This unusual “sword” is actually a bundle of Chinese coins tied to an iron rod. It was originally donated to the Museum of Art and Archaeology (now the Museum of Art and Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, respectively) in 1943, along with antique firearms and other weapons collected by Arthur Garrish Gummer (1873–1943), a U-M alumnus and member of a prominent Michigan lumbering family. Gummer’s gun collection has since been deaccessioned, but the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology curates 31 objects from the original collection. The attached tag says that objects like this were used to pay soldiers when they mustered out of the imperial army. However, coin swords were actually made and used in Southern China as talismans to protect against evil influences. They are composed of three materials believed to have protective power: iron rods (to which the coins are fastened), coins, and red ribbon. Combining these three materials results in a formidable weapon against evil spirits.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.