7th grade I guess. My loves in order were geology, archaeology, biology, oceanography, photography pretty much in that order….hence the rocks. LOL!!

      And, no, never knew Velveeta came in balsa wood boxes. At least your mother’s threats were tangible. My Mom would say, if you do that I’ll do something to you! Never wanted to find out what something was. A balsa wood lid is pretty funny!!

  3. I love these photos. In a way, they remind me of paintings. To you they’re your father’s memories; to me, they are exquisitely executed still-lifes. And your accompanying text is so much more than mere words.

  4. What a wonderful image to think of this young boy reading by candlelight during the blackout 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: