Made in China from 1760 to 1875, these colorful tokens were used as gaming pieces in private Chinese gaming houses in Siam (it became Thailand in 1939). In the absence of “small change” they were also used as money in surrounding areas. Scholars believe that there may have been as many as 1,000 “hongs,” or firms that issued the tokens, and more than 10,000 varieties have been recorded. To help reduce counterfeiting, the pieces were recalled with frequency and 2,000 to 6,000 new pieces were produced.
Special Note from Robert: Each of these tokens is a tiny work of art in legendary Chinese porcelain. They are recovered from the foundations of gaming establishments or from private collections throughout Europe, where they were brought back as souvenirs by travelers to Siam.
The gaming tokens were created in delicate porcelain and hand colored in hues of green, blue, red and orange. The designs and inscriptions not only gave the value of each piece, but also denoted the issuing house, and depicted animals, sea creatures and good luck symbols.
The delicate porcelain tokens are fine examples of the famous Asian mastery of porcelain, long before such fine work was duplicated by European craftsman. In 1875, in an attempt to facilitate the use of new fiat currency, the government prohibited the use of the tokens as money.
An interesting historical note: these tokens were in use when Anna Leonowens was invited to Siam by King Mongkut (Rama IV). Her adventures became the inspiration for The King and I.
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