This retrospective collection features copper cash coins from five of the greatest Chinese dynasties. The base design of the characters around the square hole was unchanged for over 2000 years.
China is one of the world’s greatest civilizations. Among its manifold achievements are the so-called Four Great Inventions: paper, gunpowder, moveable type, and the magnetic compass. Unsurprisingly for such an advanced society, China’s sophisticated money system dates back thousands of years.
Minted for more than two millennia from copper and iron, Chinese cash coins all have easily identifiable legends, although countless varieties are to be found. From the mint names, first used regularly by the T’ang Emperors, we can trace the expansion of China. The size changes of the coins mark the periods when inflation affected the country.
HAN DYNASTY: (7 - 23 AD) The Emperor Wang Mang carried out four major reforms of the monetary system with the idea of restoring ancient institutions. He had instituted altogether 37 kinds of money of different substances, patterns and units, most notably the “bao huo” system, consisting of five substances with six names and 28 units. The disorder of his monetary system brought great misery to the people.
T’ANG DYNASTY (618 - 907 AD) Emperor Gaozu of the Tang Dynasty abolished the coinage based on a weight of Wu Zhu (five zhu) and began to cast Kai Yuan Tong Bao in the fourth year of Wu De reign. Ever since then, Chinese money, no longer named after weight, was called Tong Bao, Yuan Bao, or Zhong Bao.
SONG DYNASTY (960 - 1279 AD) The copper coin was still the main form of currency during the Song Dynasty, although silver ingots and paper money were gaining traction. The coins of the Song were complicated by the great variety and the vast number of names and titles. Each emperor minted money at enthronement, and also after each of the frequent changes of imperial title.
MING DYNASTY (1368 - 1644) After Zhu Yuanzhang ascended the throne, he developed the Hong Wu monetary system. Because of widespread forgery and shortage of bronze, the use of paper money was revived. Over a long period of time, only a small amount of bronze coins were minted. From the first year of Jia Jing reign, paper money fell out of use and the minting of bronze coins resumed. After that, every emperor minted his own coins.
Q’ING DYNASTY (1636 - 1911)
In the Q’ing Dynasty, silver and bronze coins were used as parallel standards. Those with large face value were cast in silver, and those with small value were cast in bronze. The bronze coins minted during the reigns of Emperors Kang Xi and Qian Long were well shaped, and the weights were standardized. Later, smaller coins were introduced, as the mintage laws became lax and less binding. During the Xian Feng reign, the Taiping Revolution broke out. To meet vast military expenses, various kinds of coins with high face value, from ten to a thousand cash, were minted in a variety of sizes and weights. During the last years of Xian Feng, the Q’ing government was compelled to stop minting big coins. The system of square-holed coins was on the brink of collapse.
The Coins: These coins are genuine ancient Chinese bronze coins minted over the span of nearly two thousand years. Weight range: 1.5-4.5 g; Diameter range: 20.5-25.5 mm.
Unlike many ancient coins that were struck with dies to form the coin, Chinese cash were laboriously hand made by casting, or molding from molten bronze. Several coins were cast simultaneously in a form that resembles a flattened tree. When the molten bronze was poured into the a mold, it flowed down a central shaft and out along several “branches” to fill the coin-shaped voids of the mold, thus creating the finished “tree.” After cooling, the molds were opened and the coins were pruned from their “sprues,” then were filed smooth to erase the cut area.
Square center holes were introduced circa 221 BCE by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, during the Qin Dynasty.
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