NMAH National Numismatic Collection, Chinese Banknotes

Transcribing National Museum of American History - National Numismatic Collection, Chinese Banknotes

The Smithsonian's National Numismatic Collection (NNC) is America's collection of monetary and transactional objects. This diverse and expansive global collection contains objects that represent every inhabited continent and span more than three thousand years of human history.


Established in the mid-19th century, several of the earliest additions to the NNC were artifacts from Japan, Korea, and China, including coins and medals gifted to President Ulysses S. Grant from Japanese Emperor Meiji (received in 1881) and the 2,025 East Asian coins, amulets, and notes from George Bunker Glover’s private collection (received in 1897). These donations were the foundation of the NNC’s East Asian holdings, which continues to grow with new acquisitions, such as the Howard F. Bowker collection in 2017.


During 2017-2018, the NNC digitized more than 8,000 of its East Asian Coins, making them publically accessible and available for research worldwide. The NNC is now working to digitize 6,000 Chinese notes and paper transactional objects that range from the Ming Dynasty to the present day.


One of the main challenges to the digitization process is transcription, transliteration and translation of several Asian alphabets. Sometimes this can be done quickly, but often the process is too lengthy for NNC team members to complete while moving the project forward efficiently. In order to continue to share these objects rapidly, we need your help! 


The digitization of the East Asian coins and Chinese banknotes would not have been possible without the generous support of the the Howard F. Bowker family and Michael Chou. 


Our Transcription & Review Process



We seek to balance quality and speed with our transcription process; your feedback helps us improve our approach. At the moment, this is how our system works:

1) Anyone can start transcribing or add to a transcription of a document.

2) Once a volunteer decides they’ve “finished” and they’re ready for review, a different volunteer (who must have an account on the site) can review the transcription and either send it back for edits, or complete the transcription.

3) The finished transcript is sent to the Smithsonian, where it may be used immediately, or undergo additional work.


How to Transcribe the National Museum of American History Chinese Banknotes



Write like you read

Many of these objects have multiple languages on them, most commonly Chinese, Manchu, Arabic, and English. Always record what you see from top to bottom, but if it is read left to right (like English), top to bottom (like Chinese) or right to left (also like Chinese) record it as such.


Make sure you describe which side of the bank note you are transcribing

When you are recording the text or images on the banknotes, please note if you are recording the obverse or reverse of the note. Obverse images will be on the left or top and reverse images will be on the right or bottom. We also ask that you record text in the language you see it in and in CAPITAL LETTERS (see example image below in the next section below). 


Images and Portraits on the Banknotes

Many of these banknotes contain images or portraits of well-known individuals, buildings, and icons. When you come across these, please describe these -- in very specific detail if you know this -- in the notes field of the transcription page. NNC staff are looking for specific identifications and descriptions, so instead of saying simply [[image]] Portrait of a man [[/image]], if you know who the man is please instead type [[image]] Portrait of Dr. Sun Yat-sen [[/image]]. If you are able to identify who/what is being depicted let us know with the proper name or title.

Example: [[Obverse Image]] Bust of Sun Yat-sen facing left

Example: [[Reverse Image]] Dragon and Phoenix 

See example page below: 




Transcription \ Transliteration \ Translation

We are first and foremost looking for transcription of the text on these banknotes, so if recording Chinese is your strength, please help us transcribe away! There are several methods for inputting Chinese characters. If your computer has the Chinese keyboard (for Chinese (Simplified) Pinyin or traditional Chinese) please simply type out the characters as you normally would, corresponding to what you see on the banknote. If your tablet or phone has a handwriting input keyboard for Chinese characters, go ahead and draw out the characters as you see them on each banknote. Please note that if you only have a Chinese (Simplified) Pinyin keyboard, but the banknote you are working on contains traditional (Orthodox or Seal) Chinese characters, you can use the corresponding simplified Chinese in your transcription. We simply ask that you note this in the notes field of the transcription page. If you are able, however, to transcibe the traditional Chinese, please do so!


In order to provide an English pronunciation, Chinese characters are sometimes romanized to their Latin alphabetical equivalent. There have been several Romanization systems used since the 17th century; three in particular are visible in the National Numismatic Collection's Accession Records: Wade-Giles, the Yale System, and Pinyin. If you would like to (and are able) to transliterate the text on the coins, please use one of these three systems.


If you choose to record the transliteration, please indicate this by typing in the transcription text box [[Transliteration]] before the transliterated text (see example image below).




Translation is always welcome, but not required, as our main goal is transcription. If you would like to translate the text on these banknotes, please do so, and record any translations in the alongisde the transcribed or transliterated text by indicating [[Translation]] before typing the translated text (see example image below). Translation is a huge help to the NNC, so we welcome any bilingual volunpeers!