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Early Chinese Round Coin, With Round Hole, Zhou Dynasty 403 BC To 378 BC


sand
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Here is my example, of one of the earliest Chinese round coins. 
Much of the following information, is from the book "The First Round Coins Of China" by Gratzer & Fishman published in 2017 (henceforth called "Gratzer & Fishman" or "G&F"). G&F is, in my opinion, the best English language book on the early round coins of China. It has excellent information, and many color photos of coins.
Note that, all metal Chinese coins were cast, not struck, until 1889 AD, with the exception of the Chu gold block money from 400 BC to 220 BC. (Hartill page 79) (That's the only exception that I know. Are there other exceptions?)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Chinese_coinage#Gold
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ying_Yuan
Before circa 403 BC, Chinese coins were not round. The non-round Chinese coins included cowrie shells (as early as circa 1400 BC), imitations of cowrie shells made of bone, stone, bronze, and gold (as early as circa 1300 BC), spade coins (as early as circa 1200 BC), knife coins (as early as circa 700 BC), and "ghost face" (also called "ant nose") bronze (alloyed with lead) imitations of cowrie shells inscribed with Chinese characters (as early as 600 BC). (G&F pages ii to iv)
An interesting question : Which of the pre-403 BC non-round Chinese coins, should be called "coins", rather than "money"? However, I won't try to figure that out, in this post.
The earliest Chinese round coins were cast circa 403 BC, during the Zhou Dynasty, during the "Warring States Period". (G&F pages 1 through 59) This was when, the Zhou Dynasty had lost most of its control over its various states, which then fought against each other.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhou_dynasty
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warring_States_period
Almost all of the earliest Chinese round coins, had a round hole in the center of the coin, rather than the square hole that most of the later Chinese round coins had.
The only 2 possible exceptions to this "round hole rule", are 2 exceedingly rare coin types, which have square holes : type G&F A6.3 (G&F page 17) and type G&F A11.15 (G&F page 59). Both of these possible exceptions, have not been accurately dated, and could date as far back as circa 403 BC, or as recently as circa 225 BC and 221 BC respectively. (G&F pages 17 and 59)
The earliest Chinese round coins were cast, before the first "Ban Liang" coins. The "Ban Liang" coins were round coins, usually with a square hole (sometimes with a round hole), which were cast by the Qin state, as early as circa 378 BC. (G&F page 72) By 221 BC, the Qin state had conquered all of the other warring states, and the Qin state became the Qin Dynasty. After that, the Ban Liang coins became the only legal coinage of China (G&F page viii), until the Western Han Dynasty began casting other types of square hole coins in 206 BC (while also continuing to cast Ban Liang coins). (Hartill pages 83 to 85)
All of the types of the earliest Chinese round coins are either rare, very rare, extremely rare, or exceedingly rare. (G&F pages 1 through 59) My example is of the only type (G&F A6.4), which is merely rare. (G&F pages 17 to 19)
Unfortunately, there are many fakes, of the earliest Chinese round coins. For the earliest Chinese round coins, there are many more fake coins than authentic coins. (G&F page xiv)

image.jpeg.fbf79ce5cfca3b0013fba5a98c9d1048.jpeg

China. Zhou Dynasty. Warring States Period. Wei (Liang) State. Circa 403 BC To 378 BC. Probably cast in the ancient city Wangyuan (literally meaning "King's city"). Hartill 6.3. Schjoth 73. Gratzer & Fishman A6.4. 38.7 mm. 7.74 grams. Obverse Character Yuan (literally meaning "city"). Reverse blank.

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1 hour ago, CPK said:

That is really interesting. I didn't know that there were round Chinese coins going back that far.

Here's my oldest, from just after the Warring States period. A Ban Liang:

china-ban-liang-2882108-600x299.jpg.d3f982413bb29177b86b5c4f27e177b0.jpg

@CPK That's a nice Ban Liang. The Ban Liang coins are extremely interesting (to me), and there are hundreds of varieties, with varying widths, varying thicknesses, varying weights, and varying styles of calligraphy. (G&F page 65) The Ban Liang coins were cast, over a huge span of time, from circa 378 BC to 118 BC.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ban_Liang 

I have a very hard time, figuring out the approximate date, of some of the Ban Liang coins, because most Ban Liang coins have the same 2 characters : Ban and Liang (of course). There are some exceptions, such as coins with 2 Ban characters and 2 Liang characters (G&F A13.261 on page 216), coins with 2 Ban characters and no Liang character (G&F pages 212 to 213), coins with 2 Liang characters and no Ban character (G&F pages 214 to 215), coins with only one Ban character and no Liang character (G&F page 211), iron Ban Liang coins (G&F page 208), coins with the Ban character on the left and the Liang character on the right, coins with either the Ban character or the Liang character upside down, coins with other extra characters, and so on.

According to G&F, even the experts who write the books, have difficulty figuring out, the approximate dates of early Ban Liang coins from the Qin state. They use archeological information when available, and they measure the physical attributes of the coins (size, weight, etc), and they analyze the style of the coins. (G&F page 65)

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Thanks for the nice writeup on these, and that's a great example!  I love the purple in the patina. 🙂 

Here's my example of Hartill 6.3:

image.jpeg.feb4dbb2acf4c9969b802db02c60628e.jpeg

I hadn't heard such an early date for these (i.e. as early as 403 BCE), wow!  In my notes the latest date for the coin would be 290 BCE when the city named on it (Yuan) was captured by the Qin.  (Is that right?)  My knowledge is so limited, though.  Partly for this reason I had been wondering whether I should get the G&F book... as a generalist collector I don't have that many Chinese coins, but the small amount of info in Hartill can be a bit frustrating.  Your praise for the book is making me think I should take the plunge.  (Do you have the Wu Zhu book as well, @sand? If so, is it worth having for a generalist collector?)

My next oldest round coin is this one hua from the state of Qi, H6.23.  It could possibly be as early as 310 BCE or so, which would make it one of the earliest reasonably obtainable square-hole coins, besides the earliest ban liangs from Qin:

image.jpeg.b08903624a47f663d2cb97270c499281.jpeg

 

think this ban liang, at 32mm (and 4.73g), has a large enough diameter that it must be Qin rather than Han:

image.jpeg.af04f29041195c77c568714ee4589cc6.jpeg

Finally, here's my favourite Han ban liang, H7.17 (24mm, 2.37g).  The reason it's cool is that it has actual ancient fabric incorporated into the patina, probably from the cloth bag used to carry the coins.  You can see this at the top of the reverse:

image.jpeg.d187b941607d76cb2564daef8454795b.jpeg

 

I suppose I probably have a dozen or so other ban liangs.  Do you think the G&F book would be 1) fun enough to read, and 2) help me with all of these coins enough to be worth buying?

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@Severus Alexander Thanks for your comments. You have some really nice examples of early Chinese round coins. My favorites, in order of most favorite first, are as follows.

1. Your round hole coin Hartill 6.3. I really like the patina, with its many colors, and the overall appearance of the coin. And, it's the oldest of the bunch. Hartill says this coin has a rarity of 8, meaning that it's halfway between "scarce" and "common". G&F, as I mentioned above, says this coin is "Rare", which they define as "Coins are rarely available in groups, can be difficult to find on the numismatic market". According to G&F, this coin was cast from 403 BC to 378 BC. Hartill, on the other hand, says that this coin was cast from 350 BC to 220 BC. I usually refer to the dates in G&F, because G&F has more information than Hartill, for the early Chinese coins. According to G&F, this coin was "probably cast in the ancient Wei State city Wangyuan (literally meaning "King's city") in Shaanxi, south-east of Yuanqu county". I don't know when Wangyuan was captured, or by whom. In fact, I have not found Wangyuan in Wikipedia. However, G&F says that the Wei (Liang) state existed from 778 BC to 225 BC. The Wei (Liang) state slowly declined from 344 BC to 225 BC. The Wei (Liang) state was finally conquered by the Qin state in 225 BC, when the Qin state besieged the Wei (Liang) capital city Daliang, and then the Qin general Wang Ben diverted the Yellow River and flooded and destroyed Daliang, and afterward, the Wei (Liang) king surrendered. (G&F page 14)

2. Your 32 mm 4.73 grams Ban Liang. I like the green patina, and the overall appearance of the coin. I'm not very good at figuring out, the approximate dates of Ban Liangs. When I look at all of the examples in G&F, it seems that the size of your coin (32 mm) means that it is no later than the early Western Han Dynasty, no later than 182 BC. The early Qin state Ban Liangs, from 378 BC to 344 BC, seem to have weights of 6 grams to 64 grams. Therefore, it seems like your Ban Liang is probably not from the early Qin state. The middle period Qin state Ban Liangs, from 344 BC to 336 BC, seem to have weights from 8 grams to 11 grams. Therefore, it seems like your Ban Liang is probably not from the middle period Qin state. By process of elimination, it seems like your 32 mm 4.73 grams Ban Liang is probably from either the late period Qin state (336 BC to 221 BC), or the Qin Dynasty (221 BC to 207 BC), or the early Western Han Dynasty (which cast similar Ban Liangs from 186 BC to 182 BC). However, I could be incorrect. Perhaps an expert could narrow it down, from the style of the characters on your Ban Liang, or perhaps from the flan shape, but I'm not expert enough to do that (yet). It's a nice coin.

3. Your Han Dynasty H7.17 Ban Liang. The patina is amazing. On the obverse, at the top, I've seen that grayish purple patina before, and I really like it, but I don't have any Ban Liangs with that color of patina. And, on the obverse, all of the many colors at the bottom of the coin, are very pretty. And on the reverse, the many colors, and the bit of cloth (or cloth impression), are quite nice. And the casting sprue is interesting.

4. Your Qi state Hartill 6.23. Hartill says this coin has a rarity of "6", meaning "scarce". G&F says this coin is "Very Rare", which they define as "Coins are almost never available in groups, rarely appear on the market". Therefore, this is probably the rarest of the 4 coins. Hartill says, that this coin was cast between 300 BC and 220 BC. G&F says, that this coin was cast circa 279 BC by King Xiang in Yidu in Shandong in the Qi state. It's an interesting coin. I don't have one of these.

I'm also a generalist collector (ancient Greek 20 coins, ancient Roman 50 coins, ancient Africa 4 coins, ancient Middle East 12 coins, Byzantine 40 coins, Celtic 1 coin, medieval 9 coins, Spanish colonial 5 coins, ancient and medieval Chinese 40 coins, medieval Vietnamese 6 coins, modern Japanese 1 coin, modern England 20 coins, and US 20 coins plus a Lincon cent collection).

Interestingly, just yesterday I ordered "One Thousand Years Of Wu Zhu Coinage" by Gratzer & Fishman. It's supposed to arrive tomorrow. 

The G&F book "The First Round Coins Of China" seems to cover the round Chinese coins from 403 BC to 118 BC, which includes the round hole coins, and all of the Ban Liangs, and other types of coins, with the exception that it doesn't cover the Wu Zhu round coins, which seem to have started in 206 BC (I'm not certain about that date).

The G&F book "One Thousand Years Of Wu Zhu Coinage" seems to cover all of the Wu Zhu coins, which seem to have been cast from 206 BC to 971 AD, although I could be incorrect about the exact dates. However, there were other types of coins cast during that time period, such as various types of Wang Mang coins (there is a G&F book for Wang Mang coins), and various types of Tang Dynasty coins, etc. Looking at the preview of the book, it seems to have color photos of the coins. I only have 4 Wu Zhu coins at the moment, but the G&F early round coins book is so good, that I decided to buy the Wu Zhu book, because I'm guessing that it will be very interesting to read, and I'd like to learn more about the Wu Zhu coins. And, currently it only costs $55 on Amazon, plus tax. So, for me, a generalist collector with approximately 40 coins from China (ancient and medieval), I think it will be worth it. However, in the past, I tended to go off the deep end, with books. I have a lot of books. But, I'm trying to stop buying so many books. By the way, the G&F early round coins book currently is only $57 plus tax on Amazon.

So, to try to finish answering your questions, about whether to buy the G&F books.

G&F "The First Round Coins Of China". For me, I think it's a fun and interesting book, to read, and to look at the color photos of the coins. It has a lot of words, and a lot of color photos of coins. It has a lot of information. I have 9 Ban Liang coins, with the following measurements : 36 mm 9.42 grams, 35 mm 7.32 grams, 32 mm 7.11 grams, 32 mm 3.68 grams, 31 mm 6.84 grams, 31 mm 4.84 grams, 31 mm 4 grams, 28 mm 3.25 grams, and 24 mm 2.40 grams. It seems to be very difficult, to figure out the approximate dates of Ban Liang coins. Even with the G&F book, I'm still not very sure, when my Ban Liang coins were cast, other than what the seller descriptions say, and I'm not sure that I believe all of the seller descriptions. However, I haven't spent much time, trying to figure it out. I plan to take photos of my Ban Liang coins soon. Perhaps then, I'll make a bigger effort, to try to figure out, the approximate dates when the Ban Liangs were cast. If I have any hope at all, it will be because of the G&F book. See my notes above in this post, for more info about this book.

G&F "One Thousand Years Of Wu Zhu Coinage". From the previews, it looks like it has a similar organization, as the G&F early round coins book. Therefore, I'm guessing, that this book will also be fun and interesting to read, and to look at the coin color photos, for me at least. I'll try to remember to add a post to this thread, after this book arrives, and after I've looked at it for awhile. See my notes above in this post, for more info about this book.

G&F "The Numismatic Legacy of Wang Mang". From the previews, it looks like it has a similar organization, as the G&F early round coins book, and coin color photos. I don't have this book. I'm not as interested in the Wang Mang coins, as the earlier coins. Therefore, I don't know if I'll ever order this book. However, I'm guessing that it's a good book.

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@Severus Alexander P.S. : See my 2nd post above, for more info, about trying to figure out the approximate dates, of Ban Liang coins, and how difficult it is. I've tried to compare the style of characters, on my Ban Liang coins, versus the color photos of coins in the G&F book, to try to figure out, the approximate dates of my Ban Liangs. And, I've tried to compare the diameters and weights, and the flan shapes, of my Ban Liangs, versus the diameters and weights, and flan shapes, of the examples in the G&F book, to try to figure out the approximate dates of my Ban Liangs. So far, I haven't had much success. However, I haven't spent a large amount of time, on this. I'm going to spend more time on this, when I take photos of my Ban Liangs.

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It's a fun fact that the very first cash coins had round holes AND so did the last ones.

 

Here two examples, one minted one cast:

c1078g.jpg.22d66c9411fc0a86abd55a66b83f1e71.jpg

Province: Fujian
Year: 1912
Av: 福建通寶, Fujian Tong Bao
Rv: 二文, er wen, flags left and right.
Value: 2 Wen
Material: AE, 2.85g, 23.6mm
Literature: Hartill 24.5

 

c524g.jpg.04241c6029a11f0767e1badd00a15a57.jpg

Year: 1916
Av:
Top: 中華民國五年 Republic of China 5 yrs.
壹分 1 Fen (Fen spelled unusually).
Bottom: 每一百枚當一圓 (one hundred are one yuan).
Rv: plant ornament
Value: 1 Fen
Material: copper, 26.43mm, 6.53g
Ref: KM Y#324

 

 

 

 

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Wow, @sand, thanks so much for the extensive comments!!  You've convinced me... I'm gonna buy the G&F round coins book, and maybe the Wu Zhu book too.

Hopefully we'll see more Chinese coin posts here in NumisForums.

Just to post a coin, here's a Yong an wu zhu, Northern Wei dynasty (386-534), Hartill 13.26, issued 529-43:

image.jpeg.f1c31707a971565eadcdda8d67dbdc7b.jpeg

This coin was issued at a time of civil war between the emperor’s family and the family of the powerful general Erzhu Rong; both the principals died in 530, but the empire split into two, known as the Western and Eastern Wei.  Hartill reports that under the Eastern Wei, distinctive private issues of this coin had nicknames like “Auspicious cash” and “Heavenly Pillar.” This scarce type may be one of these.

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