Magic coins of Java, Bali and the Malay
Peninsula by Joe Cribb
288pp 80 plates with 464 coin illlustrations and figures. London 1999,
ISBN 0 7141 0881 2
Published by the British Museum Press. Price: ¥75
More than 125 years have passed since the publication of Millies’ catalogue
of of the coinage of the Indian Archipelago and Malayan Peninsula which
included a substantial number of Javanese temple coins. In those 125 years
only fragmentary numismatic documentation involving magic pieces was
published. Therefore the publication of the present book is a modern
milestone. The book contains a wealth of documentation not only of the
pieces themselves, but also of their non-currency purpose and the
background of the ceremonies, symbolism and mythological figures shown. The
catalogue is based on the Raffles collection of coin-shaped charms from Java
in the British Museum, supplemented with data from other sources. Raffles’
activities emphasize plainly the lack of interest of the Dutch for Javanese
history and culture during the preceding VOC administration that was devoted
mainly to the pursuits of commerce. Only in 1847 did a Dutch publication
appear mentioning Javanese temple-coins (gobogs).
The pieces are classified into 333 different types based on 1050 specimens
and grouped within 19 series according to their likely date and place of
The catalogue is preceded by a number of introductory sections. These
- Content and Arrangement,
- Collections and Scholarship,
- Classification and Designs,
- Dating and Function.
- Magic coins
The 4th section contains an interesting table on their metallic composition.
This gives strong support to the idea that were made from melted down
After the catalogue and following the bibliography are two appendices.
Appendix 1 lists the origin or whereabouts of the pieces; appendix 2 gives
the translation of the various Arabic and Malay inscriptions. The two
appendices are followed by three indexes:designs, design elements and
There are 64 plates illustrating 464 specimens and 16 comparative plates
with 48 figures.
I have only one major criticism that involves the production and popularity
of use of the gobogs. The author mentions on several occasions the practice
of imitating and the use of originals for the production of moulds as common
practice. Together with the large section on
their possible function, this would suggest a large scale production
throughout the ages and a use by a large number of people.
The data on coin-finds as mentioned in the Minutes of the Batavian Society
of Arts and Science (MBSAS) in the period 1864-1914, however, show that as
compared to the amounts of Chinese cash and silver Hindu-pieces, the gobogs
are generally found in small numbers. One exception is the find of 415
buried gobogs in 1893 near Bagelen. Evidence for large scale production is
found only from the beginning of the twentieth century and later. In 1903
the Dutch numismatist Van der Chys suspected the presence of a fabrication
unit on the eastern part of Java, based on the frequent offers of brand-new
It is a pity that the author does not comment on the gobog-finds referred to
in the article by
Robert Wicks (1986). In 1915 nearly 2500 pieces were found in the region of
Kediri and very surprisingly according to the Dutch journal "Oudheidkundig
Verslag" in 1940 more than 8500 gobogs were discovered. The largest finds of
2500 and 4561 pieces were in the regions of Tritikoelon and Banjoemas
A small number of minor criticisms can be made.
The criteria for inclusion or exclusion of certain classes of pieces are not
quite clear. For example, on the one hand one might argue against the
inclusion of pieces like nos 282 or 283, since they do not bear figures and
are far away from the Javanese-style pieces. On the other hand they fall
within the definition of the term "Magic coin" as given on page 9. But then
it is not clear why Chinese coin-shaped charms produced in Java or the Malay
Peninsula, are not included.
For the sake of completeness and also to avoid the idea of neglecting
non-British coin prototypes I would prefer to have seen mentioned on page 11
and illustrated in the comparative plates also Mexican/Spanish pieces from
series 15 and the Chinese/Japanese pieces from series 17, Group 10. When
looking at the semicircular arc of small stars present on some pieces like
nos. 294 and 308, one might involuntarily think about a similar design on
some US-trade dollars.
Some alternatives for the wedding idea should have been mentioned. In MBSAS
XLVI, page 108/109 (1908), it has been suggested that the tree is not a
waringi tree, but a coconut tree
(jav. klapa) whose leaves (jav. goen) play an essential role in the
Javanese way of spinning. The female figure has been regarded as the goddess
On page 75 the author comments on the use of kepengs on Bali before the
twentieth century. Until as late as 1930 kepengs were still used as small
money on the markets.
I am sure this book will revive the study of these long neglected items and
will remain undoubtly for long time the standard catalogue for them.