Ming dynasty paper money: scientific analysis

Project leaders

Department of Conservation and Scientific Research 

The inclusion of a fourteenth-century Ming note in “A History of the World in 100 Objects” has brought unprecedented attention to these objects.

The dark colours and soft appearance of Ming notes have hitherto been attributed to the processing of fibres from mulberry bark, although there has been some confusion over which type of mulberry might have been used: Morus alba (white mulberry); Morus australis, formerly known as Morus bombycis (Chinese mulberry); Broussonetia papyrifera (paper mulberry); or Broussonetia kazinoki (Japanese paper mulberry, or chu). The aim of the project was to determine which plant fibres were used to make the paper.

During the project, all the Ming notes in the British Museum and British Library collections were analysed by the complementary techniques of variable pressure scanning electron microscopy and stand-alone digital microscopy. This was the first combined microscopic examination of Ming paper money anywhere in the world, and the results are likely to be highly significant to the broader study of the history of papermaking in China.

Preliminary results were first presented at an international and interdisciplinary workshop on Ming paper money at the British Museum in May 2013. A full report will be published in the British Museum Technical Research Bulletin vol. 8, London, 2014.

This project has been completed.


Caroline R. Cartwright, Christina M. Duffy and Helen Wang, “Microscopical examination of fibres used in Ming dynasty paper money”, in British Museum Technical Research Bulletin, vol. 8, London, 2014.


Caption: Ming dynasty paper money.