By the 19th century, China’s currency system was a confusing mix of coins, some foreign, some local, plus a large number of competing bank notes and un-minted bullion called sycee. These “shoes”, as the British called them, were unfamiliar to foreign merchants. Particularly bewildering was the way their value could vary wildly from one town to the next. This was because sycee was produced by private mints, but had to be valued by an assayer before it could be used as money. The curved stamp at the top of this ingot shows it came from a foundry in Shanghai. Further down, the assayer has marked its weight and finesse in ink. Should the sycee be taken to another town, this would have been rubbed off and a new assayer assigned to value it. It was a costly and time-consuming process and when HSBC opened its first branch in Shanghai, it built vaults to hold up to 1,350 tonnes of silver. In 1912, the Qing Dynasty collapsed, ending 2,129 years of Imperial rule and the Republic of China was born.