One of the great students of Asia's coins and stamps: Tracey Woodward's collection

In a few weeks' time, a truly fantastic Chinese Dragon Dollar from the A M Tracey Woodward collection is going under the hammer at Heritage. But who was Tracey Woodward? Was owning this coin just a fluke?

Alphonse Marie Tracey Woodward was born on Reunion Island, in the Indian Ocean, in 1876 but did not stay there long as in 1879, his family moved to Japan.

Woodward showed an early enthusiasm for collecting where he began gathering stamps. He moved to China in 1916 (where he lived for 14 years) and expanded his collecting into coins.

Between May 1926 and December 1935, Woodward published seventeen articles on these coins in The China Journal.

Each article began with a quote from Confucius and then identified the variations of ten cash coins from a particular province, showing the known obverses and reverses, and then cataloguing the combinations of those that he knew to exist.

Yunnan Spring Dollar 1910
The better of two Yunnan Spring Dollars of 1910

Woodward never got round to completing the article for Kirin. Nevertheless, in 1936 the set of articles was collected and printed together as his famous book, The Minted 10 Cash Coins of China - the first and standard text of its kind.

He also wrote a key work on Japanese stamps: a two-volume book entitled Postage Stamps of Japan and Dependencies in 1929. Extremely rare in its first edition, it is still considered a very valuable resource for early Japanese philately.

Indeed Woodward received the Crawford Medal, a vermeil medal, awarded by the Royal Philatelic Society of London for the most valuable and original contribution to the study and knowledge of philately published in book form.

Chinese Xuan Tong 1 Cash
A 1 Cash coin from the reign of Chinese Emperor Xuan Tong

Before his death in 1938 Woodward had amassed an extraordinary collection of minted 10 cash coins. He even hired workers to help him sift through copper coins to find all the types and die-varieties that existed.

Ultimately, he assembled a collection of 20,000 or more different pieces. Sadly, the pieces were not well tracked as there was no market for copper coins at the time and the whole lot were sold for just a few thousand dollars.

Numismatic experts Baldwin's have stated categorically that there will "never be another collection of Chinese copper pieces to rival [Tracey Woodward's]".

Indeed the next best collection, Norman Jacobs's, only achieved its success because Jacobs bought up a choice portion of Woodward's collection just before it was broken up.

Postage stamps Japan dependencies Tracey Woodward

A record for a Chinese cash coin set on December 2, 2007 for a hand-carved, brass pattern 1,000 cash (tzu ch'ien, or zu qian) from the Board of Revenue Mint in Peking. The $103,500 coin is believed to have been a part of the Woodward collection.

Woodward collected other Chinese coins too, however, of which the most coveted is probably the Dollar coin mentioned before, otherwise known as the Yunnan Spring Dollar.

Woodward 1 Sen stamp typing study
The opening page of Woodward's 1 Sen stamp typing study


The moniker is in reference to the seven Chinese characters across its top. These translate roughly into "Made in the Spring 1910 in Yunnan Province." There are only two genuine examples known, and the one going on sale is expected to sell for up to $1m.

Woodward's philatelic study of the 1 sen issue of 1872 was better preserved than his cash coin collection and now resides at the Smithsonian Museum, courtesy of L.W. Christenson.


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