Isabella Lucy Bird was a famous English explorer, writer and photographer who traveled the world in the late 1800’s.
She visited China and documented her adventures in a book entitled “Chinese Pictures: Notes on Photographs” written under her married name of Mrs. J.F. Bishop and published by Charles L. Bowman & Co. in the year 1900.
Among the photographs in the book is one entitled “Mode of Carrying Cash and Babies“.
At the left is the photograph which has been cropped to better show a man carrying cash coins.
Isabella Bird wrote the following in describing the photograph:
“In travelling, the carriage of money is a great annoyance, owing to the smallness of its value and the large number of coins or “cash” necessary to make up an amount of any size.
“Exchanging eighteen shillings English for brass cash, the weight of them amounted to seventy-two pounds, which had to be carried by the coolies.
“These cash have a square hole in the middle, and are strung together upon a piece of straw twist. Should the straw break, the loss of time in getting up the pieces is much more than the loss of the money.
“The Chinese are honest, very keen at a bargain, but when the bargain is made the Chinaman may be depended on to keep it.”
As a collector, I was aware of how these cash coins were strung together and carried.
This rare photograph, however, captures the reality of such a moment from about 115 years ago.
It strengthens the ties to the ancient past and provokes a sense of wonder as to how the cash coins I now hold in my hand played a role in the daily lives of common people who lived so long ago when China was still ruled by emperors.