Japanese Gold Oban by Kyle Ponterio – Senior Numismatist and Cataloger, Stack’s Bowers Galleries ……
There are countless reasons for the act of gifting, including friendship, love, peace, or simply respect. Gifts can come in all shapes, sizes, and forms, based completely upon the individuals involved and their relationship. Whether a physical object or a grand gesture, it is, in many cases, the thought put into the gift that is most vital.
Precious numismatic objects that have been given as gifts appear in the marketplace with some frequency but are usually of little significance or historical importance; for the most part, they consist of medals, love tokens, or related exonumia.
Occasionally, however, important pieces are offered, including this highlight from our January 2021 auction (an officially sanctioned auction of the 2021 NYINC). This impressive Oban (10 Ryo) from Man’en era in Japan (1860-1862) is set apart from its contemporaries by the fact that it has been inscribed to Dr. C. G. (Constant George) van Mansvelt by his dear friends and colleagues, the Glover brothers. Enhancing its historical importance is its pedigree that can be traced to van Mansvelt’s direct descendants.
It is very clear that Dr. van Mansvelt was a well-respected and highly important man who spent a fair amount of time in Japan during the fading years of the Tokugawa shogunate and the beginning of the Meiji period (1866-1879). Arriving in July 1866 at the request of the Shogun, he was assigned to a position at the Seitokukan, the predecessor of the Nagasaki University School of Medicine, where he taught and delivered lectures on a variety of subjects. In 1868, he helped revise the school system, emphasizing preparatory coursework that focused upon the natural sciences and with main courses that taught medicine. In that same year, he also helped establish the Nagasaki Medical School—a school that provided an overall more precise and stricter medical education.
After spending several years as a teacher in Kyoto and Osaka, he helped establish the Kumamoto Medical School (currently Kumamoto University School of Medicine) in 1871. Not only was Dr. van Mansvelt very important to the medical community, but he was also a highly sought after teacher and instructor. So much so that, after opening the Nagasaki Medical School, more than 100 members of the Choshu clan enrolled to learn western medicine. Additionally, van Mansvelt trained some of the most prominent Japanese doctors of the late 19th century, including Shibasaburo Kitasato.
Dr. van Mansvelt made many friends, one of whom was Mr. Thomas Blake Glover, an important industrialist and businessman. Glover contributed to the modernization and westernization of Japan after Commodore Matthew Perry’s “gunboat diplomacy” forced the heretofore isolated Japan to open for trade. The admiration felt by Glover and his brothers must have been immense to bestow such an incredibly valuable and prized possession on van Mansvelt.
Though unconfirmed, the date of the inscription on the Oban (20th February 1871) would appear to be significant. The traditional lunar cycle was in use at this time but was changed to the Gregorian calendar two years later in 1873. Interestingly enough, the Lunar New Year occurred one day prior to the date of the inscription (19 February 1871). This leads us to believe that this piece was given as a New Year’s gift from his beloved friends.
The 10-line inscription on the Oban reverse, written in a contemporary script, is as follows:
“To Dr. Mansvelt / from his friends / Thomas. B. Glover / Alick J. Glover / Alfred B. Glover / as a mark of their esteem and / acknowledgement of his many / kind attentions / Nagasaki 20th February / 1871”
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We are always seeking coins, medals, and paper money for our future auctions, and are currently accepting submissions through January 15, 2021, for our April 2021 Hong Kong auction. Our next CCO (Collectors Choice Online) auction will be crossing the block in February 2021 and has a submission deadline of January 12, 2021. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.