ANCIENT CHINESE jade imitation cowrie


CHINA, ZHOU Dynasty, 1122-255 BC, imitation cowrie, Obverse: carved as a “bottom” on both sides, jade, 13x20mm, VF

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There are two aspects to cowrie substitutes. One was that cowries had value, it was custom of the time to bury the dead with grave goods, over time the grave goods became more and more imitations of the real thing. The other was that in regions where cowries were scarce they might make imitations for the market, because something was better than nothing.

There are a variety of small bronze items that have been speculatively considered to have been some kind of local money, but they are not mentioned in the classical Chinese monetary and numismatic books. Notwithstanding, some of these objects are found in such large quantities that it seems reasonable to consider them as money objects. The idea that enigmatic bronze objects were early forms of Chinese “money” was popularized in Europe by a monograph written by H. A. Ramsden in 1912.

Zhou dynasty was a confederation of little kingdoms with a figurehead Emperor. Various constituent states started using money in their commercial activities. Odd shaped coins such as spade, knife, ant, nose, yibi, and possible money items like fish and cicada money were followed by the early round coins.