Open W-F, 12-4pm, Sat 10am-2pm | (860) 364-5688

Open W-F, 12-4pm, Sat 10am-2pm | (860) 364-5688

Ensuring Symbols

By Joey Brennan |  Fall 2020

Historic artifacts are often stolen, broken, or hidden during times of civic unrest. The Sharon Historical Society & Museum collection includes Chinese banknotes which were in circulation right before the 1911 Chinese revolution.

One of five bills pasted in a notebook. Note typed on first page says "Chinese money. Stolen from Banks during the Revolution of 1911, at Hankow, China. Of no pecuniary value, because unsigned. Given the Poconnuck Historical Society, by George D. Wilbur".

The 1911 revolution resulted in the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty. The Chinese banknotes in circulation before the revolution were donated to the Sharon Historical Society and Museum by George D. Wilbur in 1911. The Chinese currency donated by George D. Wilbur demonstrates the significance of the dragon, the bat, and the colors blue and green as symbols in Chinese culture. There is still much to learn about these particular pieces of currency. I had not learned much about the 1911 Chinese revolution until my internship at Sharon Historical Society & Museum, and I was surprised to learn of the currency and Chinese symbols. As I photographed the currency in the Sharon Historical Society & Museum collection, I noticed several details in the designs.

The following banknote design was produced between 1906 and 1907 by the Ta-Ching Government Bank in China and represents the banknote design which was to become part of a national unified currency. The banknote has contrasting designs on its front and back. The front has a very plain design with a blue border and a beige background. The lettering is a mix of the two colors. There are no visible symbols as it seems to be a very generic design. The back of the bill is multicolored including purple, green, brown and a red stamp although blue is the main color seen on the bill. The colors blue and green in Chinese culture represent harmony, nature, and prosperity. In contrast to the English text on the front, the text on the back is written in Chinese characters.

Ta-Ching Government Bank Banknote, front. c. 1907.
Ta-Ching Government Bank Banknote, back. c. 1907.

Currency is an important aspect of a country’s history and heritage. I learned from the annotations on the banknote documentation that the following banknote was stolen from the Bank of China in Hankow, China. Interestingly, Hankow was one of three towns that merged together to form the present-day city of Wuhan, the initial epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. The front side of the following banknote includes a drawing of two dragons flying out of stormy water. I have learned that in Chinese culture this design often symbolizes the good luck of those who have earned it.

On the back of the banknote, there are five bats. Based my inquiry, I learned that five bats are a common representation in Chinese culture of health, long life, prosperity, love of virtue, and natural death. I have much to learn about Chinese history. It was surprising to me to find so many symbols embedded in the Chinese currency of the Sharon Historical Society & Museum col-lection. I look forward to further exploration into the collection and sharing what I find.

Joey Brennan is a student of Housatonic Valey Regional High School and serves as intern at Sharon Historical Society and Museum. Joey’s internship is sponsored by the Fran Kelsey Young Photographers Fund, a fund managed by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation. Faculty of the Art and History department of the HVRHS help to recruit interns for SHSM.

Bank of China Banknote, front. c. 1911.
Bank of China Banknote, back, c. 1911.

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