An Important Group of Ephemera relating to Thomas Graham, Master of the Mint

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Date of Auction: 4th December 2019

Sold for £440

Estimate: £400 - £500

ALS from George Arbuthnot at The Treasury, London, 27 August 1862, to Thomas Graham, Esq, regarding the Japanese currency question, 3pp; ALS from George Arbuthnot at The Treasury, London, 29 November 1862, to Thomas Graham Esq, regarding Japan coins, 1pp [2]. Very fine; in marbled paper holders £400-£500


The text of the former reads: “My dear Sir, The Chancellor of the Exchequer was so urgent for the transcription of my Report on the Japanese currency question to Lord Russell, that I was unable to obtain the advantage of your previous perusal of it. I widen it, however, and shall be much obliged to you, if you will correct any mistakes with which I may have fallen, as I may still have the print altered. It is seldom that the dry question of currency is connected with so much of fearful interest as this Treaty with Japan involves. Yrs. very truly, G. Arbuthnot”. The text of the latter reads: “My dear Sir, Many thanks for your information about the Japan coins, which will be very helpful to me. Yrs. very truly, G. Arbuthnot”.

George Arbuthnot (1802-65), a career civil servant with the Treasury for 45 years, from July 1820 to July 1865, was private secretary to Sir Robert Peel and later to Sir Charles Wood, Viscount Halifax.

The Japanese currency question had its roots in the trade arrangements made by Commodore Matthew Perry with the Japanese in 1853. The monetary exchange rate set at the time favoured the Japanese who, for trade, preferred their own currency to the Mexican dollars prevalent in other areas of the Orient. In attempting to secure a ‘weight-for-weight’ equivalency, and associated recoinage fees, American officials even suggested bringing in their own moneyers who would work for less pay than the Japanese, but they were swiftly informed that Japanese law prohibited foreigners from engaging in coinage. By 1858 it had been agreed that all foreign coins should be current in Japan and pass for the corresponding weight of Japanese coin and in 1859-60 there was a huge outflow from Japan of local coins, especially gold; it was said that only Mexican dollars and ichibugin were being used in most trades. In 1862 the Japanese attempted to negotiate the currency question direct with the British government, and sent envoys to London to that end, but Treasury officials insisted that the matter should be dealt with in Edo. Arbuthnot himself had carefully analysed the currency situation in Japan and concluded that the Japanese were not at fault; if they established a mint to strike coin in exchange for bullion, at a fixed and moderate charge, they would be following other contemporary world practices. Yet it was not until 1870, and the advent of the Meiji era, that the Japanese government finally established a mint in Osaka