Featured Newp: my second Yuan round coin!

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by AnYangMan, Oct 24, 2017.

  1. AnYangMan

    AnYangMan Active Member

    Since I have joined and introduced myself a while back, I have not yet posted an awful lot of Chinese coins. I must say school has kept me rather busy, and so has reading the new posts on this forum. This weekend however, we had our annual ONS (Oriental Numismatic Society)-meeting, and I made a purchase I am sure you would all quite enjoy.

    I am sure the majority of you are all familiar with the ancient Chinese Cash-style coins; a round coin, with a square hole. This type arrived somewhere in the mid to late Warring states period, in the state of 秦 Qin . This however, was not the first type of round coinage of the ancient Chinese states. For the earliest type of round coin was most likely issued by cities in the state of Wei (魏, after the capital move of 361 BC also called 梁 Liang). These earliest round coins, supposedly evolving either from the jade 璧 Bi-disks or bronze vessel rings (both theories are at least somewhat farfetched in my opinion), are rather large in size (around 40 mm, enormous when compared to the later Chinese Cash coins), and have one specific feature that set them apart from the other round coins issued in the period: they have round holes!

    Precisely one year and twenty-one days ago, I purchased my first example of one of these early round coins. I believe I have already shown this coin on this forum, as well as on a couple of others. Anyway, I thought I would start off this topic with showing it again:


    A rather nice, in my opinion, round coin, although if you are really picky, the first thing you might notice is the patina on the obverseand corrosion. This was probably part of a hoard, found in some sort of waterlogged area, hence the bubbly surface along the edge. While prying this hoard apart, a section of the patina of the adjacent stuck to this coin instead, resulting in a rather colourful ‘transfer-patina’. Some collectors, including myself, don’t really mind this, it increases the odds that the coin is genuine, but I can see how some might be bothered by it. The character is a little vague due to the adhesion of dirt on the obverse, but nothing too disturbing. The ID-tag glued to the back, referring to the Schjöth-catalogue, was glued on by the previous collector. The auction house couldn’t give me a name due to privacy concerns, but told me that it came from an old German collection formed in the seventies/eighties. I was, and definitely still am, rather content with this coin; it is after all a beautiful coin, with a genuine and relatively colourful patina, and with a little provenance! So I never even thought about upgrading it. Forward to last Saturday, the ONS meeting. Besides interesting lectures and an auction, there are always also a couple of members offering a few of their coins for sale. Normally the amount of Chinese coins for sale is not overwhelmingly large, and most of the times we are only talking about late Song/Qing cash anyway. Then I saw this coin, nestled comfortably between two later Islamic coins, and I immediately fell in love with it. Such a beautiful, crisp patina with amazing blue highlights (If I haven’t told so before; I am an absolute sucker for coins with blue patinas), a clear, clean edge with a nicely visible casting sprue! A bit expensive for the type, but I simply had to own it. So I bought it, even though I already had a perfectly good specimen! Did I overpay, especially when compared to my other specimen? Yes, definitely. Do I mind? Nope, not one bit! So, here is my newly purchased coin:


    Quality-wise I’d say it is an upgrade; the readability of the character sure has gone up. Speaking of the inscription; it is time for the write-up!

    I might have already mentioned it, but the character visible on the obverse is an archaic form of 垣 Yuan. This reading is, contrary to the readings of several of the other round coins, rather certain, for the documentation concerning the etymology of this character is relatively extensive. It appears in a number of excavated texts from around the same period, as well as a couple of earlier bronze inscriptions. Besides, the same character is also used on one or two different contemporary coins. And I just so happen to have two in my collection. The interesting bit is that these two spades are attributable to the kingdom of 趙 Zhao, while the round coins posted above are from the Wei/Liang state. Yet the calligraphy is almost identical. This is due to the fact that these two states have a common heritage, background, and to some extent culture, but more on that later. The two spades:

    spade 2.jpg
    Note the faint numeral (11 in this case) in the right shoulder of the reverse.

    Both are of a late type (350 – 222 BC), attributable to the city of 襄垣Xiangyuan, located in the modern-day county by the same name. I can tell an awful lot more about this type of coinage, it is the main focuspoint of my collection after all, but I am afraid I have to do that in some other topic once. As previously mentioned, they were issued by the State of 趙 Zhao, right where it bordered with the state of 韓 Han. The period in which they were issued wasn’t called ‘The warring states’ for nothing, and armed conflict between these two states was all but rare. These border-towns were therefore frequently walled or otherwise fortified, as can be seen by the names of some of these cities. The 垣 Yuan in 襄垣 Xiangyuan translates to ‘a low/city-wall’ for example. The same goes for the town that was responsible for issuing these early yuan-round coins; which was simply called 垣 Yuan. Even though it wasn’t really a border-town (it was located quite safely in the Wei-heartlands), it still had impressive defences. This is specifically mentioned in the historical sources. Both the bamboo annals and the 史記 Shiji, (the latter possibly drawing from the first, older work) mention that in the first quarter of the 4th century BC, the state of Wei fortified three of their cities: Anyi, Luoyang and you’ve guessed it: (Wang) Yuan.

    As far as I know, the site itself has not yet been excavated, but the approximate location is known to us, in what we would nowadays call Yuanqu-county (垣曲县) in south Shanxi (山西). Located safely along one of the side-branches of the yellow river (which formed the border between the Wei and Han states), in the foothills of the 太行Taihang mountains, it quickly became in important Wei city in the beginning of the Warring states. It initially belonged to the Red di barbarians (赤狄), but the predecessors of the Wei state, 晋 Jin, conquered massive tracks of land, including the Yuan-area from these barbarians, in the late Spring and Autumn period. After the tripartition of Jin, the area was divided in three, and the control of Yuan fell to the state of Wei. At this time, the city was also called 王垣 Wang Yuan, (Wang meaning ‘king’s’) probably to differentiate between multiple cities also called Yuan.

    Interesting to see is the fact that these round coins inscribed Yuan, often have an alloy very high in copper. The British Museum for example tested two specimens, both respectively being 97 and 98 percent pure copper! Other specimens are slightly less pure, but generally speaking they are more than 90 percent copper, a significant increase over most of the other Pre-Han coinage, and even over the majority of round-type coinages. Here we can draw an interesting parallel, between numismatics and actual history, geography and archaeology. I already mentioned that the city of Yuan was located in the foothills of the 太行Taihang mountains, an area, as it turns out, rather rich in copper-ore. The mining in this area is quite famous, dating back to at least the late 商 Shang-dynasty, and has carried on until the present day. We even have a fully preserved copper mine, the so-called 北峪 Beiyu copper mine, dating between the Han and Tang dynasties, located about a dozen kilometres from the Yuan site. Could the copper used for these coins be from a similar, local copper mine? I say it, especially when looking at the relatively high amount of copper these coins contain, certainly isn’t that farfetched.

    The exact date the issuing of these round coins commenced is uncertain. David Hartill dates them between 350 BC and the end of the Zhou period, in around 220 BC, when the state of Qin conquered all opposing states, unifying China in the process. Naturally, this unification wasn’t an overnight process; Qin expansion already been going on for at least a century. Initially, at the beginning of the Eastern Zhou period, the central states (Jin, Qi, Zhou, etc.) thought of Qin as being a barbarian, outsider state, with little to no common heritage. Their influence in the early period was limited, and during the early warring states period (475 – 221 BC) it came under heavy pressure from its newly created neighbours; the three Sanjin (三晉) states of Zhao , Han and Wei. These three states were the result of an internal split in Qin’s previous neighbour, the state of Jin (hence the Sanjin, litt. ‘the three Jins’), in 453 BC. Wei in particular, assumed early dominance, that lasted till about 350 BC. Large tracks of Qin territory were forcefully taken by a coalition of these three neighbouring states around 400 BC, and Qin was forced to retreat and regroup to its heartlands.

    While they were doing so, Wei reached its all-time high. As I have already mentioned, important Wei-cities, such as Luoyang, Yuan and its capital, Anyi, were fortified with huge rammed-walls, new cities sprung up left, right and centre, and we have evidence for a complex economic system. Spade and round types of coinage were issued in large number in a large variety of cities. Around 360 BC however, Qin made its re-entry, after legalist philosopher Shang Yang (商鞅) had implemented major reforms and renewals. Wei, obviously impressed by the sudden Qin-rise and fearing a swift invasion, moved their capital from the western city of Anyi to the eastern city of Daliang; this city was located further from the border with Qin than Anyi had been. This fear was certainly not unfounded. In the year 292 BC, Qin, led by general Bai Qi (白起), launched a massive and successful assault against the Wei and Han states, capturing several large cities, and even sacking the important city of, you guessed it, Yuan 垣, where these round coins were issued! Even though it was sacked, the control of Yuan was quickly returned to Wei again. This would not last long however, and the same Qin general conquered the city again a mere two years later. They also conquered the previous capital of Wei, Anyi, and several other major Wei cities. Yuan would remain under Qin control for the remainder of the Warring States period, as part of the newly created Yuan-county. If we assume that these round coins were indeed solely cast by the Wei state, which the archaeological evidence certainly does support, we can now attach a certain end-date to this coinage: 290 BC!

    That is all the information I have concerning this type. If you have anything else to add, please do so! And just to finish off this topic, a picture of the two together. Both measure 42 MM, while the coin on the right, my initial round-coin, weights around 10.57 gram, as opposed to the 9.59 gram of the coin on the left. Both weights are well within the excepted weight-bracket for this type.

    DSC01304.JPG DSC01306.JPG

    So, which one do you prefer? I am still keeping both though, I can’t stand departing with a coin I have had in my collection for a while now; I have grown quite accustomed to it. And I am a big fan of these early round coins ;). I know several members here also have this Yuan coin (@Parthicus, @TypeCoin971793 and perhaps @Loong Siew?), so I’d love to see those here! Post anything else you like by the way; round coins, other Zhou coinage, or other ancient coins with a lovely (blue) patina! Let’s see those beauties!

    Last edited: Oct 24, 2017
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    RAGNAROK Naebody chaws me wi impunity

    Great write-up & cool coins! Thanks for sharing your fine work!!
    Curtisimo likes this.
  4. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Nice write-up @AnYangMan ! Here's my Yuan coin, as requested:
  5. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    I still haven't been able to snag one of these, and I agree, blue is beautiful! But I like your labeled one very much too. (You have to love heavy patina if you're going to love Chinese coins.)

    And thank you for the detailed writeup and historical context... much appreciated. I've found that this information is hard to find online. Also seems to be hard to find in English even in print form, although I haven't looked too hard. (If you have suggestions I'm all ears... right now I have only Schöth and Hartill.)

    Here is what I believe to be the earliest square-hole coin, State of Qi, and it is the one hua denomination (H6.23) so pretty close to the standard size from centuries later. The date range I have is 300-221 BC, and the inscription ai (or yi?) hua 賹化. Qi was the last of the warring states to be taken over by Qin. (I would also like to get one of the pre-unification heavy banliang's of Qin... do you have one?)

    Screen Shot 2017-10-24 at 4.52.15 PM.png
  6. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Wow @AnYangMan , VERY nice write up and VERY nice coins!

    As requested... My ZHOU's:

    CHINA - ZHOU Dynasty, 1122-255 BC square foot spade 350-250 BC AN YANG - 3 lines rev bronze 31x52mm 7.45g H3.184 S13+

    China Zhou Dyn 1122-255 BC AE Chuan Bead Money 40mm.jpg
    China Zhou Dyn 1122-255 BC AE Chuan Bead Money 40mm

    China Zhou -Chou- 1000-200 BCE Dynasty Bronze cowrie Tong Bei - VF - Rare.jpg
    China Zhou -Chou- 1000-200 BCE Dynasty Bronze cowrie Tong Bei

    China Zhou Dyn 1122-255 BC AE Small Sq Ft Spade An Yang 30x45mm 5.27g H3.182  S-13+.jpg
    China Zhou Dyn 1122-255 BC AE Small Sq Ft Spade An Yang 30x45mm 5.27g H3.182 S-13+

    China Zhou Dynasty 1122-255 BCE Yi Bi Tang Go Liu Zhu ANT COIN PB 19x12mm 3.7g  FD-6  Coole 98+.jpg
    China Zhou Dynasty 1122-255 BCE Yi Bi Tang Go Liu Zhu ANT COIN PB (lead) 19x12mm 3.7g FD-6 Coole 98+

    China Shang 1766-1154 BCE or Zhou Dynasty Ghost Face Ant Nose 1.65g Hartill 1.4.JPG
    China Shang 1766-1154 BCE or Zhou Dynasty Ghost Face Ant Nose 1.65g Hartill 1.4
  7. chrisild

    chrisild Coin Collector Moderator

    Cool, @AnYangMan - both the coins and your post! While I don't collect such coins myself, I read about the meeting (in Leiden, right?) in another forum.

  8. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Cheap B-Tard

    This reminds me. When my mother was a wee girl in the middle 1960s in China, she lived in Jinan in Shandong Province. Shandong is known for having a great amount of high quality tombs and such, and every time a hole is dug something seems to pop out.
    At one point they were constructing a building of some kind and hit upon a hoard of cash coins. Apparently nobody really cared much so it was kind of a first come first serve sort of situation. My mother's older brother managed to get a whole sackful of the things. But what would one even do with a bunch of junk like that? Why, give them away to the neighborhood children, of course!
    Mother says there were some coins bigger than her outstretched hand! Who knows what kind of treasures those "trash" coins actually were...
  9. Loong Siew

    Loong Siew Well-Known Member

    Awesome write up and excellent specimen @AnYangMan .. !! These were regarded the first round holed coins in China's history. And your specimen is beautiful with clear legends and a highly desirable blue patina.. here's my specimen as requested.

  10. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Well-Known Member

    Once again, FANTASTIC writeup. I enjoyed every sentence of it. You will make a fine archaeologist. ;)

    Quick question: Was the city ever home to the king/ruling family at any point in its history? That could be the reason for the added term to the name, possibly to just to recall a time where the area was inhabited by a king.

    Here are my examples of the coin types discussed:

    IMG_3092.JPG IMG_3093.JPG IMG_7441.JPG
  11. CoinKing1212

    CoinKing1212 New Member

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