By Mark Lovmo – dokdo-research.com/koreancoins.html ……
This article is a guide to some of the coin and currency shops in Seoul, Korea. It is by no means an exhaustive list of all of the coin shops one can find in Seoul, but it IS an attempt to review some of the major brick-and-mortar vendors of collector coins and banknotes in Seoul.
In 2001, Mike Strub of the Michigan Coin Club posted a review of coin shops in Seoul called “Coining in Korea“. As it was Mike´s first trip to Korea, he had no idea where to go to find the coin shops, but he DID find the Hoehyeon Underground Shopping Center (in Korean, 회현지하상가 or 회현지하쇼핑센터), an underground shopping arcade that houses the largest concentration of coin shops in Seoul. He was not impressed by what he had found, as far as the variety and quality of the numismatic items for sale, and the high prices being asked for them.
In the years since Mike´s article was written, interest in coin and banknote collecting in Korea has risen significantly though the collecting community is probably still quite small. Demand and prices for Korean coins in Korea (key-date coins and notes, low-mintage commemoratives and mint sets, etc) have risen sharply since 2001. This is true for both the older Korean coins (998 A.D. to 1910), the “Hwan” coins of 1959-1961, and the contemporary “Won” coins (1966 – date), especially those collector coins in Mint State condition. Korean banknotes have seen similar increase in prices.
So while the interest and availability of Korean coins and banknotes has improved since Mike´s article was written, don´t expect to find large selections of non-Korean items. There IS better availability of non-Korean coins and notes nowadays, but the main reason to visit Seoul´s coin stores is to shop for Korean numismatic items, like key-date coins in slabs, rarer Bank of Korea mint sets, and proof versions of commemorative coins. Mike counted 13 little shops in the Hoehyeon underground arcade, but the number of shops has also increased over the years: There are now 22 shops that sell some kind of coins or currency. While these shops may change or go out of business after this review has been written, the majority will probably still be in their current locations: All of the shops with the best inventories in the arcade in 2012 were advertised in locally-published Korean coin and currency catalogs going back to the 1990s, and they are STILL in business in the same locations. Taking a look around the Hoehyeon Underground Arcade and the other stores in the immediate area CAN be a worthwhile endeavor, whether or not you are interested in Korean coins and notes.
The Hoehyeon Underground Shopping Center
This shopping arcade is in the center of Seoul, east of Seoul Station, and can be found directly in front of the Central Post Office. It is also across the street from the Bank of Korea Museum building (a Japanese-built structure that WAS the central bank building until the late 1980s). The museum is worth a visit itself, AND it sells the current year´s Bank of Korea Mint Set for the lowest price: 7,000 Korean Won (KRW), which is about $7 USD.
The Hoehyeon Underground Shopping Center is open 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM. The underground is connected to the Shinsegae Department Store in Myeongdong. You can get to the shopping arcade by using the Seoul Metro (subway) Line four (Blue Line), and get off at Hoehyeon Station, three minutes´ walk from Exit Seven, or get off at Myeong-dong Station, five minutes´ walk from Exit Five. If you don´t know how to use the subway, just tell a taxi driver to take you to the Shinsegae (SHIN-say-gay) Department Store. You can get to the underground from Entrance number 10 in front of Shinsegae (see map, below).
Map of shops in Hoehyeon Underground Shopping Center, Seoul, South Korea. Courtesy Mark Lovmo
The Hoehyeon underground contains the largest concentration of coin shops in Seoul. All of the coin shops here are small places, with many of them selling notes, stamps, antiques and other collectibles alongside numismatic items. When shopping here, it is advisable that you know the current prices of the things that you want, and the MAXIMUM you want to pay for them. For the most part, the owners of the coin shops do NOT like to haggle on prices. It´s either you like the price and you pay it, or you pass on the coin and go somewhere else. Prices WILL be higher for key-date Korean coins compared to Korean coins sold in North America. The coin shop owners may get grumpy with you, so just come in and smile a lot. If you see something you like, but it´s too pricey, just say, “I will come back later” and go on to the next little store. It´s okay to browse, even though the owners may not like it. The best way to shop here is by looking through all the shops first, then returning to the places where you found the best coins and prices. The shop owners in this arcade do not speak much English, but they are more than willing to sell!
A Tour of the Hoehyeon Underground Shopping Center´s Coin Shops
If you stand in front of the Seoul Central Post Office building, you will find Entrance number one to the Hoehyeon underground arcade.
Taking the stairs or escalator down Entrance One to the underground, enter the shopping center and take an immediate left down the first isle. The underground shops are arranged in rows by Korean alphabetic letters (similar to “A, B, C” order in English). The rows of shops on your left side of this first corridor are labeled with the Korean letter 가 (“GA”) and each shop has its own stall number in the row, from 가-1 to 가-39. On the right side is the 나 (“NA”) row, with each shop also labeled with a stall number, from 1 to 37.
Heading up the first corridor, you will find eight coin shops (with the coin-shop numbers labeled in red). Continue to follow the red arrows on this map, and you will come to the end of the corridor and go around the corner (near the restaurants at the top of the map) to come back down in the opposite direction. The shops here are labeled 다 (“DA”) on the right side, and 라 (“LA”) on the left side. The next corridor has rows labeled, 마 (“MA”), and 바 (“BA”), and a short corridor near Entrance 10 labeled 사 (“SA”).
The coin shops featured below appear as they do on this map as you follow the red arrows from Entrance One. Each shop will have a sign that extends out over the door with the name of the shop (in Korean) along with its row and stall number.
From Entrance One, the first coin shop you will run into as you turn to go up the first hallway is the third shop on the right, so this shop has the address 나-3 (NA-3). The name of the shop is Han Yang Sa (한양사), and it has a good selection of Korean banknotes, postage stamps, and Korean commemorative coins. In 2011, the owner of this shop quoted me a price of 60,000KRW (about $60 USD) for one of his uncirculated 1962 5 Won banknotes (P-31). This is a pretty decent price, as the same condition note will commonly sell for 20 dollars more at eBay. It appears that there is not a large selection of non-Korean items here. The owner is an agreeable man and seems reputable.
As you follow the red arrows on the map, the next shop is on the left-hand side at location 가-7 (GA-7). This shop is called Koryosa (고려우표사), and the seller specializes in Korean and world banknotes and stamps. I noticed that he also sells medals, Chinese silver pandas, and Korean commemorative silver coins.
The next shop is three stalls away on on the left side of the corridor, at location 가-10 (GA-10). This shop is called Hwa Pae Bank (화폐 Bank), and they sell Korean coins, commemoratives and banknotes. Of particular interest to me was a 1970 10 Won Bronze coin in an NGC slab graded MS-64. Unfortunately, the shop was closed during the week that I visited the Hoehyeon underground arcade in June 2012, so I was not able to get a price on that coin. The owner had several other NGC-graded Korean coins in the display window, too. It seems that almost ALL of the slabbed coins sold in Korea are in NGC slabs, for some reason. Whenever you see graded coins and notes in a shop window down here, chances are that it is a good place to shop.
As you walk up the corridor, the next coin shop is Gwang Woo Sa (광우사), a corner store on the right side of the hallway that takes up TWO stall spaces, 나-9 and 나-10 (NA-9 and NA-10). This shop sells, what seems to be, the largest selection of non-Korean coins in the underground. The owner also sells Korean banknotes, Korean mint sets, and BU rolls, along with pandas and Korean silver commemoratives. In 2010, the owner sold me two Bank of Korea mint sets (years 2003 and 2004) for a price of 30,000 to 43,000 KRW (30 to 40 USD) each. The prices were pretty decent, and about 10 to 20 dollars cheaper than similar ones I had seen on the internet at the time. I was especially happy to buy them here because the Korean mint sets dating before 2005 seem to be hard to find online. The owner here is also nice enough to pull out items for you to look at without too much fuss. He quotes reasonable prices (from what I can tell) and seems to be quite reputable. He has an online store at www.cstamp.co.kr.
On the other side of the hallway, a little further up, is Samsung Stamps and Banknotes (삼성우표화폐) at location 가-13 (GA-13). This shop mostly specializes in Korean stamps and notes, but the owner also has some world banknotes, Korean mint sets and other coins. This particular seller has been featured in the Korean press, and had been interviewed by a local TV network. He has a still photo of himself from that TV program taped to the inside of his shop window. The owner of this stall had a very good selection of Korean banknotes, but he quoted a price of 385,000 KRW (about 370.00 USD) for a banknote that was going for 60,000 to 85,000 KRW at all the other shops in the neighborhood. The note he showed me was not a “Star Note”, specimen, or rare print of any kind, so there should not have been any reason for such a high price. This is why buyers need to know the asking price, or at least shop around first, before committing to buy.
This coin shop is located at 가-14 (GA-14), right next door to the one above, and it has the same name, “Hwa Pae Bank” (화폐 Bank) and logo as the shop located at 가-10. From the inventory, I think it IS the same business as the other one: It has the same inventory of world banknotes and Chinese silver, but has much less interesting inventory than the other one. I guess the shopkeeper owns two stalls down here, but they are just not next to each other.
I do not have a photo of this shop, but there IS a little shop that sells some world banknotes at the 나-20 location. This shop is almost not worth mentioning because of its almost non-existent numismatics inventory, but if you like lighters and other little antiques take a look. This shop is an example of some of the shops that exist in the Hoehyeon underground: They sell just a handful of numismatic items alongside a bunch of other little, less-than-valuable (and less-than-serious) tchotchkes at potentially high prices to customers who may not know any better. Again, enter at your own risk.
This coin shop is located further down the corridor at 가-35 (GA-35). It is called Ham Mi Stamps (한미우표사), and they specialize in Korean stamps and banknotes. The owner also has a limited inventory of Korean and world coins, too. This one also is not the best place to shop for coins or notes.
The very last shop in this corridor is Man Bok Sa (만복사), the same coin shop where Mike Strub purchased his 2001 Bank of Korea mint set during his trip to Korea that same year (…a good investment, as the price of that mint set in Korea has increased tenfold since he bought it!). This shop is located at 가-38 (GA-38). Its inventory includes Korean and world stamps, banknotes, collectible phonecards, and recent-year Korean mint sets. The amount of inventory at this shop leaves much to be desired, however.
Follow the red arrows on the map (above), and you will turn right around the corner and head down the next corridor that has rows 다 (DA) on the right and 라 (LA) on the left-hand side. The first currency shop you come upon is on the right at location 다-36 (DA-36). The bright yellow sign has “Old Money” emblazoned on it in bold, black Korean script. However, the inventory leaves much to be desired in the way of old money: It consists mostly of medals, some paper money, and lots of tchotchkes, curios and antiques. He also claims to have gold and silver coins. But inventories change, so who knows, maybe the owner will have something you are looking for?
The next coin shop down this corridor is on the right, at 다-32 (DA-32). This shop is called World Paper Money (외국지폐전문), and like the name states, the owner specializes in world paper money.
The next coin shop down this corridor is on the left, at 라-31 (LA-31). This shop is called Haidong (해동), and it specializes in Korean notes, commemoratives, some circulation coins, Korean medals and mint sets. The owner also sells old cigarette packs.
At location 라-29 (LA-29) is Kyeong Bo Sang Sa (경보상사), which has some inventory of old Korean cast coinage, Korean paper money, recent-year mint sets and Korean silver coins. Lots of raw stuff out for display, but there may be some graded currency and coins behind the counter, considering the kind of stuff this place sells.
Right next door, at location 라-28 (LA-28) is Hwa Pae Jeon Kook (화폐전국). The name means “Currency Heaven”, but you will have to be the judge of that! This shop specializes in PMG-graded Korean paper money, raw world paper money, Korean silver commemoratives, a few collector coins, and medals. This is one of the better shops to visit in the underground.
At location 라-17 (LA-17) is Woo Jeong Sa (우정사). This shop has a wide selection of Korean stamps, banknotes, Korean commemoratives and silver coins, and it is my favorite place to buy the most recent version of the DaeGwangSa Korean currency catalogue (this is the Korean version of the US “Red Book” Price Guide). The owner also sells albums for Korean stamps and paper money, and maybe albums for coins, too. The owner is friendly and quotes decent prices, in my experience. One of the better shops in the underground.
At location 다-16 (DA-16) is one of the better coin shops in the underground. Unfortunately, I do not have a photo of it. It´s a corner shop, and the owner has good selections of Korean notes, stamps, some Korean coins, and a very good selection of Korean commemorative coins. The owner is friendly and seems reputable.
At location 라-13 (LA-13) is Hwa Shin Stamp Co. (화신우표). This shops only sells Korean stamps, but maybe they will start selling coins and notes sometime?
At location 다-12 (DA-12) is Seoul Stamps (서울우표사). This is another shop that sells stamps (world and Korean), but worth a look just in case they get some coins or notes in their inventory.
At location 라-11 (LA-11) is a shop called Archi Phila. This shop specializes in Korean paper money and world stamps. When I visited, it had a small selection of circulation coins, but a better selection of Korean commemorative coins. With its good inventory, it is one of the better shops in the arcade.
At location 라-6 (LA-6) is a shop called World Stamps (세계우표사). This little shop is probably my favorite of all of the shops down here. The owner always likes to keep an inventory of high-quality Korean coins and notes, many of them graded (NGC, PMG). I have purchased a 1995 Bank of Korea mint set and a 1998 Bank of Korea mint set from this location on two different occasions, and both were good buys. The owner specializes in higher-grade Korean circulation coins in slabs and has always quoted decent prices. He is friendly and reputable, and has given me the current-year mint set as a gift with my higher-value purchases. It is worth your time visiting this shop if you are looking for Korean coins.
Follow the arrows on my map, and at the end of the corridor, go left and around the corner to the next corridor that has rows 마 (MA) on the left and 바 (BA) on the right. At stall 바-7 (BA-7) is Korca (코르카). There is not much to see here (the majority of his business at this stall is money exchange), but the owner does like to keep rare Korean mint sets in the inventory. This place is worth a visit if you are into Korean mint sets, but they DO quote unusually high prices.
A little further down, at location 바-13 (BA-13) is a shop called Sang Nohk (“Evergreen”) Stamps (상록우표사). This shop is a tiny stall that has an array of things: antiques, Korean stamps, notes and BU rolls. They also sell cellular phones and accessories, so they are not the most serious of currency shops down here.
At the very end of the 마 (MA) row is a corner shop at location 마-34 (MA-34). It is a shop named (incredibly) “Love and Currency” (사랑 & 화폐). This shop is one of the better ones to visit if you are looking for world and Korean banknotes, many of them graded. They also specialize in silver, Korean commemoratives, medals and Korean mint sets. A very nice store, with decent prices.
Down the last little corridor, near Entrances 7 and 8, is stall 사-7 (SA-7), a shop called Woo Chwee Sa (우취사). This shop has a good selection of Korean notes, stamps, silver, Korean commemoratives and Korean mint sets. In June 2012, the owner quoted me a price of 260,000 KRW for a pretty decent-quality 1999 Bank of Korea mint set (only 8,000 made). He had other mint sets at reasonable prices, too. This shop is easy to miss in the arcade, but the owner offers higher-quality items at good prices.
Across the hallway from Woo Chwee Sa, in the very end-corner of the underground, near Exits Seven and Eight (see map above) is the shop Sol Pae, at Location 아-16 (A-16). This seems to be yet another store that sells all kinds of collectibles, including cigarette packs, medals, stamps, vases, etc. But, you never know what you can find in these little shops down here…
Other Coin Shops in Seoul
I know of four other coin shops in Seoul. Three of them are just outside of the Hoehyeon Underground arcade. From inside the arcade, take the escalator back out of Entrance One. At the top of the escalator, take a glance to your left, and you will see the Bank of Korea Museum (the old central bank building). You are now standing in the Central Post Office plaza. Looking straight ahead from Entrance One, you’ll see what looks like three black stone chimneys. Behind the chimneys is a street that leads to the Chinese Embassy. On this street are several Chinese restaurants, and among them are three coin stores.
The first coin store that you will come across is Jae il Sa (제일사). This store has a wider selection of notes and coins than most of the other shops in the underground arcade. Like most coin stores here in Seoul, the majority of their inventory is Korean. The owner and his wife seem to quote slightly higher prices than many of the shops in the arcade (in my experience), but this store is worth a visit. The owners also have a postal packaging business in the same location, which may indicate that they do not get enough business from their coin and banknote sales. Just to the right (East) of Jae il Sa is another building with coin stores.
Sujipbank Korea and Oh Sung
In that building are two coin stores: Sujipbank Korea (수집뱅크 코리아), and O-Seong. (오성 or 수집닷컴). To the right of Jae Il sa, is another building that has recently (2014) received a facelift. Enter the building under the black tiles with Chinese characters on them. Enter the glass doors and go up the stairs, past the Chinese restaurant on the second floor, to the third floor. You will see signs for Sujipbank and O-Seong on the stair risers. At the top of the stairs on the third floor take a LEFT and go down the hallway to Sujipbank, and RIGHT to go to O-Seong.
You will see that the door to Sujipbank is slid shut (because they had the air conditioner on whenever I have visited), but just slide the door open and enter. The owner of Sujipbank (수지뱅크코리아 / www.sujipbank.com) is Mr. Kim Jung-sik, and I had purchased many coins from him in the past. As far as I know, Sujipbank has a better inventory of Korean coins and paper than almost any shop in Seoul. They have lots of raw and graded coins and notes (NGC, PCGS and PMG graded), mint sets in good condition, Korean silver commemoratives, and the best selection of world coins that you will find in Seoul. I have purchased several mint sets and graded coins from Sujipbank, and I have to say that this is a great place to shop for coins in Seoul! Mind you, the prices are not the lowest, but they are honest about what they sell, and they have NO PROBLEM letting you take a look at their inventory (especially if they are not too busy!). Because of the way Sujipbank does business, I always end up purchasing something from this store on every visit to Korea.
On the same floor as Sujipbank, across the hallway, is O-Seong (오성케이엔씨, or 오성닷컴 / soojip.com), operated by Mr. Han Chang-joo, a publishing, auction, and retail business giant of Korean numismatics. Mr. Han publishes several books on Korean coins and currency, including the venerable O-Seong K&C catalogue, of which he is editor. The majority of authors who write about Korean coins commonly refer to the O-Seong K&C yearly currency price guide and use its catalog numbers for Korean coins. Mr. Han is also responsible for editing and publishing the most important books (if not the ONLY books!) on the history of modern South Korean currency. The store in this building has an extensive inventory of Korean coins and banknotes, but he also has a business in the nearby Hoehyeon underground arcade. Mr. Han’s retail business has had some of the most popular and higher-end South Korean coins in its inventory over the years. His inventory of numismatic items is also quite large. Worth a look if you are in the area!
Sujipmol dot com
“Sujipmol dot com” (수집몰닷컴) is a coin store in Seoul that is a little further away from the city center. Sujipmol is in Anyang City, a suburb just south of Seoul proper. You can get there by taking the Seoul subway (metro), Line Four (blue), going south to the subway station, Pyeongchon (평촌역). Get out of the subway station using Exit One, and you will walk out onto an open plaza. Find the street on your right, and walk down it almost to the end of the block. On the left-hand side of the street you will find a post office, and to the right of post office is the Pyongchon Plaza building. You can find Sujipmol up on the sixth floor. There is an elevator in the building, but when I visited it was out of order, so I had to walk all six floors up to the coin shop. Sujipmol is owned by Kang Jin-koo (강진구). The online version of his store is www.sujipmol.com. This is another very good store to visit if you are interested in graded Korean coins and notes. The store also deals in Chinese silver pandas, and other silver coins. I purchased a 1999 Bank of Korea mint set from Sujipmol for a very reasonable price, and all the other items that Mr. Kang had shown me were also reasonably priced.
Go Jeon Sa
Go Jeon Sa (고전사) has been in business in the same location for 40 years in the Insadong area of Seoul. Insadong has been long famous for its antique stores, art galleries, small tea shops, and restaurants. You can get there by taking the Seoul subway Line One, and get off at the Jongno Sam-ga station (종로3-가역). Asking a taxi driver to take you to Insadong will work, too. The small inventory of coins and notes is mostly limited to Korean items, but there they do have a world coin bin that you can pick through right outside the front door. I purchased a 1969 50 Won banknote (P-40) for a reasonable price here. If you visit Insadong, Go Jeon Sa is worth a visit.
NGC-Certified South Korean Coins Currently Available on eBay