In 1599, Japan issued a rectangular gold piece now known as the Gaku ichibu. This regional issue from Edo blossomed into a 250-year series and branched into more denominations, eventually spilling over into silver pieces in the mid-1700s. These rectangular pieces are sometimes referred to as "bar money" for their unusual bar-like shape. They were minted through 1869, when Japan's old currency system was replaced by the yen.
While an incredibly interesting series, they are also phenomenally difficult to research for English speakers. This website hopes to help fill that gap and will eventually become a book.
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Before we go any further, one thing needs to be established: This site is a work in progress. I am in the process of researching to publish a book on Japanese bar money with the aim to have it completed by 2030. In the meantime, I've decided to share some of my progress here as we go. Sets are incomplete, pictures are inconsistent, research isn't finished. There are still many gaps, and there will continue to be gaps for quite awhile.
I'm researching from the oldest issues to the newest, starting back in 1599 with the Gaku ichibu. Of course, the older pieces are harder to find and I don't have any in my collection yet. If you look at the Silver Set and Gold Set pages you'll see the pieces I do have along with some statistics, brief narratives, and notes on rarity. As my research catches up to the pieces I own, these summaries will expand to become much more thorough and complete. I've opted to not put up summaries for pieces I don't own yet, though you may find some information about them under the Research Notes tab.
This is not an easy series to research. English references are sparse, and the best guides I've found are in Japanese. I do not speak Japanese. Translating those sources is a time consuming and painstaking process; they use outdated kanji and therefore can't be tossed into a translation engine. To get anything coherent, I have to translate it word by word.
In addition, I intend to fully illustrate the book with my own collection. It will take awhile for me to be able to afford a full set, not to mention waiting for good pieces to come up for sale.
Between the two factors, 2030 feels like a very realistic goal.
I've seen a growing number of collectors becoming interested in some of the more common issues, so I wanted to get something out there to help them get started in the series. This site may not be complete, but it's more than you'll find anywhere else in English (and if you do find a more thorough site, please let me know!). Everything here is correct per English sources, with corrections made based on Japanese sources as I find them.
Creative Director of Numismatic Marketing
Contractor for the Newman Numismatic Portal
Winner of 2020 NLG Awards for World Coin Feature Article and Short Video
Previous Contributor to CoinWeek, CPG Market Review, and ANA Coin Press Blog
I've been working in the numismatic industry since late 2018, first as a freelancer before ending up with Numismatic Marketing. I started collecting when I was 11 with the standard Dansco wheat penny album, eventually moving to a 7070 type set.
In college, I discovered Japanese bar money. I purchased an AU Ansei ichibu gin for a work project and was enamored by the unusual shape. What was the story behind it? Were there others in the series? I started to research and found... very little. A few forum posts mentioned a book by David Hartill, so I tracked it down and expected it to answer all of my questions.
It did not. While it was a wild improvement on the information I found online, it wasn't the guide that I wanted. I wrote an article for CoinWeek summarizing what I learned in Hartill, which went on to win an NLG Literary Award in 2020. My goal was to make the series more accessible, but as I learned more, I realized just how much more there was to say.
I kept looking for better sources. Hartill is fantastic for the expanse it covers, but I wanted a guide that was solely focused on bar money; that featured large, clear photos and explained the history behind each piece; that told the story instead of just giving compositions and dates. As it turns out, that book doesn't exist. So I've decided to write it.