The Tibetan province of China is a complex numismatic study featuring many diverse coins from different periods of history. These coins can come undated, with partial dates, or full dates with different systems and languages for dating each.
Tibetan Chinese Tangka coins are an area of complex study upon itself. Tangka coinage, which was first struck in Nepal from about 1640 CE, became a common circulating coin in the region of Tibet. Local Tibet issues wouldn’t be struck until c.1763 or 1764 or 1785 CE and don’t feature a date. Dated Tangkas coinage would appear under different series of coins.
The Kong Par Tangka series came about with conflict between Tibet, China, and Nepal, in which Nepalese Mohur coins were cut off to Tibet, which made Chinese authorities in Tibet authorize a temporary coin issue with the same weight and standard as the Nepal coins frequently used in Tibet. They were minted in the Kongbo district of east Lhasa, where the name “Kong Par” comes from “Tangkas struck in Kong(bo).”
These coins bear the date that corresponds to the Tibetan calendar, which is a lunisolar calendar that is 12 or 13 months beginning with a new moon, and the average year is equal to that of a solar year. These cycles would occur every 60 years, hence the first date is that of the cycle and the second the year within the cycle. The first Kong Par Tangkas were issued with the date 13-45, which would be 1791 CE. The conversion of these dates to Common Era dates is the cycle minus one (since they started with 1), then multiply by 60, add the year, and then add 1026, as that was the Common Era date that the Tibetan calendar started, and you would then arrive at the Common Era date.
The Kong Par Tangka coinage would be struck in years 13-45 (1791), 13-46 (1792), 13-47 (1793) by the Chinese and used by the Chinese army to buy supplies for the military effort to drive the invading Nepal army out of Tibet. These coins had no issue circulating alongside the Nepal coinage already in circulation, but the Chinese suspended the issue of these coins officially in favor for the coinage Tangka coinage of the Sino-Tibetan Chinese coinage issued in the Emperor’s name.
By the 1840s, the Chinese governing of Tibet had weakened and Kong Par Tangkas were minted once again. Many of the issues bore the date 13-46 and were struck throughout the 1840s and 1850s. These can be identified by the improved quality of strike and the large petals on the design. In 1890 the current dates were added to the new issues of Kong Par Tangkas, and 15-24 (1890) and 15-25 (1891) coins were issued.
The Sino-Tibetan Chinese coinage issued under the name of Emperor Qianlong (Chien Lung) and struck in the mint in Lhasa would have a year on most coins that corresponded to the year of the emperor’s reign. For these issues, the first dated pieces are year 58 or 1793 CE and can be dated 58, 59, 60, and 61 for the reign of Emperor Qianlong. With the accession of the next Emperor Jiaqing (Chia Ching), the date featured on the coins also is associated with the reign but now started 1796 and year 2 would be 1797. The Sino-Tibet China Tangkas continued under Emperor Jiaqing until 1821 with years 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 24, and 25. The next reign was that of Emperor Daoguang (Tao Kuang), in which coins were issued in his name starting in 1822 through 1836 and dated with years 2, 3, 4, 15, and 16.
Another type of Tibetan Tangka is those struck with the Lantsa or Ranjana script, which is most commonly found in Nepal. It is believed by some these coins were struck for ceremonial proposes by Nepalese who lived in Lhasa. However, these coins did enter circulation and can be found with dates from the Tibetan system of 15-28 (1894), 15-40 (1906), and 15-46 (1912).
Several other Tangka issues were produced in Tibet, China, however these coins are undated. Several studies have broken these coins down to different varieties and given them corresponding dates based on these varieties. Some special Tangka or Monk Tangka coins exist with dates corresponding to 1910 and 1953-54.
Starting around 1909, several other Sino-Tibet Chinese coins were issued. Most of these were without dates but were issued in the name of Emperor Xuantong (Puyi). Some of these coins would again feature the date on them corresponding with the year of reign such as “First Year” or 1909 CE. Yet, with what was going on in China, Tibet was left as an autonomous region and thus started issuing its own coinage once again but was also using the Tibetan calendar starting in 15-43 or 1909 CE. This continued until 16-25 (1951), with Tibet ending production of coinage eventually in time starting to use the national currency of the People’s Republic of China.
While this article only briefly touches on the complex and rich history of numismatics in Tibet, China, it goes to show some of the influences and directions its coinage has taken. Even within China, the Province of Tibet is just starting to be recognized for the wonderful diversity it offers and is a numismatic frontier that has yet to be fully researched and its history fully written.