Breaking News: World’s Rarest “Puppet Coins” acquired by Isaacs Collection

javanese-shadow-puppet-coin

It is very seldom that I share my own personal collecting thrills with the public at large, however an exciting auction success this past week is both noteworthy and highly apropos to a dominant theme in this month’s newsletter.

It is fairly well-known that one of my key collecting passions involves the coins and currency of what is now Indonesia, not only out of an interest in family heritage (my wife, Nana, is Javanese), but also due to the rich and incredibly diverse history of coinage involving the region. Sadly, Indonesia’s history has been one of almost constant exploitation, with a great many different “imperial fingers” in the Indonesia pie. In addition to more than three centuries of Dutch colonization (during which time the islands comprising modern Indonesia were referred to as the “Netherland East Indies”), incursions into the Islands were also made by the English, Portuguese and Japanese empires throughout this period. Hence, a rich legacy of unique influences on the local currency, some brief, some enduring.

While I am particularly fond of the late 18th/early 19th century Silver issues of both England and the Netherlands, some of the rarest and most elusive issues ironically date not from centuries past, but rather from the final fading months of a pre-independent “colonial” Indonesia.

Even beginning collectors will likely have encountered the many varieties of Japanese “occupation” paper currency, printed in massive quantities in anticipation of the Empire’s presumptive conquering and subjugation of their Asian neighbours. Issues generally intended for use in Malaysia and the Philippines are most frequently encountered, in either “Peso” or “Dollar” denominations, and remain available to today’s collectors at a Dollar or less. Without a doubt, these historically interesting though somewhat dubious issues remain among the most commonly-encountered banknote series of all time.

A far less-known numismatic fact, however, is that the Japanese government chose to impose upon the conquered [Dutch] East Indies a unique system of “occupation coinage”, rather than the flood of fairly generic paper currency prepared for their other territories. To this end, in 1943 and 1944 they struck two coins with denominations of One and Ten Sen, the former in aluminum and the higher-value piece in a tin alloy. Interestingly, unlike the fairly ambiguous designs of their mass banknote issues, effort was put into designing a pair of coins that would uniquely reflect their intended Javanese territory of circulation (Java being the key Island of the East Indies in terms of dominance and administration). Thus, the reverse of both tokens depict that most Javanese of iconic symbolism, the “Wayang Kulit” or “Wayang Golek” – traditional “Shadow Puppets”, crafted of either wood or animal skin. There has been much speculation as to the seemingly extra effort put into making these designs so indigenous to the Indies. The primary incentives were likely simply practical ones – making the coins both unique and easily recognizable to the local population. Indeed, the great simplicity of the obverse legends – simply “Great Japan”, together with a date from the Japanese Shinto dynastic calendar – would tend to support this. It is worth noting, however, that in spite of Japan’s brutal treatment of the occupied Indonesian population, they felt an ironic affinity with the East Indies peoples, having “freed them from the oppression” of European occupation. Therefore, in addition to easy recognition and perhaps increased ease of acceptance, the choice of shadow puppets as the primary design was perhaps intended as a sincere nod to local cultural traditions.

Whatever the intent or motivation, the two coinage issues were truly massive. Between 1943 and 1944, the cumulative mintage of both denominations totaled a staggering 480 million pieces! Truly enough coins that to this very day, collectors should be finding them in every junk box at every coin show. That is, however, were it not for a quick turn of fate in the colonial aspirations of the empire of Japan. By the time the 1943 mintage had been prepared and stockpiled, the tide of war had begun to turn, and the once secure sea lanes around the Netherland East Indies became increasingly treacherous for the previously-dominant Japanese fleet. Millions upon millions of the two occupation coins are believed to have found their way to the bottom of the Pacific and Java seas at the hands of allied naval firepower, and successful delivery of the coinage eventually proved impossible. Neither coin was ever introduced into the Netherland East Indies, and virtually the entire remaining issue was returned to the melting pots of the Japanese Mint.

1944 Sen CNG 2014

Thus, what began as one of the world’s largest war-time coinage issues has today become the rarest of all 20th century Indonesian colonial coinages. Indeed, virtually unknown to the numismatic world when I first started collecting, the two tokens (together with a third extremely rare 5 Sen issue) have bounced around the Standard Catalogue of World Coins a number of times over the past 35 years, trying to figure out where their identity best fits in. Once listed as “Indonesian” coins, they then moved to the “Netherland East Indies” section, and now have found perhaps a permanent home at the end of the “Japan” section as (perhaps most correctly) “Japanese Occupation Coinage for the East Indies”.

However we choose to debate their proper identity, both issues have remained at the very top of my “most keenly-wanted” list for the past decade. To find a mint-state example of both denominations in the same sale is simply unprecedented. Last week’s Chicago auction of the remarkable Richard L. Lissner collection by the firm of CNG presented this opportunity, and after some feverish, record-setting bidding, I am truly thrilled to be bringing this remarkable pair of the world’s rarest “Puppet Coins” to their new permanent home in Almonte.

Watch for their first-ever public appearance during our October open house!

6 thoughts on “Breaking News: World’s Rarest “Puppet Coins” acquired by Isaacs Collection

  1. Pingback: Japanese 10 centavos « Real Coins Deals

  2. Hello Sean

    I noticed your advertisement in April 8th, 2014 issue of Canadian Coin News regarding your application for a mailing list, to which I have replied.

    Being a small collector of only Canadian coins, with a few American/World coins mingled in; I read this article on the “Puppet Coins”, and wish to state how impressed I am of your research and thus this well written story surrounding these coins.

    I have a sister-in-law who lives in Poltimore Quebec, and she has a collection of Canadian coins (primarily twoonies, dollars and half dollars),which she inherited. Knowing of my interest in Canadian coins, she gave me a few pages (in the spring/summer of 2014) to bring home (Lindsay ON) and check through my coin books for a basic evaluation. She and her friend (collection owner) had visited some coin shows where the “operators” tried to tell them that these coins were only worth their face value, and thankfully they were not impressed with the answers given.

    Therefore I ask if the best way to meet with you and show the collection, is that we book an appointment to come to your establishment in Almont?

    Initially you can respond to me through my email address (nosde47nosnhoj@gmail.com) and as we draw nearer to time/location, we can communicated via telephone. (905-233-4473)

    Warm regards,

    Edson L Johnson
    216 Ardmore Avenue,
    City of Kawartha Lakes (Lindsay) Ontario
    K9V 2T5

    E-mail: nosde47nosnhoj@gmail.com
    Cellular 705-879-7320
    Home/Office 905-233-4473

    • HI Gilad, and thanks for the comment. Hard to tell for sure on this; I have only ever seen one example that wasn’t sea-salvaged. More notably, having spent just over a year in Indonesia, I have never come across a single example of either denomination. Certainly possible some might have reached Java, but the evidence suggests they never made it out of the crates.

  3. Pingback: Price Differences between Japanese Local and Overseas Market – 終末旅行

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