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The History and Design of the Sangsum Gormo Silver Coin in Tibet

In the year 1948, the local government of Tibet minted “Sangsum Gormo,” which is 10 taels of silver, for the first time.

Dessign of Sangsum Gormo

In the centre of the silver coin, there is an image of a lion with a snow-capped mountain. The lion is standing proudly, covered in snow, with its head raised. It is accompanied by a spherical treasure wheel positioned under its front legs and a ribbon pattern surrounding it, symbolizing hope. The outer ring of the circle is divided into eight lotus petals of equal size. Each petal features Tibetan characters arranged in a clockwise manner, spelling out “Ganden Phodrang Choklay Namgyal.”

In the back centre, there is an intricate treasure pattern that extends to an open cornucopia. Weasels are positioned on each side, continuously releasing wish-fulfilling orbs into the cornucopia. The circle also includes Tibetan inscriptions that read “twenty-two years” and “ten taels of silver,” matching the Tibetan characters on the outer lotus petal outline. Bead circles can be found on both the front and back.

The design of the coin face incorporates Tibetan auspicious patterns and animal elements, revolving around the theme of “treasure” highly valued by the Tibetan people. These elements include lotus flowers, victory banners, lions, and treasure weasels, all originating from the God of Wealth in Tibetan Buddhism. They are often referred to as the deity and related artefacts such as “Vaishravana” and “Yellow God of Wealth.”

New Innovation for Coin-making Technology

Compared to the past, the pattern elements and shapes of “Sangsum Gormo” also exhibit innovations. It had the potential to become a noteworthy addition to the Tibetan currency system, thanks to its integration of advanced coinmaking technology. However, since its inception, it has been fated to serve as a historical testament to inflation in Tibet and the pursuit of wealth by its people. The deterioration in the purity of currency materials, coupled with lax supervision, has accelerated the phenomenon of inferior currency replacing superior currency.

Scholars have debated whether the currency metal should be assigned to low-silver silver coins or silver-plated copper coins.

The Drabchi agency archives contain a detailed description of this matter. The initial report plan aimed to reference the fineness standard of the 1933 approved first edition of Sangsum Gormo for the three taels of silver coin, specifically “every twenty taels of silver mixed with three taels of copper”. This small amount of doping served to compensate for metal smelting losses. Due to frequent silver price fluctuations during that period, all high-purity silver coins issued and circulated since the mid-Qing Dynasty were either melted back or exported overseas.

Difficulties faced by New Sangsum Gormo

Various types of copper coins circulate in the market in different forms, along with numerous Tibetan banknotes. However, there is no reserve system or material guarantees supporting these banknotes. The long-term deficit of regional finances cannot be sustained solely by issuing more banknotes and increasing currency denominations. This approach fails to meet the market demand. Following the principle of “bad money drives out good money,” the purity of new coins should not be too high to prevent illegal traders and surrounding traders from exchanging and exporting them.

Additionally, market reaction and public acceptance must be taken into account. It is essential to increase the value of the currency as much as possible and minimize coinage costs. Therefore, the production of silver coins with a composition of “every ten taels of silver mixed with eighteen taels of red copper and two taels of brass” has been determined.

The high doping ratio results in silver coins often having a coppery colour, which poses risks for market acceptance and continuous issuance. Due to the large amount of copper mixed, the size of the issued silver coins should differ from the silver coins themselves. The issued silver coins should be significantly larger (approximately 32.5 mm in actual measurement) than the silver coins (approximately 31 mm in actual measurement).

Continuation of Minting of Tibetan Silver Coins

Carefully select familiar and beloved treasure themes for the graphic design of the coins. Issue machine-made coins throughout the region from the first ten days of the first month of the year of the Earth Ox in the Tibetan calendar (1949).

Afterwards, it was manufactured and circulated year by year, with a time span from 1948 to 1952. There are three basic styles:

The first type features a picture of a lion on Snow Mountain in the inner circle on the front, with the Tibetan phrase “Ganden Phodrang Choklay Namgyal” surrounding it in the outer circle. On the back, there is the Tibetan year and value in the inner circle. It also includes Tibetan and Chinese translations of “the unity of Politics and Religion” and “Sixteen Rabjung”.

Sangsum Gormo, 10 tael silver coin, Tibetan calendar 16-22 (1948).

The second type features a lion on the front with Sun, Moon, and Snow Mountain, while the rest is similar to the first type.

22sangjiu guomu22 10 taels of silver coin tibetan calendar 16 22 1948
22sangjiu guomu22 10 taels of silver coin tibetan calendar 16 22 1948

Sangsum Gormo 10 taels of silver coin, Tibetan calendar 16-23 (1949), The third type is also a picture of a lion on the Shuangri Snow Mountain on the front, and the inner circle on the back is the Tibetan year and value, and the Tibetan-Chinese translation of the outer circle is “seeking well-being, wishing to echo”.

22sangjiu guomu22 10 taels of silver coin tibetan calendar 16 23 1949
22sangjiu guomu22 10 taels of silver coin tibetan calendar 16 23 1949

Sangsum Gormo 10 taels of silver coin, Tibetan calendar 16-24 (1950),

It has common main layouts based on different years and details. These include variations in the upper and lower case of Tibetan characters and the presence of silent nodes after the numbers at the end of the year.

22sangjiu guomu22 10 taels of silver coin tibetan calendar 16 24 1950
22sangjiu guomu22 10 taels of silver coin tibetan calendar 16 24 1950

Various styles will be derived from model repair and details such as Sangsum Gormo 10 taels of silver coin, (1950) (16)-24/22 Tibetan year remodelling.

In addition, silver coins of the same year format differ in colour, with some displaying a yellowish or reddish copper hue on the surface. The fineness of the coins also varied during the coinage process, with some even falling below the stipulated silver-copper doping ratio at the start of issuance. The minting of these coins concluded after five years.

In conclusion, the “treasure coins” in Tibet serve as symbols of the coin map and represent the decline of Tibetan coins from the mid-Qing Dynasty to the liberation of Tibet. The currency patterns and inflation only stabilized with the intervention of the RMB. These coins are a historical product and evidence of Tibet’s own financial system. They are a financial product with both benefits and drawbacks.

About the author

The Tibetan Travel website's creator, hailing from Lhasa, is a cultural enthusiast. They promote responsible tourism, connecting the world to Tibet's beauty and heritage. Awards recognize their contribution.

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