The Most Valuable Japanese Coin: The Japanese Hishi Oban
In April of 2021, the most expensive Japanese coin sold at auction for nearly 2 million dollars: the Gold Hishi Oban. Coming from 1588, a time when feudal Japan was filled with samurai and ninjas, this unique piece of coinage is about the size of an American dollar bill, but it was struck from gold! But what makes this coin so rare?
In Japan, the Sengoku period was a time of strife, with many civil wars among clans vying for power. One leader from the end of that period in the late 1800s, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, rose to power and is now known as one of the “Great Unifiers” of Japan.
In 1588, Hideyoshi asked the great Goto clan of metal workers to create a new monetary coinage. Hammerstruck by the craftsmen of the Goto clan, this large gold coin is known as the oban. With an average weight of 165 grams, about 5 troy ounces, this large coin was oval in shape, extremely thin, and about the size of US currency.
The unusual size and shape of the oban makes it appealing to collectors. It also represents the time period of feudal Japan when samurai roamed the land. A distinct feature of the oban was the streaks across the surface created by the hammer blows, these are known as tuschime. Another truly stunning feature is the inked calligraphy indicating who struck the coin and when.
The Oban was the largest of several coins struck during the Sengoku period. The purpose of the coinage was to pay for luxury goods from China, such as silk. Since these were much more expensive than common goods, the large gold oban coins were quite useful. Once leaving the country, it would be common for them to be melted back down to be converted to other currency.
Today only 6 examples of the Japanese Oban are known. When Stack’s Bowers presented the coin during the April 2021 Hong Kong sale, it attracted the attention of many numismatists. These coins are so rarely seen, that even having a chance to examine the oban is a treasured moment.
As a tribute to this historical artifact of feudal Japan, Rare Collectibles TV is offering Commemorative Japanese Hishi Obans struck in both silver and gold. These are modeled after the 1588 example that sold for 1.92 million dollars at auction, setting a new record for Japanese coinage.