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Collector has treasure chest of old cash

Update: March, 11/2013 - 02:08
On display: Tinh (right) introduces his collection of old money to a friend.

A man in Nghe An Province has spent his whole life collecting and preserving ancient money to protects its historical and cultural value for the future. Hoang Cuong and Trung Hieu report

Many people in Nghe An refer to Dao Tam Tinh as the "King of Old Money" because of the mountains of ancient cash and coins he has collected.

Some of these treasures are worth thousands of dollars, and antiques dealers have tried persuading him to part with them over the years. But Tinh isn't interested in selling any of his collection. He just wants to hold on to them so that future generations can see the currencies of days gone by, and researchers can use them in their work.

Born in 1954, Tinh is currently the director of Nghe An Province Library.

He is also a cultural and historical researcher famous in Nghe An for the hundreds of articles he has had published in newspapers and magazines.

Many of his neighbours don't understand why Tinh collects old money when for the majority of the time, it is locked away in his house. They are even more bemused by the amount of time, effort and money he spends on hunting down the latest additions to his collection, sometimes even selling his other possessions to ensure he can secure his next prize.

In short, most believe him to be ‘a few pennies short of a pound'. After all, why would someone spend good money on currencies that cannot be used?

Tinh began to collect old coins in the early 1990s.

As a passionate student of ancient Han (Chinese) scripts, Tinh noticed similar patterns and motifs embossed on an old coin he came across one day that contained many elements of history and culture. The discovery inspired him.

Tinh recalled that his first bulk purchase of coins was in 1998.

"That day, I received news that a discovery had been made in Nam Dan District. A scrap dealer had found a pit containing copper coins weighing nearly 200kg.

"Although it was wet winter's day, I decided to set off with my life savings in my pocket.

"As it got darker, I was forced to slow down and negotiated the jagged roads using the dim glow from my headlight.

"Looking back on it, I thought I was so daring for taking on a 30km trip on treacherous terrain at night while carrying more than VND1 million ($48) (a big sum at that time). When I arrived it was nearly midnight, but the family had waited up for me. They knew I wanted the coins for research purposes, so they allowed me to pick and choose the best specimens and only charged me VND20,000 per kg.

"When I eventually got home, I stayed up all night cleaning and washing them until my wife forced me to go to bed," he said with a broad smile.

Early days: One of Tinh's old Vietnamese notes.

From that moment on, coin collecting was in his blood.

His reputation grew across his home province to neighbouring areas, and he was ready to hit the road day or night at the slightest rumour of a potential find.

However, not all of his trips were successful. Some journeys to the remote mountainous districts cost him a lot of money, but when he arrived, he was disappointed to find that other coin enthusiasts had beat him to it.

Trying to compete with coin hunters from Ha Noi and HCM City was also difficult because they had more money, he explained.

Over the years, Tinh has amassed a giant collection with thousands of ancient coins and paper money.

He has collections from each of Viet Nam's feudal dynasties, and more notably, some rarer examples that other collectors would give their right arm for due to their sophistication, sharp designs, high technical quality, cultural value and rarity. They include the Thai Binh Thong Bao coin issued during the reign of King Dinh Tien Hoang (924-979); the Thien Phuc Tran Bao coin of the King Le Hoan monarchy (941-1005); the Thuan Thien Nguyen Bao coin of King Le Loi's era (1384-1433); and the Hong Duc Thong Bao coin of King Le Thanh Tong's time (1442-1497).

Tinh's collection stretches across borders, and boasts copper coins from the Chinese dynasties that he has been offered large sums of money for, and he also owns a large volume of ancient paper money.

Most paper money issued in Viet Nam can be found in his albums, and it's an aspect of his collection that Tinh is particularly proud of. He takes great pleasure in showing these monetary chronicles to friends, researchers and enthusiasts alike.

His favourite is a series of notes he refers to as his "Uncle Ho" money; the first notes printed with an effigy of the legendary leader emblazoned upon them. Only a small amount of this currency went into circulation, produced by only four printing presses operating from hidden workshops in Ha Tinh Province. Tinh said a rich collector from HCM City asked him to sell his collection for a sizeable sum of money, but he refused the offer.

"My goal now is to complete my collections.

"For me, collecting ancient money is my passion and it gives me satisfaction. It also fuels my other passion which is history, since money is inextricably connected with different eras and gives us invaluable insight into different cultures. I will never sell my treasures but I will keep them for the next generations to admire, understand and appreciate their historical and cultural values."

The image of Tinh's eyes glowing with happiness as his precious collection sparkles with the colours of time is something we are not likely to forget. — VNS

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