Rare Coin, A study of known examples
Trần Công Tân Bảo, 陳公新寶

Collectors from China, Japan, and Vietnam have long held Trần Công Tân Bảo as one of the great rarities of all Vietnamese coins. Ding Fu Bao rated the coin as the most rare of all official coins and assigned it a value of 200 Yuan. Such rare and celebrated coins are often faked and Trần Công Tân Bảo is no exception.

A detailed study of several real coins, forgeries, and rubbings in the literature shows that most forgeries have common features not found on authentic coins, which makes the forgeries easier to identify. Most authentic coins have a similar style referred to here as type I, and most forgeries are of a different style referred to as type II.

Rubbings and images of several coins are shown on the right, grouped with type I on the left and type II on the right. Type I pieces are labeled from 1 to 8 and type II pieces are labeled from A to F. A red bar connects rubbings and color images that come from the same coin.

Several features distinguish type I from type II coins. Type I coins all have a broad outer rim, a small inner rim, and are well made. They also have the same calligraphic style, which is pleasing and consistent. Type II coins have a narrow outer rim, large inner rim, are of poor manufacture, and have poor calligraphy. The most important difference between the two types is the calligraphy of the critical character Công.

Almost all examples of Trần Công Tân Bảo recorded in the literature are type I coins, and all of the type I examples shown here are genuine. Type II coins B, D, and F in the figure were all examined and found to be forgeries. More dramatically, the person who provided example B admitted it was a forgery and knew the factory in China where it was made. Further, all of the distinct rubbings  found in the literature are of type I coins except the rubbing in Ding Fu Bao (image A) which is more similar to type II. Ding's rubbing is the only original example of a type II coin in the literature and it has been copied by other works.

The authenticity of type I coins is supported by their fine calligraphy and workmanship. Many Viet-namese coins of this and later eras are of high quality workmanship and there is no reason to believe that Trần Công Tân Bảo should not be the same. On the other hand, forgeries often tend to be of poorer workmanship and the type II coins are no exception.

Finally, the calligraphy of the character Công on type II coins is possibly incorrect for the period and is certainly different from type I coins. Most obvious is the upper right-hand stroke, which is written differently in different calligraphic styles. In most Song styles, the stroke is drawn as a single downward stroke, while in many Ming styles it is drawn with a distinct flat top. In either case, the stroke should flair outwards as it comes down. The genuine type I coins use the older Song  style stroke while the type II forgeries use a more modern stroke. The two styles are shown here. 

The conclusion that type I coins are authentic and that type II coins are mostly forgeries raises questions about the type II coin in Ding's book. Some have questioned the rubbing in Ding's book because it is not the same as type I coins. Although the coin is more like type II, a careful look at the rubbing shows that the coin is not exactly the same as the type II forgeries and it appears to be of better design and workmanship, so perhaps it's a second variety. In fact, some people claim to have seen, or at least heard of such a variety.

However, the question about the difference in the calligraphy of the character Công remains. If Ding's coin is just another variety and is a genuine Trần Công Tân Bảo, then it would have been made at the same time and by the same people. If this is true, it seems unlikely that the character Công would use these two different calligraphic styles.

Whether or not Ding's coin is authentic, a possible explanation why most observed forgeries are type II coins is that Ding Fu Bao is the most widely available work in Asia that illustrates Trần Công Tân Bảo. This is particularly true of China where Ding's work has traditionally been one of the most widely used works on ancient coins, and where most forgeries are made.

(!)   Distinct rubbings means rubbings made from different coins. This is important because different sources may sometimes show two different rubbings of the same coin.
 (2)  Although the character Công written with a flat top existed during the Song dynasty, it is not seen as often. The Song style character is primarily a brush stroke script while the Ming style is more often used with printed material. Printing was not so common before the Ming dynasty.