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‘Kai Yuan Tong Bao’ Clay Mould

The world’s only known specimen of a Tang Dynasty clay mould used to cast kai yuan tong bao (开元通宝) coins is now on public display according to Chinese news reports dated January 6, 2015.

'Kai yuan tong bao' clay mould

‘Kai yuan tong bao’ clay mould

This very rare clay mould (钱陶范), which is classified as a “national treasure” (国宝级), was unearthed in Shutang on August 17, 1992 by Mr. Ceng Jingyi (曾敬仪), a retired teacher and coin collector.

Shutang is located in the Wangcheng District (望城区) which is about 20 km from Changsha (长沙) in Hunan Province (湖南).

The clay mould is on display at the “Exhibition of Chinese Ancient Coins” (中国历代钱币展) being held at the Ouyang Xun Cultural Park (欧阳询文化园) located in Shutang (书堂).

Rare 'kai yuan tong bao' clay mould on display at the ancient coin exhibition

Rare ‘kai yuan tong bao’ clay mould on display at the ancient coin exhibition

Kai yuan tong bao coins were cast beginning in the year 621 during the reign of Emperor Gaozu (高祖) of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

The kai yuan tong bao, which translates as the “Inaugural Currency”, marked a watershed in Chinese history.

Up until this time, Chinese coins had been named after their weight.  Beginning with the casting of the kai yuan tong bao, coins were now designated as tong bao (“circulating currency” 通宝) or zhong bao (“heavy currency” 重宝).

This new coin replaced the wu zhu (五铢) coins which had been produced for more than 700 years.

Ouyang Xun (557-641) was born in Shutang and is recognized as one of the most famous calligraphers of the Tang Dynasty.

Detail from stone rubbing of "Jiucheng Palace Sweet Wine Spring Inscription" by Ouyang Xun

Detail from stone rubbing of “Jiucheng Palace Sweet Wine Spring Inscription” by Ouyang Xun

Ouyang Xun was selected by Emperor Gaozu to write the inscription for the kai yuan tong bao coin.

The inscription is written in a combination of Han Dynasty lishu (“Clerical” 隶书) and bafen (八分) scripts.

This was also the first time in history that a famous calligrapher wrote the characters for a Chinese coin.

Ouyang Xun is considered the finest calligrapher of the Tang of a style known as “regular script” (kai shu 楷书), also referred to as “standard script”.

His calligraphy was immortalized on a stone stele located at Emperor Taizong‘s palace on Tiantai Mountain (天台山).

The work is known as the “Jiucheng Palace Sweet Wine Spring Inscription” (九成宫醴泉铭) and is considered the model for “regular script” even today.

Large sculptures of 'Kai Yuan Tong Bao' coins at entrance to the exhibition

Large sculptures of ‘Kai Yuan Tong Bao’ coins at entrance to the exhibition

In addition to the rare clay mould, the exhibition also includes more that 1,000 ancient Chinese coins donated by Mr. Ceng.

The opening of the Chinese coin exhibition featuring the clay mould also received television coverage.  Please click here to view one of the television broadcasts covering the event.

In the 2-minute video, Mr. Ceng Jingyi is interviewed (0:49 mark) and the kai yuan tong bao clay mould is shown (1:28 mark).

Up until the unearthing of this clay mould, no moulds were known to exist for the casting of the Tang Dynasty kai yuan tong bao coins.

For this reason, it was unclear as to what process was actually used to cast these coins.  While the coins could have been cast in the traditional manner from moulds made of clay, stone or bronze, it was believed that the coins were now being cast in sand using “mother” coins to make the impressions.

With the discovery of this clay mould, however, it is now confirmed that clay moulds were still being used to cast coins during the Tang Dynasty.

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Not Being Greedy Is a Treasure

An unusual Chinese charm was recently posted to a popular Chinese coin forum in China.

Chinese charm with inscription "Not being greedy is a treasure"

Chinese charm with inscription “Not being greedy is a treasure”

The charm is shown at the left.

The inscription bu tan wei bao (不貪為寶) is written in seal script and translates as “not being greedy is a treasure”.

The phrase is a reference to a story in the Zuo Zuan (左传), also known as the “Commentary of Zuo”, which is a very ancient text describing historical events during the period 722 BC – 478 BC of the Spring and Autumn Period.

The story appears in the book’s “Fifteenth Year of Duke Xiang” 《左传·襄公十五年》as follows:

宋人或得玉,献诸子罕。子罕弗受。献玉者曰:“以示玉人,玉人以为宝也,故敢献之。”子罕曰:“我以不贪为宝,尔以玉为宝,若以与我,皆丧宝也。不若人有其宝。

Zi Han refuses to accept the jade

Zi Han refuses to accept the jade

The story is about Zi Han (子罕), a high government official of the state of Song, who was known to be virtuous and wise.

One day, a peasant came to see him.  The peasant had found a stone which an expert had confirmed was a valuable piece of jade.  The peasant wanted to present this treasure to Zi Han.

Zi Han, however, refused to accept the jade.

Zi Han said to the peasant, “You consider the jade to be a treasure while I consider ‘not being greedy’ to be a treasure.  If I receive the jade, you will have lost your treasure and I, too, will have lost my treasure.  It would be better if both of us keep our own personal treasures.”

Reverse side of charm displaying sycee and land as traditional symbols of wealth

Reverse side of charm displaying sycee and land as traditional symbols of wealth

At the left is the reverse side of the charm.

The objects with the curled ends are meant to represent sycee or silver ingots (yuan bao 元宝) which were a form of money in ancient China.

The square objects that resemble windows are actually the Chinese character tian (田) which means “field” as in farm land.  Land was also a symbol of wealth in ancient China.

Liu Xiang (刘向), a government official and scholar during the Han Dynasty, wrote a commentary on the story.

Liu Xiang explained that it was not that Zi Han did not have treasures but that “treasure” meant something different to him.

Liu Xiang illustrated his point as follows.

If one were to offer a small child a cake or gold, the child would pick the cake.  If one were to offer a “lower-class” man the legendary “Jade of He” (和氏璧) or gold, the man would definitely take the gold.

However, if one were to offer a wise man the valuable “Jade of He” or a moral principle, the wise man would choose the moral principle.

According to Liu Xiang, the better one understands the true nature of things, the better choice one will make.

It is noteworthy that the members of the Chinese coin forum had not seen a charm like this before and its appearance resulted in a flurry of more than 200 comments.

The forum members universally praised the meaning behind the charm and felt that its posting had been very timely.  This is because a well-publicized campaign is currently underway to rid the party and government of corrupt officials.

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Qi Xiang Tong Bao Engraved Mother Coin

A very rare qi xiang tong bao (祺祥通宝) engraved mother coin (雕母) was recently auctioned in Beijing.

The Qixiang coins were cast for the shortest period of time and in the smallest quantity of any reign of the Qing Dynasty.

Upon the death of the Xianfeng Emperor (咸丰帝) in 1861, his young son Zaichun (载淳) became the new emperor of China adopting the regnal name of Qixiang (祺祥).

The new emperor was only five years old at the time.  His mother, the Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后), arranged a coup (祺祥政变) and became the real power behind the throne.

After just a couple of months, the Empress Dowager Cixi changed the emperor’s regnal name from Qixiang (祺祥) to Tongzhi (同治).

Because the reign title Qixiang existed for only 69 days, very few coins with the inscription qi xiang (祺祥) were produced.  It is quite possible that none of the coins ever went into general circulation.

When preparing to cast coins for a new emperor, a mint would first engrave a coin out of fine brass.  This “engraved mother coin” (diao mu 雕母), also known as an “ancestor coin” (zu qian 祖钱), was then used to make impressions in a sand mold to produce several “mother coins” (mu qian 母钱).  These “mother coins” were then used to make the impressions to cast the coins which would go into circulation.

Qi Xiang Tong Bao Engraved Mother Coin

Qi Xiang Tong Bao Engraved Mother Coin

The image at the left is the obverse side of the engraved mother coin.

The coin is made of high quality brass and has a beautiful patina.

The Chinese characters are finely and deeply inscribed.

However, the left rim is clearly damaged.

This was done intentionally at the mint in order to ensure that no additional coins were cast after the regnal name Qixiang was dropped in favor of Tongzhi.

This damage provides further proof that the coin is authentic.

Reverse side of Qi Xiang Tong Bao Engraved Mother Coin

Reverse side of Qi Xiang Tong Bao Engraved Mother Coin

The reverse side of the coin is seen in the image at the left.

The Manchu script at the right of the square hole indicates that the coin was made at the Board of Works (宝源) mint in Beijing.

The mint intentionally damaged the right rim to prevent any further use of this mother coin.

The coin has a diameter of 29.14~29.52 mm and a thickness of 1.82~2.03 mm.  The weight is not mentioned in the description.

In addition to the qi xiang tong bao coins, larger “Value Ten” (当十) denomination qi xiang zhong bao (祺祥重宝) coins were also minted.

A qi xiang zhong bao (祺祥重宝) “engraved mother coin” produced at the Board of Works (宝源) may be seen here.

A qi xiang zhong bao (祺祥重宝) “mother coin” from the Board of Works (宝源) may be seen here.

Because qi xiang coins were cast for such a short time, only a few of the mints produced coins.  These included the Board of Works (宝源), the Board of Revenue (宝泉), the Yunnan mint (宝云), the Gansu mint (宝巩) and the Suzhou mint (宝苏).

When the regnal name changed to Tongzhi, the mints withdrew or destroyed the qi xiang mother coins and then engraved new mother coins to produce coins with the inscription tong zhi tong bao (同治通宝) and tong zhi zhong bao (同治重宝).

All authentic qi xiang coins are rare, and qi xiang engraved mother coins are extremely rare.

Only one other specimen is known to exist.  It is in the collection of Mr. Sun Zhonghui (孙仲汇), a famous Chinese numismatist and author.

On November 30, 2014, the qi xiang tong bao engraved mother coin discussed here was sold at an auction in Beijing for US$129,843 (RMB 808,500).

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State of Qi Six Character Knife Money

Xue Knife

Xue Knife

Knife-shaped money (daobi 刀币) was an early form of currency that circulated in the states of Qi (齐国), Yan (燕国) and Zhao (赵国) until the end of the  Warring States Period (战国时代 475 BC – 221 BC).

The shape of these “coins” evolved from an ancient bronze scraper knife, known as a xue (削刀), which had a ring at the end.

Shown at the left is an example of an ancient xue knife.

Qi money knives can be categorized by the number of Chinese characters on their obverse side.  There are Three Character Knives (san zi dao 三字刀), Four Character Knives (si zi dao 四字刀, Five Character Knives (wu zi dao 五字刀) and Six Character Knives (liu zi dao 六字刀).

The Four Character Knives are believed to have been minted in the early Spring and Autumn Period (春秋时代 771 BC – 476 BC) making them the first version of Qi knife money to appear.  The Five Character Knives began to be produced in the late Spring and Autumn Period.  The Three Character Knives began to circulate during the early to middle Warring States Period.

All Qi knives are rare.

The Qi Heritage Museum, which has the world’s largest collection of Qi knife money, is located in Linzi in Shandong Province.

The museum is situated at the site of the ancient capital of the State of Qi.  The outstanding collection of Qi money and other cultural artefacts was obtained from archaeological excavations.

The Three Character Knives (san zi dao 三字刀) exist in the greatest number and specimens from the museum’s collection may be seen here.

There are much fewer surviving specimens of the Four and Five Character knives.

The Four Character Knife (si zi dao 四字刀) is discussed in “Knife Money from State of Qi Unearthed in Shandong“.

Specimens from the museum’s collection of Five Character Knives (wu zi dao 五字刀) may be seen here.

If you look carefully, you will notice that there are actually two versions of the Five Character Knife.

The Five Character Knives with the inscription ji mo zhi fa hua (即墨之法化), translating as “Ji Mo Legal Money”, were cast in Jimo which was located in what is now Pingdu in Shandong Province.

The Five Character Knives with the inscription an yang zhi fa hua (安阳之法化), translating as “An Yang Legal Money”, were minted in Anyang which was situated just east of what is now Caoxian County in Shandong Province.

State of Qi Six Character Knife

State of Qi Six Character Knife

The rarest of the Qi knives is the Six Character Knife (liu zi dao 六字刀).

The beautiful Six Character Knife shown at the left was sold at an auction conducted by the Xiling Yinshe Auction Co. (西泠印社拍卖有限公司) in Hangzhou in May 2014.

Six Character Knives were cast in the ancient capital of Linzi in Shandong Province.

The Six Character Knife was actually issued as a “commemorative coin” (开国纪念币).

In 1046 BC, King Wu of Zhou (周武王) enfeoffed Jiang Ziya (姜子牙), also known as Lü Shang (吕尚) and Duke Tai of Qi (齐太公), who then proceeded to establish Qi as a vassal state.

The Jiang family continued hereditary rule of Qi for 600 years.

By the year 404 BC, however, Tian He (田和), who was the head of the Tian clan and was serving under the last ruler of the House of Jiang, had become the de facto ruler of Qi.

King An of Zhou (周安王) formally recognized Tian He, also known as Duke Tai of Qi (齐太公), as the ruler of Qi in 386 BC.

With the rise to power by Tian He, the six century rule by the the House of Jiang ended and the House of Tian became the new ruling family of Qi.

Even though Qi  had existed for many centuries, Tian He decided to issue knife money with an inscription commemorating the new dynastic rule of the Tian family.

The Six Character Knife thus became China’s first “commemorative coin” marking the establishment of a new ruling family or dynasty.

The characters are written in an ancient Chinese script which is difficult to decipher.  The inscription is believed to be qi zao bang chang fa huo (齐造邦长法化) which translates as “Qi, establish state long, legal money”.

However, there is an alternative interpretation of the inscription.

Some experts believe that the second character in the inscription should not be interpreted as zao (造), meaning “establish”, but rather fu (复) or fan (返)  meaning “return”.

The State of Yan invaded and occupied most of Qi in 284 BC.  General Tian Dan (田单) of Qi executed a very clever plan and, despite being greatly outnumbered, was able to defeat the Yan army at Jimo.  Tian Dan then freed the other occupied parts of the country which permitted him to bring King Xiang (襄王) of Qi from the small State of Ju (莒), where he had been residing, back to the royal capital of  Linzi (临淄).

(Please see “Battle of Jimo” Horse Coin for the fascinating story of this battle.)

Those who accept this interpretation of the inscription believe that the knife was cast by King Xiang to commemorate his triumphant “return” to the capital of Linzi in the year 279 BC.

Reverse side of the State of Qi Six Character Knife

Reverse side of the State of Qi Six Character Knife

The reverse sides of  Six Character Knives frequently have a single character.

A shi (十), meaning ten, may indicate the knife’s denomination.

Other characters that have been found on these knives include si (司), gong (工), and ri (日).  These characters may represent the names of newly established mints.

The knives were cast in stone moulds and other characters on the reverse probably indicate in which mould the knife was cast.

At the left is an image of the reverse side of this knife.

Just above the handle is a character believed to be hua (化).  Of the characters found on the reverse side of Six Character Knives, hua (化) and shang (上) seem to be the rarest.

Six Character Knives are large and thick, finely cast of good quality bronze, and display exquisite calligraphy.  They are typically 18.2 – 18.5 cm in length and 2.8 – 2.9 cm in width.  Their weight is 45.5 – 50.9 grams.

As mentioned above, the Six Character Knife was the first Chinese form of money to commemorate the founding of a new ruling family or dynasty.

During the more than 2,000 years that would follow, other rulers would also issue commemorative coins marking the establishment of their new reign.

For example, in the year 621 Emperor Gaozu (高祖) issued the kai yuan tong bao (开元通宝) coin. Kai yuan tong bao translates as the “Inaugural Currency” and refers to the establishment of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

A different Emperor Gaozu (后汉高祖) issued the han yuan tong bao (汉元通宝) coin beginning in 948.  The inscription translates as the “Han First Currency” which marked the beginning of the Later Han Dynasty (948-951).

Emperor Shizong (世宗) had coins cast with the inscription zhou yuan tong bao (周元通宝) beginning in 955.  The inscription means “Zhou First Currency” signifying the establishment of the Later Zhou Dynasty (951-960).

Emperor Taizu (太祖) issued coins with the inscription song yuan tong bao (宋元通宝) beginning in 960.  The inscription means “Song First Currency” or “Inauguration of Song” which proclaimed the establishment of the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

Modern times has seen China issue a large number of commemorative coins.

In an academic paper entitled  “A History of China’s Ancient Money” (中国古代货币史), Professor Song Jie (宋杰) writes about the purchasing power of a Qi knife.

During the late Warring States Period, one dou (斗) of rice, equivalent to about 10 litres, could be bought with three ban liang (半两) coins.  According to Professor Song, a Qi knife would have been the equivalent of 7 or 8 ban liang coins.  Therefore, one Qi knife would have been able to buy more than two dou or 23 – 26 litres of rice.

Six Character Knives are the rarest of the Qi knives and among the rarest of all ancient Chinese coins.  The specimen displayed here sold at an auction in 2014 for the equivalent of US$140,239 (862,500 RMB).

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Ancient Chinese Coin Exhibit at the Qi Heritage Museum

The Qi Heritage Museum (齐文化博物院) is located in Linzi (临淄) in China’s coastal province of Shandong (山东省).

Linzi was the capital city of the ancient State of Qi (1046 BC – 221 BC).

In celebration of the Qi Culture Festival, there is a new exhibition of ancient Chinese money at the museum.  According to a newspaper article, the exhibit includes unearthed specimens which have never been shown to the public before including hollow handled spade money from the Spring and Autumn Period, perfectly preserved “money trees“, coin moulds, and “Peace under heaven” palace coins.

Unfortunately, the newspaper article does not include any photographs.  The museum’s website provides some images but no close-ups of the coins.

The vast majority of  Chinese coin collectors outside of China have no choice but to rely on black and white rubbings in coin catalogs to determine the authenticity of rare coins.  Many collectors put faith into images they see at internet auction sites which are well known to include many fake coins.  Images from coin dealers, coin forums and personal websites can also include coins of questionable authenticity.

While searching the web, however, I came across a blog article from a Chinese visitor at a previous coin exhibit at the museum.

The blogger admits that he is not a coin collector but, fortunately, he took some photographs which document part of the extensive collection of ancient Chinese coins at the museum.

Clicking on the images below will bring up a larger image.  By clicking the image again, an even larger and more detailed image will appear.  Use your scroll bars to move around the display case.

In this way, you will have the opportunity to clearly see the color of the patina, calligraphy, metal type, size, etc. of many rare Chinese coins.

The museum has a vast and extensive collection of ancient Chinese money from the late Zhou and Warring States Period, perhaps the best in the world.  This is due to the museum being located in the area where many of the ancient Chinese states were situated.  Most of the collection of ancient coins came directly from archaeological digs in the area.

Early forms of Chinese money

Early forms of Chinese money

This exhibition case includes specimens of what may be very early forms of money  from the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 256 BC).

No historical sources from this time period mention these objects so there is some question as to whether they are, in fact, ancient Chinese money forms.

They are usually referred to as  “pseudo money” or “odd shaped money” (异形币).

Based on their shape, they are “fish money” (yu bi 鱼币), “halberd money” (ji bi 戟币) and “bridge money” (qiao bi 桥币).  Some specimens of  “bridge money” are referred to as “tiger head bridge money” or “dragon head bridge money”.

For a much larger and more detailed view, please click the image.

Three Character Knife money from the State of Qi

Three Character Knife money from the State of Qi

The museum is located near the capital of the ancient State of Qi (齐国) which existed from 400 BC to 220 BC during the Warring States Period (战国时代 475 BC – 221 BC).

Qi was one of the states that used a form of money made of bronze and in the shape of a knife (dao bi 刀币).

The Qi Knife Money evolved from an ancient bronze implement with a ring at the end.  This knife was known as a xue (削).

An image of an ancient xue may be seen here.

Although in the shape of a knife, the Qi Knives were never actually used as knives.

The earliest form of knife money circulated in Qi and later spread to the States of Yan and Zhao.

As a result of  the many archaeological excavations in the area, the museum has the finest collection of Qi knife (qi dao 齐刀) money in the world.

Qi Knives have three, four, five or six Chinese characters on their obverse side.  The reverse sides can have one or more characters or symbols.

Some of the museum’s Three Character Knives (三字刀), bearing the inscription qi fa hua (齐法化) meaning “Qi Legal Money”, are seen in this image.

For a more detailed view, please click the image.

The museum also has a collection of Four Character (四字刀), Five Character (五字刀) and Six Character knives (六字刀) from the State of Qi.

(Please see “Knife Money from State of Qi Unearthed in Shandong” for more detailed information on Four Character knives (四字刀).)

Five Character Knife money from the State of Qi

Five Character Knife money from the State of Qi

The image at the left shows some of the extensive collection of Five Character Knife (五字刀) money.

Please click the image for an expanded view.

Five Character Knives have been found with two different inscriptions.

One inscription is ji mo zhi fa hua (即墨之法化) which translates as “Ji Mo Legal Money”.  Jimo (即墨) was situated in what is now Pingdu in Shandong Province.

(A very interesting battle took place in Jimo which is the theme of an ancient Chinese horse coin.  Please see “Battle of Jimo” Horse Coin for details.)

The other inscription is an yang zhi fa hua (安阳之法化) which translates as “An Yang Legal Money”.  Anyang (安阳) was situated east of what is now Caoxian County in Shandong Province.

Another view of the Five Character Knives

Another view of the Five Character Knives

At the left is another view of the Five Character Knife showcase.

Clicking the image will bring up a larger view.

Both the An Yang (安阳) and Ji Mo (即墨) varieties of the Five Character Knife can be seen in this image.

Unfortunately, the blogger did not publish images of the museum’s collection of Six Character Knives (六字刀).  The Six Character Knives were minted in what is now Linzi in Shandong Province.

(For a discussion of Six Character Knives (六字刀), please see State of Qi Six Character Knife Money.)

Straight Knife and Pointed Knife money

Straight Knife and Pointed Knife money

Pointed  Tip Knives (jian shou dao 尖首刀) from the State of Yan, as well as Straight Knives (zhi dao 直刀) from the State of Zhao (赵国), are displayed in this case.

Clicking on the image will provide a better view.

Ming Knife money from the State of Yan

Ming Knife money from the State of Yan

The museum has a large collection of Ming Knives (ming dao 明刀) from the State of Yan (燕).

This type of knife money is known as “Ming Knives” because the character on the obverse side is believed to the the Chinese character ming (明).

For some reason, the museum decided to display all the Ming Knives with the obverse side (明) showing which is the same for all the knives.

Showing the reverse sides would have been preferable since the reverse sides display a great variety of inscriptions.

Please click the image for a closer view.

Huo Bu coins cast during the reign of Wang Mang

Huo Bu coins cast during the reign of Wang Mang

The Chinese blogger provides images from several other exhibition cases.

The showcase at the left displays huo bu (货布) cast 14 AD – 23 AD during the reign of Wang Mang (王莽) of the Xin Dynasty (新朝).

Wang Mang carried out four major reforms of the monetary system which included a total of 37 kinds of money.  This created unprecedented chaos and misery.

To his credit, many of these money forms attained very high artistic merit.

A close-up of the museum’s collection of huo bu may be seen by clicking the image.

Another view of the large collection of Huo Bu coins

Another view of the large collection of Huo Bu coins

This is another view of the museum’s extensive collection of  huo bu coins.

Please click the image for a close-up view.

The huo bu is derived from an even more ancient form of money in the shape of a spade.  For more information concerning  spade money (bubi 布币) and huo bu please see Chinese Spade Charms.  A charm based on the huo bu is discussed in the article Huo Bu Charm.

"Da Guan Tong Bao" coins cast during the reign of Emperor Hui Zong of the Northern Song Dynasty

“Da Guan Tong Bao” coins cast during the reign of Emperor Hui Zong of the Northern Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty (960-1279) is noted for casting cash coins with beautiful calligraphy.

One of the most famous coins is the da guan tong bao (大观通宝) cast during the years 1107-1110 of the reign of Emperor Huizong of the Northern Song.

The calligraphy on the coin was done by Emperor Huizong himself in a style known as “Slender Gold” script (shou ji ti 瘦金体 or tie xian shu  铁线书).

The museum has a large collection of these da guan tong bao coins as can be seen in the display above.

An enlarged view may be seen by clicking the image.

A different view of the Da Guan Tong Bao coins

A different view of the Da Guan Tong Bao coins

At the left is a different view of the da guan tong bao coins.

Please click the image for a better view.

The museum has a large collection of Chinese sycee (xi si 细丝) which are also referred to as yuan bao (元宝).

The sycee was a form of silver currency made into various shapes.  They circulated as a form of money as early as the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States Periods.

Their value was determined by their weight.

Sycee were usually made by silversmiths instead of official mints.

Their value was determined by their weight.  Moneyhandlers known as shroffs would determine the purity and weight in taels (liang 两).

Chinese Boat Sycee

Chinese Boat Sycee

The image at the left shows one of the sycee display cases.

Sycee are often categorized by their shape.  The specimens in this case are known as boat sycee (ma di yin 马蹄银).

For a very detailed view, please click the image.

(More specimens of boat sycee with detailed descriptions may be seen at this excellent website.)

Chinese Round Sycee

Chinese Round Sycee

At the left is another display case exhibiting a collection of round sycee (yuan ding 圆锭).

Please click the image for a close-up view of the display.

(More information and specimens of round sycee may be seen here.)

Trade Silver Bars

Trade Silver Bars

This case displays a different type of  sycee.

The sign in the showcase states that these are “trade silver bars” (mao yi yin tiao 贸易银条).

An enlarged view may be seen by clicking the image.

Coins cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor of the Qing Dynasty

Coins cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor of the Qing Dynasty

The final images show a display of coins cast during the reign (1851-1861) of the Xianfeng Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Because of  huge military expenses needed to suppress the Taiping Rebellion, a great variety of large denomination cash coins were cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor.

The small cash coins cast by Xianfeng are called tong bao (通宝).  Coins with a value of four to fifty cash are called zhong bao (重宝).  Coins with a value of one hundred to one thousand cash are called yuan bao (元宝).

The display sign states that the coins in the case are zhong bao.  However, if you click the image and view the coins close up you will see that the case also includes yuan bao coins.

Another view of the coins cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor

Another view of the coins cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor

This is another view of the coins cast during the reign of the Xianfeng Emperor.

An enlarged view may be seen by clicking the image.

It is fortunate that the Chinese blogger decided to publish his personal photographs of some of the collection at the Qi Heritage Museum.

In so doing, he has provided collectors around the world the opportunity to clearly see authentic specimens of some of China’s rarest ancient coins.

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Ming Dynasty Cloisonne Charm

The vast majority of old Chinese charms are made of bronze or brass.  Towards the end of the imperial period, charms made of silver also became popular.

Cloisonne is an ancient method of creating colorful designs on metal objects.  Small silver or gold wires are soldered onto a metal object and the areas within the wire design are filled with enamel after which the object is fired in a kiln.

The technique began to appear in China during the fourteenth or fifteenth century and the earliest reliably dated Chinese cloisonne objects date to the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Rare cloisonne charm from the Ming Dynasty

Rare cloisonne charm from the Ming Dynasty

At the left is a rare Ming dynasty cloisonne charm (明代景泰蓝花钱).

The Chinese inscription is written in large red enamel characters with gold wire outline.  The inscription is read in a counter-clockwise manner, starting at the 8 o’clock position, as nan wu a mi tuo fo (南無阿彌陀佛) which translates as “I put my trust in Amida Buddha“.

Between the Chinese characters are various colored lotus blossoms.  The colors have different associations.

A white lotus represents the womb of the world from which all things emerged.  It also symbolizes the state of total mental purity and spiritual perfection.

The white lotus is also associated with the Ming Dynasty.  Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋), a military leader of the White Lotus Society (白蓮教), led a rebellion that resulted in the establishment of the Ming Dynasty in 1368 with himself enthroned as the Hongwu Emperor (洪武帝).

A pink lotus represents the Gautama Buddha, the historical Buddha.

A red lotus represents the original nature of the heart and symbolizes love, compassion and passion.

A blue lotus symbolizes wisdom, knowledge and victory of the spirit over the senses.

Chinese cloisonne charm displaying the Eight Buddhist Treasure Symbols and inscribed "Made during the reign of Wanli"

Chinese cloisonne charm displaying the Eight Buddhist Treasure Symbols and inscribed “Made during the reign of Wanli”.

The Chinese inscription in large red enamel characters with gold wire outline on the reverse side of the charm is also read in a counter-clockwise manner.

The inscription, beginning at the 1 o’clock position, reads wan li nian zhi (萬歷年制) which translates as “Made during the (reign) of Wan Li”.

The Wanli Emperor (万历) was the thirteenth emperor of the Ming Dynasty and reigned during the period 1572-1620.

The Wanli Emperor was a strong patron of Buddhism.

Interspersed between the Chinese characters are the Eight Buddhist Treasure Symbols (八吉祥, 佛教八宝) also known as the Eight Auspicious Symbols.

Beginning at the 12 o’clock position and moving clockwise, is the ceremonial umbrella or parasol (阳伞).  The parasol symbolizes high rank.  People of high rank or royalty were protected from rain and sunshine by servants holding a parasol.  In Buddhism, this symbol of wealth and power takes on the meaning of spiritual power.

The conch shell (螺, 白海螺), at the 1 o’clock position, is used to call Buddhists together for an assembly.  The conch shell therefore symbolizes the true teachings and also the voice of the Buddha.

The wheel or flaming wheel (法輪), at the 3 o’clock position, represents the Wheel of Law or dharma which is the teachings of the Buddha.  The eight spokes symbolize the Eightfold path.  The perfect circular form represents the completeness and perfection of the Buddha’s teachings.  The wheel also represents the unbroken chain of births and rebirths.

The endless knot (吉祥结, 无尽结), at the 5 o’clock position, represents long life, eternal love and the interconnection of all things.  The endless knot has no beginning or end and therefore symbolizes the infinite knowledge of the Buddha.

The pair of fish (双鱼; golden fish 两只金鱼), at the 6 o’clock position, symbolize fertility and salvation from suffering.

The treasure vase (Urn of Wisdom 宝瓶), at the 8 o’clock position, symbolizes spiritual abundance and the fulfilment of spiritual wishes.

The lotus (莲花), at the 9 o’clock position, represents mental purity.  Just like the lotus flower that rises up from the depths of a muddy pond to blossom above the water’s surface, all sentient beings have the potential to attain buddhahood.

The victory banner (state canopy 胜利幢), at the 11 o’clock position, represents spiritual authority, victory over ignorance and evil, and the protection of the Buddha.

Cloisonne only began to appear in China during the Ming Dynasty.  Cloisonne charms dating from that period are very rare.

For more information and examples of Chinese Buddhist charms, please see Buddhist Charms.

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Nine-Fold Seal Script Charm

Beginning with the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and extending to the last years of imperial China, government seals were engraved in a very stylized Chinese script known as “nine-fold” seal script.

This rounded and convoluted script is both ornate and authoritarian but can be difficult to read by the uninitiated.

A few very rare coins cast during the Song Dynasty had their inscriptions written in nine-fold seal script ( jiu die wen 九叠文).

Ming Dynasty charm with inscription "happiness, longevity, health and composure" written in nine-fold seal script

Ming Dynasty charm with inscription “happiness, longevity, health and composure” written in nine-fold seal script

Shown at the left is a rare Chinese charm dating from the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) which has its inscription written in nine-fold seal script.

According to scholars who can read this script, the inscription on the obverse side is fu shou kang ning (福寿康宁) which translates as “happiness, longevity, health and composure”.

This is a reference to the “Five Blessings” (wufu 五福), which was first mentioned in the ancient Chinese classic known as the “Book of History” (shujing 书经).

This inscription is often found on old Chinese charms.

Reverse side of charm has inscription "one hundred happinesses and one hundred longevities" written in nine-fold seal script

Reverse side of charm has inscription “one hundred happinesses and one hundred longevities” written in nine-fold seal script

The inscription on the reverse side is also written in nine-fold seal script and, according to scholars, reads as bai fu bai shou (百福百寿).  This is an auspicious wish meaning “one hundred happinesses and one hundred longevities”.

While the charm shows some wear after having been handled and handed down for some 500 years, the bronze has adopted a beautiful tone and the nine-fold seal script has a wonderful appearance.

In addition to its wish for happiness, long life and good health, this charm is a work of art.

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Happiness Is Before Your Eyes

The Chinese love visual puns.

A bat on a Chinese cash coin means "happiness is before your eyes"

A bat on a Chinese cash coin means “happiness is before your eyes”

The old Chinese charm displayed at the left is a good example.

The charm shows a bat on top of two coins.

Coins with the inscription wu zhu (五铢) were first used during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and then produced during a number of dynasties until the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD).

Wu Zhu coins were thus cast for more than 700 years which made them the longest used coin in Chinese history.

For this reason, the two coins symbolize both “wealth” and “longevity”.

But to understand the deeper meaning of the charm, one must be familiar with a few simple numismatic terms.

First, the word for “coin” in Chinese is qian (钱) which happens to have the same pronunciation as the word “before” (qian 前).

Second, the square hole in the center of a cash coin is called a “yan” (眼) which means “eye”.

You will notice that the bat is on the coin’s square hole.

We can therefore say that “the bat is on the coin’s eye”.  In Chinese this would be “the bat (fu 蝠) lies (zai 在) on the eye (yan 眼) of the coin (qian 钱)” or fu zai yan qian.

However, a bat symbolizes “happiness” to the Chinese because the Chinese word for “bat” (fu 蝠) sounds exactly the same as the Chinese word for “happiness” or “good fortune” (fu 福).

Therefore, saying “the bat is on the coin’s eye” (fu zai yan qian) sounds exactly the same as saying “happiness is before your eyes” (happiness (fu 福) is (zai 在) eyes (yan 眼) before (qian 眼).

The design of the charm cleverly includes a visual pun which conveys the auspicious wish fu zai yan qian meaning “happiness is before your eyes”.

One final note of interest concerning this charm.  If you hang it vertically, which is the way it would normally be carried, the shape resembles a gourd which to the Chinese has a multitude of hidden meanings which I discuss in detail at Ancient Chinese Gourd Charms.

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Chinese archaeologists recently completed their work excavating an ancient tomb located near Luoyang (洛阳), Henan Province (河南省), according to recent reports in the Chinese press.

Archaeologists believe the tomb belongs to Emperor Jiemin of Northern Wei

Archaeologists believe the tomb belongs to Emperor Jiemin of Northern Wei

The archaeologists from the Luoyang Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Artifacts (洛阳市文物考古研究院) can be seen working in the tomb in the image at the left.

The archaeologists believe that the tomb belongs to Emperor Jiemin (节闵帝) of the Northern Wei (北魏).  Emperor Jiemin is sometimes referred to by his personal name Yuan Gong (元恭).

The Northern Wei was a Mongolian dynasty and Emperor Jiemin ruled during the years 498-532 AD.

Historical sources reveal that after the capital was moved to Luoyang, six Northern Wei emperors died and were buried in the area.  Documents specifically mention the tombs of Emperor Xiaowen (孝文帝长陵), Emperor Xuanwu (宣武帝景陵), Emperor Xiaoming (孝明帝定陵) and Emperor Xiaozhuang (孝庄帝静陵).

The historical records are not clear in regard to the tombs of Yuan Ye (Prince of Changguang 长广王元晔) and Emperor Jiemin.

Because Yuan Ye reigned for only a few months (530-531), the archaeologist do not believe that a tomb of this magnitude could not have been built during his reign.

Given the scale of the tomb, its location and configuration, as well as the length of time it would have taken to build, the archaeologists have preliminarily concluded that the tomb must therefore belong to Jiemin.

This would be the fifth Northern Wei emperor tomb discovered in Luoyang.

The path leading down to the grave is 39.7 meters in length and 2.9 meters in width.  The tomb chamber is 19.2 meters in length and 12 meters in width.

While a number of artifacts were recovered, many had suffered damage.

Gold coin found in the tomb of Emperor Jiemin of Northern Wei and minted during the reign of Anastasius I of the Byzantine Empire.

Gold coin found in the tomb of Emperor Jiemin of Northern Wei and minted during the reign of Anastasius I of the Byzantine Empire.

However, the most important artifact discovered in the tomb was a gold coin (solidus) in excellent condition.

The coin, shown at the left, was minted during the reign of Anastasius I (阿纳斯塔修斯一世) who was the Byzantine Emperor during the period 491-518 AD.

The coin is 2.1-2.2 cm in diameter and is one of only a few Byzantine gold coins ever unearthed by archaeologists in China.

According to the archaeologists, the discovery of this Byzantine gold coin in a Chinese emperor’s tomb provides further evidence that Luoyang was the eastern terminus of the ancient Silk Road (丝绸之路).

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Knife Money from State of Qi Unearthed in Shandong

A farmer working in a field in Shandong Province recently unearthed an ancient knife-shaped form of money from the Warring States period (475 BC – 221 BC), according to a Chinese newspaper article published today.

A farmer from Shandong displays the knife money he discovered from the ancient State of Qi

A farmer from Shandong displays the knife money he discovered from the ancient State of Qi

Mr. Jia Qingguang (贾清广) was sifting sand at his farm in Liaocheng (聊城市) in China’s eastern province of Shandong when he discovered this knife-shaped money known in Chinese as dao bi (刀币).

The image at the left shows Mr. Jia holding the knife money.

The newspaper report provides little information regarding the the knife other than it is believed to have been cast during the Warring States period.  The knife is 15 cm in length and has Chinese characters on one side only.

The newspaper article does not specify the type of knife money but “hopes that the relevant departments will help identify it”.

Inscription on the State of Qi knife translates as "Jimo Legal Money"

Inscription on the State of Qi knife translates as “Jimo Legal Money”

However, if you look carefully at the close-up image of the knife shown here, you can see that it is a “four character” (四字)  large knife from the State of Qi (齐国).  The inscription is ji mo fa hua (即墨法化) which translates as “Jimo legal money”.

The State of Qi existed from 1046 BC to 221 BC and occupied the area of what is now Shandong Province where the knife was discovered.

Jimo (即墨) was a city in the State of Qi and was the site of a very famous battle in 283 BC which I describe in detail in an article entitled “Battle of Jimo Horse Coin”.

It is believed that Qi produced knife money during approximately 400-220 BC.  Besides “four character” (四字刀) knives, Qi also issued knife money with three (三字刀), five (五字刀) and six characters (六字刀).

(For more about the Four Character knives (四字刀) and Five Character knives (五字刀), please see Ancient Chinese Coin Exhibit at the Qi Heritage Museum.)

(Six Character knives (六字刀) are discussed in detail at State of Qi Six Character Knife Money.)

Some knives have Chinese characters on the reverse side and some do not, as is the case with this specimen.

Specimens of this type of knife money are typically 15-16 cm in length and weigh 23-45 grams.

The State of Qi was the last state to be conquered by the armies of Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇) who then unified China in 221 BC.

All State of Qi large knives are considered to be rare.

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Stringing Cash Coins

Arthur Henderson Smith was a famous American missionary who went to China in 1872.  He worked in Shandong Province until the Boxer Rebellion forced him to flee and take refuge at the Legation Quarter in Peking in 1900.

Smith wrote several books about China including “Village Life in China” which was published in 1899.

Stringing Cash Coins

Stringing Cash Coins

The book contains a rare photograph, shown at the left, of men in the process of putting cash coins on strings.

Counting the coins and placing them on strings was a laborious task as described below:

“The sales which have been made during the day are for small sums only, and as all the cash has to be counted and strung on hemp cords so as to make the full string of 1,000 cash (or 500 in some parts of the country), this counting and stringing of the money takes a great deal of time, and is very tiresome work when done by the quantity…”

Money-changers charged for this service according to “Guttag’s Foreign Currency and Exchange Guide” published in 1921:

“Money-changers charge for the trouble of stringing the coins and also for the cost of the string by deducting a certain number of Cash from each roll.  This rate of discount is fixed locally so that the Tiao (diao 吊), which normally consists of 1,000 Cash, may contain in one district 965 and in another 980 actual coins.”

Even in stringing cash coins, the Chinese did not want to miss an opportunity to make an additional profit as Smith describes below:

“In the case of firms having any considerable business, after the day’s work is all over, the clerks are liable to be required to spend the evening in untying all the numerous strings of cash that have come in, with a view to the discovery of any rare coins that might be sold at a special price.  All is fish that comes to a Chinese net, and sooner or later there is very little that does not find its way there to the profit of its owner.”

While it is common for coin collectors to closely examine each coin in a string of cash looking for rare specimens, it is surprising to learn that merchants during the Qing Dynasty routinely did so as well.

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Cycling Across Imperial China

The two American cyclists reach north China in 1892. Few Chinese had ever seen a Westerner, much less a bicycle.

The two American cyclists reach north China in 1892. Few Chinese had ever seen a Westerner, much less a bicycle.

Two Americans decided to take a trip.

The year was 1890 and Thomas G. Allen Jr. and William L. Sachtleben had just graduated from my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis.

The “ordinary” (“penny-farthing“) bicycle with the very large front wheel and very small back wheel was just beginning to be replaced by the new “safety” bicycle which had two small wheels with the rear wheel driven by chain and sprocket.

They decided to ride around-the-world on this new type of bicycle.  They also purchased the newly introduced Kodak film camera to record their journey.

Their adventure was documented in a book they authored entitled “Across Asia on a Bicycle” and published in 1894.

During the three year journey, they experienced tremendous adventures.

Their travel across China began in 1892 in Kuldja which was the Russian name for the city of Yining in the far western region of Xinjiang.

Preparations for the grueling crossing to Peking were meticulous:

“Our work of preparation was principally a process of elimination.  We now had to prepare for a forced march in case of necessity.

“Handle-bars and seat-posts were shortened to save weight…

“The cutting off of buttons and extra parts of our clothing, as well as shaving of our heads and faces, was also included…”

But a major challenge was how to carry money as these excerpts reveal:

“And now the money problem was the most perplexing of all.

“This alone,” said the Russian consul, “if nothing else, will defeat your plans.

“We thought we had sufficient money to carry us, or, rather, as much as we could carry…for the weight of the Chinese money necessary for a journey of over three thousand miles was, as the Russian consul thought, one of the greatest of our almost insurmountable obstacles.

William L. Sachtleben (right) with a Russian friend “loaded with enough Chinese ‘cash’ to pay for a meal at a Kuldja restaurant”.

“In the interior of China there is no coin except the chen or sapeks (referring to qian 钱 or “cash coins”), an alloy of copper and tin, in the form of a disk, having a hole in the center by which the coins may be strung together.

“The very recently coined liang, or tael (referring to Chinese minted ‘silver dollar’ coins), the Mexican piaster (referring to the Mexican silver coin) specially minted for the Chinese market, and the other foreign coins, have not yet penetrated from the coast.  For six hundred miles over the border, however, we found … the Russian money… serviceable among the Tatar merchants, while the tenga (a silver coin of Russian Turkestan), or Kashgar silver-piece, was preferred by the natives even beyond the Gobi, being much handier than the larger or smaller bits of silver broken from the yamba bricks.

“All, however, would have to be weighed in the tinza, or small Chinese scales we carried with us, and on which were marked the fün, tchan, and liang of the monetary scale.

“But the value of these terms is reckoned in chen (Chinese cash coins), and changes with almost every district.  This necessity for vigilance, together with the frequency of bad silver and loaded yambas, and the propensity of the Chinese to “knock down” on even the smallest purchase, tends to convert a traveler in China into a veritable Shylock.

“There being no banks or exchanges in the interior, we were obliged to purchase at Kuldja all the silver we would need for the entire journey of over three thousand miles.

“How much would it take?” was the question… That our calculations were close is proved by the fact that we reached Peking with silver in our pockets to the value of half a dollar.

“Our money now constituted the principal part of our luggage…

“Most of the silver was chopped up into small bits, and placed in the hollow tubing of the machines to conceal it from Chinese inquisitiveness, if not something worse.

“We are glad to say, however, that no attempt at robbery was ever discovered, although efforts at extortion were frequent, and sometimes…of a serious nature.”

The journey took three years and ended in New York in 1893.  They became instant celebrities just as bicycling was beginning to become very popular.

Their extraordinary adventure, which I encourage you to read in its entirety, was described by one journalist as “the greatest journey since Marco Polo”.

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