CHINA, ZHOU Dynasty, 1122-255 BC, clay imitation cowrie


CHINA, ZHOU Dynasty, 1122-255 BC, imitation cowrie, no date, Obverse: patterned all over, Reverse: smooth without holes, unusual comma shape, clay, 14x22mm, 1.33g, funerary, 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.

The oldest Chinese coins are at least as old as the earliest Greek coins. The Chinese coinage system differed from other systems in two ways. It was monometallic, only bronze coins circulated in general commerce. Gold and silver were treated as commodities. And the manufacturing method was by casting in moulds rather than by striking heated solid planchets. The main reference I use in attributing and describing these coins is the book: Chinese Cast Coins, by David Hartill.