Silk Money from Khorezm

Issue #4 • 1500

Money cliches One of the most popular goods transported over the Great Silk Road was silk manufactured in China. There, as early as in deep antiquity, people used pieces of silk as means of payment (1). In Middle Ages the Chinese started printing banknotes on silk fabric, and this process continued until the 20th century: central financial authorities of the Tsing Empire, treasuries of cities and provinces, private banks and trading companies issued special silk banknotes to secure major transactions. The Islamic Republic of East-Turkistan that existed in 1933-1934 on the territory of present-day Sinkiang-Uygur autonomous region of the PRC also had silk banknotes, and the tradition was of long standing too. Mahmud of Kashgar (11th century) reported in his dictionary: “Pieces of fabric bearing the seal of the Uygur khan (kamdu), which were used as currency, were repaired, cleaned and re-sealed once in seven years” (2, p. 82).

In the early 20th century the place on territory of Uzbekistan where silk banknotes were issued was Khorezm. At that time the khanate dependent on the Russian Empire was ruled by the Inak dynasty from the Uzbek kin of Kungrat; officially it was considered independent it was allowed to issue its own currency and keep its own army that primarily consisted of horse rider units recruited among several Turkmen kin subordinate to the Khiva khans, which had always played a major role in the political life of Khiva. After 1917, taking advantage of the collapse of the empire, the actual power in Khiva was seized by Junaeed Kurban Mamed (1860-1938), the leader of the Turkmen kin of Yomud. In January 1918 he, leading an armed squadron, took the capital city of the khanate, ordered the execution of its legitimate ruler Asfandiyar and enthroned Asfandiyar’s juvenile brother Seyeed Abdulla as a marionette ruler.

Silk Money from Khorezm The economy of Khiva was then in crisis, and the government of Padishah Seyeed Abdulla (actually Junaeed’s junta) carried out monetary reform with the main objective to quickly extract hard cash from the population in exchange for credit money – banknotes. As the state did not have sufficient paper suitable for the purpose, the Khiva mint founded in the first quarter of the 19th century in Kunya-Ark started issuing large denomination notes on locally produced silk fabric.

Silk Money from Khorezm There is little information on the technology of producing silk banknotes in Khiva. The simplest loom was used to weave an 11 cm wide ribbon of natural local silk, which was then cut into rectangular pieces 15 cm long. Imprecise transverse cut resulted in a characteristic “fringe” along the vertical sides of the banknotes, which, by the way, is a feature that proves their authenticity.

Inscriptions and designs were put on silk manually, using special clich?s stamps (kalyb). While paper banknotes in Khiva were printed with the help of bronze kalybs, the stamps for the silk ones were probably wooden – in keeping with the local tradition of textile print. This is confirmed by the great number of different silk notes, which can only happen with quick wear and tear of the printing clich?s. A well-know older generation collector from Tashkent M. S. Kozhukhin believed that the kalybs for the Khiva silk notes were made of elm timber (3, p. 168). There were separate ones for each colour, and the designs were created in sequence, in several operations. Kalybs looked like wooden cubes with cavities for the master’s fingers on two opposite idle surfaces. A master took the kalyb with his thumb and third finger, like a pianist striking a chord on the piano, and, having dipped it into paint, applied the appropriate design or an inscription onto the blank piece of silk (4).

Silk Money from Khorezm Traditional dyes were used: the “oak-apple” on the leaves of a pistachio tree (buzgun), dried inflorescence of Sopsora Japonica (tuhmak), cochineal of Indian origin (siapar-rang), and madder (ruyan). The dyes were based on apricot glue (yelim).

The first issue of the Khiva khanate’s silk money dated to the 1337th year of Hijra (07.10.1918 – 25.09.1919) had five denominations: 200, 250, 500, 1000 and 2500 tinga. Each banknote features two inscriptions in Uzbek language written with Arabic characters*: “Note (literally – “paper money”) on the highest order of the government of Khorezm”; and “Everyone who forges this note shall be prosecuted by the state law”. The inscriptions are accompanied by five round seals of the khanate officials: the minister of finance, the manager of the state bank, the minister of interior, the manager of the state treasury and the casher of the state bank. Proper names of the officials were not indicated.

Silk Money from Khorezm Besides, the notes feature the images of a crescent moon and a star, serial numbers, the Hijra year of issue, and the nominal value in Uzbek and Russian languages (Russian text often had spelling errors and graphic misrepresentation of characters). The layout of these elements depended on the note value and was, apparently, random.

Tinga (the correct form is tanga) is an ancient local monetary unit. During the period in question, five tanga of the Khiva khanate equalled one Russian rouble. The Khiva silk notes of the second issue had five denominations: 200, 250; 500; 1000 and 2500 tinga with conversion into Russian monetary system.

In the Uzbek inscriptions rouble is called “manat”; as for the rest, the notes of the first and second issues are similar, but the second issue dates to the 1338th year of Hijra (26.09.1919 – 14.09.1920). Yet there are some “silks” of the tree lower denominations from the second issue featuring the date of 1337.

Finally, the third issue of the Khiva khanate silk notes (the so-called “vertical” ones) was made in the 1338th year of Hijra and had only two denominations: 100 and 250 roubles (without indicating their tanga equivalent).

Silk Money from Khorezm According to the available data (5), during the rule of Seyeed Abdulla-khan only three million roubles worth of banknotes (on silk and paper) was issued. Therefore, Khiva khanate silk notes of all three issues are very rare nowadays.

In April 1920, on the territory of the Khiva khanate the Khorezm People’s Soviet Republic (KPSR) was established, and the new government continued issuing its own currency on silk fabric. These notes can be found more frequently compared to the ones of the Khiva khanate, as their issue was more extensive (by the 24th of April 1921 500 million roubles worth of banknotes was printed).

The KPSR silk banknotes were of four denominations: 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 roubles. Each bore three lengthy inscriptions in Uzbek language spelled with Arabic characters: “Note (literally – “paper money”) of the Khorezm People’s Soviet Republic”; “Forging of this note shall be prosecuted by the law of the revolution”; and “This note is secured by all available national assets”.

Silk Money from Khorezm The design elements include the note denomination in Uzbek and Russian, a serial number, different kinds of multi-colour frames, Hijra and European dates (except the specimens of the latest version of a 5000 roubles note), the image of a flag and the emblem of the republic, which then did not have a fixed graphic presentation and thus looked differently on different denomination notes.

Besides, each republican silk note had three signatures in Uzbek language written with Arabic characters. Two variations of the signature sets are known.

The first is:

“Nazir of Finance Muhammad Rakhimov (Muhammadshah (Muhammadrakhimov). Chairman of the Council of People’s Vazirs Khojuniyaz Yusupov. Treasurer Muhammad Amin (Ishchjanov)”.

Silk Money from Khorezm On the early republican silk notes of the 1338th year of Hijra (1920) of 500 and 1000 denomination the first and the last of the aforementioned signatures were put into a pentagonal frame, and later on all three signatures were put into rectangular frames. The 2000 and 5000 denomination notes are only known to have rectangular frames and date to the 1339th year of Hijra (15.09.1920 – 3.09.1921).

The second set of signatures was not framed:
“Provisional Treasurer Muhammad Amin Ishchjanov. Chairman of the Provisional Revolutionary Council Jabbarbergan Kuchkarov. Provisional Nazir of Finance Muhim Nurullaev”. This set of signatures was put only on 1000, 2000 and 5000 rouble notes together with a European date – 1921.

Silk Money from Khorezm All silk notes of Khorezm have significant number of variations in terms of both design and silk colour, due to manual printing technique. Back in 1938 a well-known banknote researcher V. M. Sokolov noted: “Silk tinga notes of Khiva have many differences… that make cataloguing them impossible. Given a relatively small number of surviving tinga silk, almost every note is distinct” (6, p. 19). Nevertheless, recently, scholars in different countries have made serious effort aimed at scientific classification of this exotic currency (7).

Despite its imperfect look, silk money had been quite popular. When the resolution of the Tashkent economic conference held in March 1923 announced the exchange of Khiva banknotes into paper money of common national standard, not a single silk note was presented for exchange. The owners kept them for good memory. Even in 1940s-60s in some Khiva homes one could still find quilt blankets made of the silk notes described above.

*All inscriptions on the notes were read and translated by Irpon Tukhtiev from the National Museum of the History of Uzbekistan, and the authors are sincerely grateful to him for this contribution.

1. Шэфер Э. Золотые персики Самарканда. М., 1981.
2. Махкамова С. К истории ткачества в Средней Азии. Художественная культура Средней Азии IX – XIII вв. Ташкент, 1983.
3. Кожухин М. С. Боны-историографы // Звезда Востока, 1968, №1.
4. Гейер И. И. Туркестан, изд А.Л. Кирснера. Ташкент, 1909.
5. История Хорезмской народной советской республики. Сборник документов. Ташкент, 1976.
6. Соколов В. М. Полный каталог бон, выпущенных на территории СССР в период времени с 1914 по 1925 год. ВОК, Ростов-на-Дону, 1938.
7. World Paper Money, Krause Publication Inc., New York, 1994; Рябченко П. Ф. Полный каталог бумажных денежных знаков и бон, выпущенных в России, СССР, странах СНГ (1769 – 1994). Киев, 1995; Жуков А. А. Малышев В. П. Энциклопедия. Денежные эмиссии Средней Азии. Туркестанский край (1918 – 1923). Санкт-Петербург, 2005.

Irina Bogoslovskaya, Boris Golender

Pin It

Comments are closed.