The first round Ancient Chinese coins

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by TypeCoin971793, Apr 22, 2016.

  1. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random guy on the internet

    You all are probably familiar with the round-coin-with-square-hole style of Chinese cash coins. The square hole was adopted to ease the process of filing off the casting sprues as the coins would not rotate when slid onto a square peg. However, there is a type of round coin that predates these that has a round hole in the middle.

    I have read that this design was created to emulate jade rings that symbolize eternal life, in the same way spade coins and knife coins emulated spade and knife tools, respectively. The round hole served no real purpose other than to facilitate stringing the coins together.

    The inscription on the obverse says "Yuan," which was a city in the ancient state of Liang, not the monetary donomination. This variety is by far the most common, and all other types are incredibly hard to obtain. While I have no written provenance, I presume that it was one of 1180 "Yuan" coins unearthed from a 1981 hoard in the Henan province of Modern-Day China. Its patina matches several I have seen for sale, and you can see the imprint of another coin on the reverse, which shows that it was buried between other coins. (Usually the imprint of another coin on a coin in question is a sign of authenticity, but I have seen counterfeits that display this feature, though it looks more like a vice job than a transfer of patina.)

    The round-hole coins are a product exclusively from the states that produces spade coins during the Warring States period. During this era, there were two monetary systems in China, one based on spades and one based on knives. The two types circulated contemporarily, and there was little overlap, with the only exception coming to mind being the city of Lin. The coins with the square holes came from the states that used knives exclusively. However, as the kingdom of Qin grew in power (a spade state), they started casting coins with square holes known as Ban Liangs. These were produced in such industrial quantities that a square hole was needed to make an efficient filing process. But more on that later.


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  3. Mikey Zee

    Mikey Zee Delenda Est Carthago

    Welcome and scan the 'old' ancient threads and you will notice that a few of the CT gang are heavily into this area of collecting. @Loong Siew in particular:)
    Alegandron likes this.
  4. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    Informative post! I have nothing to contribute but I thought it was interesting.
    Mikey Zee likes this.
  5. Collect89

    Collect89 Coin Collector

    I too found this post informative. Thanks
  6. Alegandron

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

    Great information and write up! I am dabbling in ancient Chinese, and will post soon!

    Oh, and WELCOME! It will be fun to see more of your postings!
  7. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    Nice post! And lovely coin. I need to look in to some Warring States Period coins...
  8. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus

    Interesting post. Thanks.

  9. Alegandron

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

    China, Qin Dynasty, 220 - 180 BC
    Cast AE 12 Zhu, 32mm, 5.60 grams
    Obverse: Ban Liang.
    Reverse: Blank, as made.
    Comment: One of the first round / square hole Chinese currencey
    dlhill132 and Mikey Zee like this.
  10. Marshall Muzili

    Marshall Muzili New Member

    In the late 90s there had been a discovery in Sichuan, China. A ceremonial mound later named San Xing Dui (tri-star mound).

    Among the relics dug up at San Xing Dui were 2 bronze "trees" lavishly decorated with coins in the form posted above.


    The ceremonial mound had started before 1800 B.C and had been abandoned before 800 B.C.
    6 or 7 years ago, There had been another site found 100km from San Xing Dui, inside Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province. This site belonged to the same culture (people) that had inhabited San Xing Dui. It contained many more organic objects, however, such as wooden artifacts and elephant tusks, and carbon dating had confirmed the dates previously established for San Xing Dui.

    I visited San Xing Dui (there's a museum built on the site now) a few years ago, and if I haven't remembered wrong, the coin trees were said to had been creation of (east) Zhou dynasty. That also meant circulation of this type of bronze coins would had to have started at least few hundred years before the warring states.

    By the way, I'm an ancient coin collector from China, albeit I don't collect Chinese coins. I collect Roman Denars.
  11. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random guy on the internet

    That coin tree dates at least 100 years after the coin I posted. In the last picture, you can see that one of the "coins" carries an inscription of "Wu Zhu," which did not appear until 141 (?) BC.

    You may be thinking East Han Dynasty. I know of several coin trees that date from that period. That would explain the presence of a Wu Zhu.

    Very cool artefact nonetheless.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2016
    Ancientnoob likes this.
  12. Marshall Muzili

    Marshall Muzili New Member

    There are various money trees dated to Han dynasty but I believe the San Xing Dui ones did not. Perhaps I linked the wrong pictures?

    The circular coin form is thought to symbolize the sun, in the same way the birds on the Shang Dynasty bronze trees, linking the two types of objects together.

    The San Xing Dui site was abandoned towards the beginning of warring states. The earlier bronze trees at San Xing Dui were from Shang Dynasty and predated the "later" artifacts there by almost 1,000 years. Doesn't that make the later ones there still nearly a millennium before East Han Dynasty?
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2016
  13. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random guy on the internet

    Interesting. Circled coin is a Wu Zhu. Unless the ancient Chinese also invented time travel, I can't see how this can date before the han dynasty. image.jpeg

    If this is the wrong money tree, I would love to see the ones you are referring to. They may be useful for research.
  14. noname

    noname Well-Known Member

    You never know, they DID invent Gunpowder, Guns, Cannons, fireworks, paper money, coins, in a sense, the compass, silk weaving, printing, porcelain, explosives, mechanical wheels, and most importantly............................................................................................................................................................................................................................THE KITE!!!:happy:
  15. Ken Dorney

    Ken Dorney Yea, I'm Cool That Way...

    Hartill dates the introduction of the Wu Zhu to 118 BC, so the 'tree' dates to that period and later. The Wu Zhu was very popular and was issued up to about the 6th Century AD.
    Mikey Zee and Alegandron like this.
  16. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus

    Several years ago there was an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto. It featured many artifacts from san xing dui. It was very interesting, especially the large sculptures.
  17. norenxaq

    norenxaq Active Member

    a minor point: qin collapsed in 206 bc not 180
  18. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random guy on the internet

    If you want to be really technical, the Qin Empire lasted from 221 BC to 206 BC. Since Alegandron's coin weighs just under 6g, I feel that his coin is from the Qin dynasty. The weight decreased afterward during the early Han Dynasty (186-182 BC) to an 8 zhu nominal weight (3-5g). The weight of the ban liangs continued to fall as time went on.

    This chronic weight reduction led to 3-zhu and 4-zhu ban liangs that most of you are familiar with (~2g and 23-25mm). Interestingly, the weights of the coins did not match the weight specified by the inscription "Ban Liang," or "Half Ounce," or 12 zhu. Han Wudi got the idea to issue a new coin whose inscription matched the weight value of the coin, which lead to the San Zhu and then the Wu Zhu.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2016
    Alegandron likes this.
  19. Alegandron

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

    Thanks guys on the updates. I focus on Early Roman Republican, but because of my extensive travels in China and other Asian countries, I am dabbling in Chinese coinage.

    @TypeCoin971793 thanks for the information! I am watching you! :D Good stuff.

    @norenxaq , please feel free to hit "Reply" or @ my name so that I can see your specific comment. That was good so that I can update my attributions as I am still learning this area. Unfortunately, I missed your comment until I read TypeCoin's...
  20. norenxaq

    norenxaq Active Member

    using a range of weights to assign a coin to a particular dynasty is fine. however, one should be accurate in the duration of that dynasty....
    better would have been qin to early han
  21. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random guy on the internet

    During the transition from Qin to Han, the general public (or more like specific individuals that were able to secure permission from the government) was tasked with casting the Ban Liangs for general use. As a result, these coins were very small and lightweight, supposedly to replace the large and cumbersome Qin Dynasty issues. Htese small issues are called "Yu Jia" or "Elm seed" due to their size and shape. Some of these are incredibly small, like the one from my personal collection below. image.jpeg

    The 8 zhu weight was made official in 186 BC to bring back some order to the monetary system. The weight was then reduced to 4 zhu in 175 BC.
    Loong Siew likes this.
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