Korea’s Joseon Rank Badge and Royal Silver Seal are the inspiration for an attractive two-piece silver coin set

In power from 1392 until 1897, the Korean Joseon Dynasty was founded by Yi Seong-gye in what is today, Kaesong, a city in North Korea that is very close to the current border with the South. In wasn’t long before the capital was moved to Seoul, and the majority of what is modern Korea came under its control. Stuck between China and Japan, the Joseon Dynastic Korea suffered repeated conflicts with both, and became increasingly isolationist from the 1630s, until the early 19th century.

As it gradually opened up in the early 1800s, it faced multiple internal and external pressures, leading to a rapid decline, and not managing to stay intact until the end of the century. It remains hugely influential, however, with much of Korea’s modern language, culture, etiquette, and bureaucracy, tracing their roots back to the Joseon Dynastic period. One of those cultural items, introduced in 1454, is the subject of Coins Today’s latest issue.

Called a ‘Rank Badge’, these small embroidered patches were worn on the official robes of the Royal Family, and government officials, on the front and the back. Each carried symbolism related to the wearers position. One with twin tigers would be worn by a military official, for example, and the one here, with twin cranes, was displayed on the robes of civil officials of the first to third rank. The badge system was called hyungbae, because it was worn on the front (hyung) and back (bae) of official clothing. It was phased out in 1899.

This release is a two-part design. The centre section is a denominated coin (for Fiji) and weighs an ounce. This carries a very pretty reproduction of a twin-crane rank badge, similar to a couple held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A beautiful cultural and historical design, something that numismatics excel at. The obverse of this part carries the national coat of arms of Fiji, and is also antique finished.

That one-ounce 45 x 45 mm coin piece sits inside a larger 300 gram silver square that is un-denominated. This reproduces the Royal Seal and is far larger at 85 x 85 mm, and much thicker as well. It’s antique-finished, and has a vibrantly coloured reproduction of one of the many that have exited. In reality, these usually sat on the underside of a carved animal figure, often in Jade, or gilded silver. Only four remain known today. It’s a terrific use of the back side of this larger piece of silver.

It all goes together in such a neat and sympathetic way that you could almost imagine it being an actual historical artifact. Not only that, but it’s a very impressive piece of numismatic art, showcasing something rarely seen in a coin world seemingly obsessed with mythology over reality. We often forget what an intrinsic part of history the coin world actually is, so it’s always particularly satisfying when the modern coin world dips back into that past for inspiration.

Just 299 of these will be struck, and that’s a fair number given the weight of around a third of a kilo. I really hope this one is liked by collectors, just so we can also see a Twin Tigers military issue in the same style. With the huge surge in interest in Korean culture (although they can keep BTS…), this is a timely release, as well as a fine example of why this Asian country is deserving of all that interest. We haven’t seen packaging yet, but images should appear shortly. The Rank Badge & Royal Seal should be available to order any time now.

COMPOSITION 0.999 silver 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 31.1 grams 300 grams
DIMENSIONS 45.0 x 45.0 mm 85.0 x 85.0 mm
FINISH Antique Antique
MINTAGE 299 299
BOX / C.O.A. Yes / Yes Yes / Yes