Arthur Henderson Smith was a famous American missionary who went to China in 1872. He worked in Shandong Province until the Boxer Rebellion forced him to flee and take refuge at the Legation Quarter in Peking in 1900.
Smith wrote several books about China including “Village Life in China” which was published in 1899.
The book contains a rare photograph, shown at the left, of men in the process of putting cash coins on strings.
Counting the coins and placing them on strings was a laborious task as described below:
“The sales which have been made during the day are for small sums only, and as all the cash has to be counted and strung on hemp cords so as to make the full string of 1,000 cash (or 500 in some parts of the country), this counting and stringing of the money takes a great deal of time, and is very tiresome work when done by the quantity…”
Money-changers charged for this service according to “Guttag’s Foreign Currency and Exchange Guide” published in 1921:
“Money-changers charge for the trouble of stringing the coins and also for the cost of the string by deducting a certain number of Cash from each roll. This rate of discount is fixed locally so that the Tiao (diao 吊), which normally consists of 1,000 Cash, may contain in one district 965 and in another 980 actual coins.”
Even in stringing cash coins, the Chinese did not want to miss an opportunity to make an additional profit as Smith describes below:
“In the case of firms having any considerable business, after the day’s work is all over, the clerks are liable to be required to spend the evening in untying all the numerous strings of cash that have come in, with a view to the discovery of any rare coins that might be sold at a special price. All is fish that comes to a Chinese net, and sooner or later there is very little that does not find its way there to the profit of its owner.”
While it is common for coin collectors to closely examine each coin in a string of cash looking for rare specimens, it is surprising to learn that merchants during the Qing Dynasty routinely did so as well.