Ming Dynasty banknote
The Ming Dynasty banknote discovered inside a large Chinese wooden sculpture by Australian auction house Mossgreen.

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Lurking in the cavity of a large wooden Luohan figure, the crumpled banknote has helped confirm the date of the sculpture as 13th-14th century.

 “It was a thrilling moment,” said head of Asian art at Mossgreen Ray Tregaskis. “While it was not unusual for consecration items such as semi-precious stones or scrolls to be left within the base or on the back of a sculpture, the discovery of this rare Ming Dynasty banknote is an exciting one and, importantly, it verifies the date of the sculpture.”

Threat to Forgers

The banknote was stamped with three official red seals and dated to the third year of the Ming Dynasty, the Hong Wu period (1368-1398). The note is inscribed to the lower section with a threatening message to any would-be forgers: Authorized by the Department of Finance, this bank note has the same function of coins, those who use counterfeit bank notes will be beheaded, the whistle-blower will be rewarded 250 Liang silvers plus all the properties of the criminal. The third year of Hong Wu period.

Chinese sculpture at Mossgreen auction

The wooden sculpture of a Luohan, Jin/Yuan Dynasty (13th-14th century) which will be offered along with the banknote found inside at Mossgreen’s auction in Sydney on December 11. Together they carry an estimate of AUD$40,000-60,000.

The sculpture meanwhile has detailed facial features with the figure believed to represent a Luohan (someone who has completed the four stages of Enlightenment and reached the state of Nirvana). The auctioneers believe it predates the banknote and have catalogued it as Jin/Yuan Dynasty (13th-14th century).

The sculpture and the banknote will be sold together as one lot at Mossgreen’s sale of the first part of the Raphy Star collection in Sydney on December 11. The lot is pitched at AUD$40,000-60,000 (£22,700-34,000) with the auctioneers estimating the individual value of the banknote note at approximately AUD $3000-5000.

The banknote and sculpture are among the works that Mossgreen will exhibit in London on November 3-6 at the Beaumont Hotel.

The Raphy Star collection comprises not just Chinese works of art but also Indian Buddhist sculpture and ceramics. Overall, it is predicted to raise AUS$3m-5m making it among the most valuable collections of its kind ever to be offered at auction in Australia.

The second tranche of the collection will be offered on December 12 and will include Qing Dynasty bamboo and wood carvings, bronze seals and small jades.