Auctioneers found a 700-year-old secret hidden inside this 13th century Chinese sculpture

The Louhan sculpture up for auction. Source: Mossgreen

When Australian auction house Mossgreen’s head of Asian art, Ray Tregaskis, began checking out a 13th Century wooden Chinese bust they’re sending to London for auction later this year, he stumbled across a surprise.

A crumpled, 700-year-old Ming Dynasty banknote was hidden in a sculpture’s cavity.

The note is stamped with three official red seals and dated the third year of the Ming Dynasty, the Hong Wu period (1368-1398). The note is inscribed “Da Ming Tong Xing Bao Chao”, “Yi Guan” and the lower section is inscribed with details that would make modern law enforcement envious of the way China tackled counterfeiting seven centuries ago.

It reads:

“Authorized by the Department of Finance, this bank note has the same function of coins, those who use counterfeit bank note 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.”

The Ming dynasty banknote found inside the sculpture. Source: Mossgreen

Tregaskis said it was a thrilling moment when they found the note, which alone is valued at $A3,000-5,000. It will be sold as one lot with the sculpture, with a total estimated value of $A40,000-60,000.

“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,” Tregaskis said.

The sculpture itself is a Luohan, the Chinese word describing someone who’s completed the four stages of Enlightenment and reached Nirvana. Knowing you’ve got some money stashed away in the back may also explain the work’s wise and serene expression.

The work will be auctioned in Sydney on December 11 as part of the Raphy Star Collection of Important Asian Art. It’s on show along with the other works in Melbourne this weekend at Mossgreen’s Armadale gallery, October 21-23. The works then head to London and Hong Kong for showings before returning to Sydney.

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