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Businessman amasses historic wealth

Update: February, 16/2015 - 06:29
New record: The museum has been recognised by the Viet Nam Record Book Centre as the unit that holds the record for having the largest amount of coins and paper money. — VNS Photos Truong Vi

Nguyen Ngoc Khoi won a Guinness World Record for his collection of ancient money, which includes many rare coins from Viet Nam as well as other countries. Hoang Trung Hieu reports.

Nguyen Ngoc Khoi, a businessman in Ha Noi, owns a collection of more than nine tonnes of ancient coins, along with a large amount of paper money.

Khoi, 62, is the director of the Ha Noi KAT Trade Company, which was recognised by the Viet Nam Record Book Centre (Vietkings) last year as the unit that holds the record for having the largest amount of coins from Viet Nam and other countries.

He is a veteran, and chairman of the Trai Tim Vang Viet Nam (Viet Nam Golden Heart) Charity Fund under the Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs Ministry.

Khoi set up the website baotangtiencoKAT.com to showcase a large quantity of coins from Viet Nam and other countries.

Counting change: Veteran Nguyen Ngoc Khoi examines some of his money collection at the museum.

At his money museum in 298 Tran Dien Street in Ha Noi, piles of coins are kept in large jars and trays of different sizes.

"I've collected all coins of the Dinh, Le, Ly and Tran, as well as Ho, Hau Le, Mac, Tay Son and Nguyen dynasties, as well as the coins and paper money of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam and the Sai Gon regime. I also own coins and banknotes of 185 countries," he said.

There are rusty coins stuck together inside a bronze jar so heavy that even we can hardly lift it up. There are also piles of copper coins.

Many coins are set in circles on a platter, looking like long, very impressive snakes.

Khoi was born in 1953 in Vinh Bao District in the northern port city of Hai Phong.

"From my childhood, I liked collecting antiques, including money," the numismatist said.

Pricey: Many of Khoi's coins are very rare and valuable. Some are worth as much as US$20,000. — VNS Photos Truong Vi

He joined the army in 1971. Demobilised in 1978, when the country faced difficulties, Khoi set up his own business to end economic troubles and study to become an entrepreneur.

"Initially, I began my business by making artificial hair for export and by making incense. Then I worked with the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry."

Asked why and when he got the idea to establish this money museum, Khoi said, "While doing my business, I met some foreign businessmen who wanted to visit places that showcased Vietnamese money over the ages to learn about the culture and development of Viet Nam's industry and trade. But they never found any such place.

"After these meetings, I was determined to invest in collecting all kinds of coins, from the Thai Binh hung bao [the only coin of the Dinh dynasty (968-980), the first feudal dynasty of Viet Nam] to Bao Dai thong bao of the Nguyen dynasty, issued in 1945."

Old money: Silver pieces, units of currency from feudal times.

Khoi visited many provinces and localities to collect ancient artefacts. He has even completed a Chinese course in Ha Noi Foreign Language University to get more knowledge about antiquities. During his collection process, Khoi gained very good knowledge about the value and meaning of each item.

"During the 1,000 years under Chinese domination, the Vietnamese people didn't have their own currency. In 968, Dinh Bo Linh established the first feudal centralised State in Viet Nam. During his reign, the first currency of Viet Nam - the Thai Binh hung bao coin - was minted in 970, which proved the country had become independent, not only in politics but also in economy," he said.

Khoi owns all kinds of coins of all dynasties of Viet Nam, spanning the reigns of 13 kings and nine lords.

All coins of the feudal period are round in shape, with a square hole in the middle, expressing the ancient Vietnamese people's concept of "round sky, square earth".

There are some very rare and precious coins such as Thuan Thien dai bao of the early Le dynasty and Thien Cam nguyen bao of the Ly dynasty that is worth up to US$15,000, Nguyen Phong thong bao of the Tran dynasty worth up to $20,000, and the gold Canh Thinh thong bao dai tien of the Tay Son dynasty, he said.

Strange coins

Khoi picked up several typical coins, such as the gold and silver coins of the Tay Son dynasty, and some coins of the Chinese Qin dynasty to show visitors.

Among the foreign currencies from 185 countries that Khoi has collected, he pays more attention to coins from East Asian countries (China, Korea and Japan). Khoi has collected more than 50 kinds of coins from the Qin, Han, Tang and Song, as well as Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties of China, some of them being more than 2,000 years old.

Weighed down: Rusty coins stuck together inside a bronze jar, making it very heavy.

We were really impressed when Khoi showed us an ancient coin of the Chinese Qin dynasty, which was given as a reward by the Qin Emperor to his mandarins for visiting brothels. One side of the coin has images of four pairs of men and women making love, and the other side has scripts that refer to the wind, flower, snow and moon (implying love and sexual relations, according to ancient Chinese ideas).

"Our proposal for the establishment of a Viet Nam Money History Museum has been approved by the culture ministry, and the museum will be opened this spring," he said happily.

For this achievement, Khoi said that he must thank his wife, artisan Nguyen Thi Nga, who is vice chairwoman of the Ha Noi Craft Village Fine Arts Association and vice chairwoman of the Ha Noi Artisans Association, and was a volunteer during the anti-American war.

But coins are not the only things that Khoi collects.

He also owns many orders and medals of the Viet Nam People's Army.

"I was a liberation soldier during the resistance war against America. In war time, there were orders and medals awarded to soldiers, but in many cases, the recipients sacrificed their lives before they could receive them," he said sadly.

"That's why, after the liberation of South Viet Nam, I collected all kinds of orders and medals of the Viet Nam People's Army to keep the memories of my comrades alive."

Vessels: Visitors look at ancient bronze pots at the museum.

Khoi has more than 9,300 orders, medals and badges of all kinds, along with several titles for excellent armyman, the Badge for Liberation and war-time merit certificates.

"For me, all these items are precious, because they are proof of the sacrifice of my comrades. They were attached to my comrades and me during the war," he said.

We were also impressed by his collection of 500 bronze pots of different sizes. They include pots used for making wine and for cooking rice, some of them being 60 to more than 200 years old.

One of the pots, he said, was used by the Tay Son army when they marched to the North to attack the invading Chinese Qing troops in the 18th century. The pot now stores a large amount of antique coins.

Khoi holds two Vietnamese records for having the largest amount of ancient coins and the largest number of orders and medals.

Leading businessman

Holding a PhD in Sociology, Nguyen Ngoc Khoi is currently a member of the Viet Nam Fatherland Front Central Committee, chairman of the Ha Noi KAT Trade Group, and chairman of the Viet Nam Afforestation and Biological Conservation Society.

He received the Sao Vang Dat Viet (Viet Land Gold Star) award in 2008 and two merit certificates from the Prime Minister in 2009 and 2011.

After doing business for some 20 years, Khoi was recognised by the Association of Southeast Asia Businesses, the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Association of Small and Medium Enterprises as "the best business leader of Southeast Asia" in 2010. — VNS

He said that the Guinness World Records organisation had already recognised his record for having the largest amount of Vietnamese and foreign money, and that the certificate presenting ceremony would be held in Viet Nam.

Trinh Quang Ngat, chairman of the Society for Agent Orange Dioxin Victims of the northern province of Nam Dinh, visited the museum and said that it was the first time he had seen such a large number of ancient coins.

"The artefacts are in very good condition. Collector Khoi has done a meaningful job of preserving these traditional cultural values," Ngat said.

Experts estimate that Khoi's coin collection is worth about VND2.1 trillion (about US$97 million). But for Khoi, perhaps the material value is not everything.

"In addition to their economic value, the ancient coins also symbolise eternal values regarding the ups and downs of a country's history," Khoi said. — VNS

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