This set’s history can be traced to an exciting period of change within Japan following the opening of the island nation to the West and the closing of the feudal period much glamorized through tales of the noble samurai and stealthy ninja.
The Meiji Emperor revolutionized the country’s coinage system in 1869, replacing the old, ingot-and-plate-like denominations with more standardized, uniformly round decimal denominations. Prototypes were produced by Japan’s master engraver, Natsuo Kano, in conjunction with Tomoo Masuda, who worked on design, and Hyoka Ishii, who focused on calligraphy. These designs were then sent to London where the nascent Japanese coinage could be taken to the next level. Engraver Leonard Charles Wyon, from the famous Wyon family of engravers, prepared dies for the new coinage.
These dies, along with their subsequently produced patterns, arrived in Osaka in the spring of 1870. Some modifications were made to the reverse design as well as denominations represented, with the 20 Yen being added and the 2-1/2 being reduced to 2 Yen for the initial output. By the end of the year, a new era of Japanese coins began at the Osaka Mint.
While it remains unclear how many patterns were produced by Wyon in London, it is certain that the numbers are incredibly low, with just two complete sets remaining extant. One is believed to have remained with the British Royal Mint, now located in the Welsh countryside in Llantrisant, and the other is the set offered here from the Pinnacle Collection. A handful of singles and strikings in other metals appear in the British Museum and Bank of Japan Collection; in private hands, the Yen turns up from time to time, but appearances are rare.
The Japanese coin set offered in the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio April Hong Kong Auction provides a unique bidding opportunity and may be impossible for any collector to duplicate. As such, it represents one of the most desirable—if not the most desirable—items in Japan’s numismatic history, as not only is its rarity unsurpassed, but it is the patriarch of modern Japanese coinage and a symbol of the country’s progress. A true national treasure, its April 2021 offering may well represent the last appearance for many generations to come.
For more information on the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio April 2021 Hong Kong Auction or the Pinnacle Collection, visit the firm’s website at www.StacksBowers.com, call 800-458-4646, or email [email protected].