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This is a reference guide to the cast coins of China, not a listing of coins offered for sale (although a listing of examples we currently have available can be viewed on our : our vcoins store.
Images represent the types and may be larger or smaller than the actual coins.
Ch'in existed as a feudal state under the Zhou since before 1000 BC, casting coins (currently listed under Zhou) from about 400 BC.
Traditionally we refer to the Ch'in Dynasty as beginning in 255 BC when the Ch'in conquered the Zhou. Some date it to 221 BC when they finished unifying China (note this unified China was much smaller than the China we know today), but the Ch'in themselves probably would have used a date of about 325 BC when Duke Hsuan Wen adopted the title of Emperor after defeating the state of Wen and withdrew Ch'in allegiance to the Zhou.
|Duke Hsiao *||361-338 BC|
|Duke Hsuan Wen|
known as Emperor Hsuan Wen after 325 BC
|Emperor Wu||310-307 BC|
|Emperor Chao Siang||306-251 BC|
known as Emperor Ch'in Shih Huang after 221 BC
|Emperor Ti||221-210 BC|
|Emperor Eri Shih Huang Tii||209-207 BC|
* "Duke" is the closest title we have found for the early rulers of Ch'in.
It is commonly accepted that in 221 BC, at the time of the unification, Ch'in introduced the Pan (pronounced "Ban") Liang coinage, discontinuing knife and spade coinage. This is by no means certain and we find it difficult to accept, believing the coinage of this period is more complex and knife and spade coinage was phased out gradually. We previously discussed the possibility that some Square-Foot Spades and early Square-Holed Round Coins were cast under the Ch'in, but we also believe the earliest Pan Liang were cast before 221 BC.
During the Zhou period, there had been a direct connection between the "Liang as a weight" (12 grams when applied to coinage) and the Liang as a coin denomination. About the time the Chin Dynasty established control over China (and possibly a little earlier), the Pan Liang (or 1/2 Liang) coinage was introduced at this weight standard (about 6 grams), but very quickly the connection between the weight and the monetary unite ceased to apply.
This series is difficult to classify, with specimens occurring at weights from 2 to 18 grams (but rarely over 12 grams), and diameters from 14 to over 34 mm. Having examined a number of Pan Liang hoards, we found most specimens within a single hoard will be of uniform diameter but the weight can vary significantly. This had lead us to believe the coins diameter is the important factor in determining the period or issue. While the AVERAGE weight of an issue is closely tied to the diameter, the weights of individual specimens can vary so much (up to 200%) as to be almost meaningless (see our earlier discussion of weights).
Unfortunately, not enough dateable hoard or archeological evidence currently exists to work out the exact classification of the Pan Liang series, but the Records of Han provide a clue, stating that heavy Pan Liang were cast until about 187 BC. We believe this refers to the larger specimens (over 30 mm) which range between 6 and 12 grams but averaging 7 to 8 grams or 15 shu. This is exactly 1/2 the weight of a ming style knife, and it maybe these were first introduced as a half unit of those knife coins, during the late Zhou period.
This could make the earliest issues contemporaries of the Ming-Huo Round Coin Series, but since they were cast to the heavy standard down to 180 BC, it may not be possible to differentiate between the Zhou, Ch'in and early Han dynasty issues. Much research is needed on this area.
Most references suggest that the large Pan Liang coins were the principle coinage of the Chin Dynasty, but a problem arose; they are rather scarce, in fact they have a higher scarcity than ming knifes and square foot spades. If they really had been the principle coinage of China for over 75 years, they should be fairly common. This takes us back to our earlier theory that square-foot spades, and possibly ming knifes, were still in use throughout much of the Ch'in period, and may in fact have been the principle coinage of Ch'in.
|S-79-81, FD-385/6. Obverse: "PAN LIANG". Reverse: blank. These come in a wide variety of weights, ranging from about 9 grams to as high as 18 grams. Examples this size are scarce and like other Pan Liang coins, the heavier specimens are most prized by collectors so sell for more, even through all were probably part of the same issue.||Over 12 grams
|Under 12 grams
It is likely that the 34+ mm Pan Liang coins are the earliest issues and may date to the period when the Chin Dynasty was a sub-dynasty under the Zhou. While specimens of this larger issue weighing over and under 12 grams probably date to the same period, many collectors value the heavier specimens more highly.
|30 to 32 mm|
(average 31 mm)
|S-82-84. Obverse: "PAN LIANG". Reverse: blank. Average (4 specimens) 6.38 grams (range 4 to 12 grams). Collectors prize the heavier specimens, so the weight does affect the value in the market, but when these coins were in use it probably was not a factor in their circulating values. Specimens over 12 grams exist and command a premium price, but they are rare.
The official records of Han suggest that the coins of this size were made continuously throughout the later Chin and early Han periods, and one probably cannot assign them specifically to one Dynasty or the other.
|10 to 12 grams|
|8 to 10 grams|
|4 to 8 grams|
Pan Liangs under 30 mm can safely be assigned to the Western Han Dynasty and are discussed under that heading.
It seems likely the Ch'in government would have had a method of determining the mint and period of issue of any given coin, as such systems appear to have been in place on other coins for over 100 years. No mint marks occur on these coins, but it is unreasonable to assume all were cast at a single mint. The many calligraphy variations probably hold the key to this puzzle but with no official records extant, it is unlikely this will ever be fully understood.
Physical characteristics of Pan Liang are simple and consistent long throughout the Ch'in and Han periods. All have the two characters "Pan" and "Liang" flanking a square hole (many minor calligraphy variations exist), and the reverse is always blank. The edges are generally sharp and unfinished, with a rough area where the casting sprew was broken off. With the exception of some very late issues (Han period), none have inner or outer rims. They appear to have been cast in reusable carved stone (steatite) molds, several of which still exist today.
According to Michael Mitchiner (in Oriental Coins and their Values, The Ancient & Classical World, page 684), the suicide of Erh Shih Huang Ti (last Emperor of Ch'in) in 206 BC, resulted in a civil war in which a series of rebels fought for control of China. The most important of these rebels were Hiang-yu and Liu-peng. The Western Han dynasty does not actually begin until Liu-peng arose the victor, declaring himself Emperor of Han in BC 202.
No specific coins can be assigned to this period and it is likely a coinage based on the Ch'in types would have been continued.
The House of Han ruled all China for almost four hundred years. The traditional starting date for Han rule is 206 BC but, as discussed above, 202 BC may be more accurate. They were first known as the Western Han, ruling from Ch'ang-an in Shansi Province. Broken only by the brief interregnum of Wang Mang's Hsin dynasty of AD 9 to 22, the Western Han lasted until AD 25 when the capital was moved to Lo-yang (in Honan Province) and the name was changed to Eastern Han.
|Rebel Liu-peng||BC 206-203|
formerly Rebel Liu-peng
with Lu Hou as regent
also known as Lu Hou
|Wen Ti||BC 179-157|
|King Ti||BC 156-141|
|Wu Ti||BC 140-87|
|Chao Ti||BC 86-74|
|Hsuan Ti||BC 73-49|
|Yuan Ti||BC 48-33|
|Ch'eng Ti||BC 32-5|
|Ngai Ti||BC 6-1|
Wang Mang as regent
|Ju Tze Ying|
Wang Mang as acting Emperor
|Rebel Wang Mang||AD 9-22|
|Kuang Wu Ti|
also know as Liu*
*Liu was the last Emperor of Western Han
and the first emperor of Eastern Han.
There is little doubt that the Pan Liang were the principle coins circulating at the start of the Han Dynasty, but the dating and proper classification of these coins has long been in dispute. However, the historical Record of Han Wu-ti (as recorded by Schjoth page 7-8) gives an outline of how this coinage developed during the Han period, and we have found the coins to be consistent with this record.
|YEAR||THE HISTORICAL RECORD OF HAN WU-TI|
|Prior to 187 BC||Down to the reign of Empress Kao (187-180 BC), Pan Liang of 12 shu circulated alongside illicitly cast lightweight Pan Liang, called elm-leaves.|
|187-180 BC||During the reign of Empress Kao (187-180 BC) the Pan Liang was reduced to a weight of 8 shu.|
|179 BC||Emperor Hsiao Wen reduced the Pan Liang to 4 shu.|
|140 BC||Emperor Wu issued a new coinage called the "San-shu" (3 shu).|
|136 BC||Emperor Wu withdrew the San-shu, replacing it with a Pan Liang of 3 shu.|
|118 BC||The Pan Liang were withdrawn and replaced with the totally new Wu-shu (5 shu) coinage.|
Some researchers have dismissed the ancient records as nonfactual as they have difficulty matching the average weight of coins encountered, with those records. I think those researchers are forgetting that there are two possible weights meant by a shu, the first an official weight as a weight at 0.65 grams per shu, the second the weight a coin of that number of shu would weight at 0.5 grams per shu ( these official records to match the coins we see) as per this chart :
|PERIOD OF ISSUE||INDICATION IN OLD RECORDS||WEIGHT AT 0.65 GRAMS PER SHU||WEIGHT AT 0.5 GRAM PER SHU|
|Beginning of Han||12 shu||7.8 grams||6.0 grams|
|Reform of 187 BC||8 shu||5.2 grams||4.0 grams|
|Reform of 179 BC||4 shu||2.6 grams||2.0 grams|
|Reform of 136 BC||3 shu||1.95 grams||1.5 grams|
If you were to assume HAN WU-TI was using the 0.5 gram standard to which coins were actually made, his records to not match what can be observed on actual coins. But if you assume HAN WU-TI used the official weight standard of a shu at 0.65 grams, his records are consistent with the weight of actual coins observed, and thus it is very possible he got the dates right as well. It is also important to remember that Chinese coins of this period are not of consistent weight, but they are of fairly consistent sizes. It is the average weight of large numbers of coins within one size range that must be considered, and based on that we get the following chart :
|DATE||EXPECTED AVERAGE WEIGHT||OBSERVED SIZE IN THAT WEIGHT RANGE||COMMENTS||VALUE|
|prior to 187 BC||7.8 grams||30 to 32 mm
(average 31 mm)
|Coins in this size range seem to come in slightly low at about 6.38 grams but very considerably from 4 to 12 grams. It is fairly safe to consider the lightest may be illicit castings and should not be included in the averages, while many of the heaviest ones would have been melted in ancient times because of their high weights, so the slightly low average weight of the surviving examples in this group is not unexpected.
Coins in this size range probably cannot be dated with certainty to either the Later Chin period, or earliest part of the Han period.
|10 to 12 grams|
|8 to 10 grams|
|4 to 8 grams
|187-179 BC||5.2 grams||26 to 27 mm||Coins is this size range average about 5 grams, very close to that expected.||F $6.00
|179-136 BC||2.6 grams||23 to 25 mm with rims||The Ban Liang coins in the 23 to 25 mm that are without rims average about 2.5 grams.||F $5.00
|136-117 BC||1.95 grams||about 24 mm without rims||The Ban Liang coins in the 24 mm range but which have rims are lighter than those without rims, and come in closer to the 1.95 grams standard.||F $5.50
This chart shows is that while the records of HAN WU-TI are probably accurate for giving us the average weight of the coins at particular periods. But we cannot use those weights to date individual coins as there is too much variation between individual specimens. But the sizes of coins are much more consistent and AVERAGE weight of coins within one size is consistent with those records. Thus the key to dating the Ban Liang coins is not by their individual weights, but by their diameters which are consistent within any one period.
|S-85-87 variety. Obverse: "PAN LIANG". Reverse: blank. These vary in size from about 12 to 18 mm, but are all very light weight and crudely cast. A recent group we had of 18 mm specimens averaged 0.45 grams each (which included the example illustrated). The prices very depending on the size and weight, and in this case smaller is better.||12 to 15 mm
|15 to 18 mm
Generally crudely cast, it is almost certain these are contemporary counterfeits and include the coins referred to in the official Han records as dating to before 180 BC. However it is also likely light-weight illicit castings occurred throughout the period of the Pan Liang coins and I am not certain it is save to date them all to pre-180 BC.
|The Pan Liang coins with outer and sometimes inner rims (often poorly formed) tend to be lighter than those without any evidence of rims, usually around 2 grams. But they are in the roughly 24 mm size range. As discussed on the table above, they should be dated to the period following the coinage reform of 136 BC. Further evidence for this dating exists in the San Shu coinage discussed below.||F $5.50
There are also a number of Pan Liang with odd variations that are fairly interesting but about which little is actually known. We will record here the varieties that come through our hands, but if you are interested in these there is a long list of them in Cooles work on this series.
S-96-98 variety. "LIANG PAN". On occasion we run into these pan liang coins with the inscriptions reversed (Schjoth has three specimens). They are too common to be simple errors, although we cannot rule out that they are contemporary counterfeits. A specimen we recently had was 23.5 mm and 2.25 grams, which is within the correct range for Ban Liang of the 179 to 136 BC period.
COOLE-9196. Obverse: "PAN LIANG" with four sloped lines at the top. Reverse: blank. One of the four sloped lines is weak, but they all look like they were put there intentionally and are definitely part of the original casting as they are in raised metal. The specimen illustrated is 24.5 mm, 2.8 grams.
S-103. Obverse: "SAN-SHU" (3 shu) with a poorly developed outer rim. Reverse: blank. 22.5 mm. Average (3 specimens) weight 2.91 grams Size 23.4 mm. There is some variation on the size and weight of these.
The official records of Han say these San Shu (3 shu) coins were cast by Emperor Wu starting in the first year of his reign title Chien-yuan which is 136 BC during the period of the Ban Liang last Ban Liang coins without rims. The two specimens we have so far located averaged 2.55 grams, which is the same weight standard as those coins.
It would appear that Emperor Wu was attempted a coinage reform to replace the Ban Liang with a new monetary unit with one that actually named the Shu, but cast to the same standard as the already existing Ban Liang. The rarity of these coins show it was a short lived and failed experiment, and it is not difficult to see why. "SAN-SHU" (3 shu) implies a weight of 1.95 grams at the official weight standard of a shu, and 1.5 grams normal weight a coin of 3 shu. But they average about 2.5 grams which is the weight of a 5 shu coin. Thus they had a higher bullion value than their circulating value, making them ready targets for people to melt to profit from the excess copper in them. Emperor Wu may have done this thinking it would make them popular and thus would circulate, but got the opposite result (popular but would not circulate).
We have no knowledge of how long they were issued for. Their rarity could be because they were withdrawn immediately and the old Ban Liang re-issued at the 2.5 gram standard without rims for the next four years. It is also possible they were the principle coinage down to 140 BC when the lighter Ban Liang with rims was introduced, and their rarity due to excessive melting for their bullion value.
We originally thought these 3 shu coins were without rims, but a specimen recently in our hands (illustrated) had a very poorly developed outer rim on the obverse, similar to the rims on the Ban Liang reform of 140 BC, suggesting that developed directly from these. Thus I suspect it more likely they were issued from 136 to 140 BC but were melted in large numbers and are thus rare.
The record of Han Wu-ti says that in the fifth year of Yuan-shou (118 BC) the light weight Pan-liangs with rims were replaced by the Wu Shu (5 shu). Unlike the crude Pan Liang, Wu Shu were better cast with finished edges usually leaving no trace of the casting sprew, well developed outer rims on both sides and a inner rim on the reverse, and finer calligraphy of a more modern style. They average 2.5 grams which is a return to the weight standard of the Ban Liang of the 179 to 136 BC period, and which is exactly weight a 5 shu coins should weight (using the 0.5 grams per shu standard for coins). For the next three hundred years the diameter is very consistent at about 26 mm. Because of their very long period of issue, with very little change in the coins, they are very common today.
S-257, the generic, commonest Wu Shu type. Obverse: "WU SHU". Reverse: blank. Average 26 mm, 2.5 grams.
Most reference books list the standard Wu-Shu as having been cast continuously from about 118 BC until the start of the T'ang Dynasty in about AD 617. While we agree that coins of the Wu-Shu denomination were cast at various time throughout this period, it is our opinion that the basic standard Wu-Shu as illustrated above were probably only issued until the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty in about AD 220, and that all of the Wu-Shu issued after that date are of distinctly different styles and types. Our evidence for this is complex and is discussed throughout the page on this site devoted to the period between AD 220 and AD 600, but you will have to read the entire page to gain an understanding of it.
Most of the Wu Shu coins one comes across are the very generic type listed above, and one cannot date them exactly (they may have been made for up to about 700 years). It is beyond the scope of this site to list all the subtle varieties of the Wu Shu coinage, but we will list some of the major ones below as they come our way. Like the generic type, most cannot be dated accurately, however there are a few that can be and for these click on the Dynasty's name to link to that listing.
S-257, commonest Wu Shu type with a plain obverse inner hole, but with small but very distinctive evidence of the casting sprews remaining on the edges in two spots. This is simply a coin with improperly finished edges, but it is unusual and gives good evidence that this type was cast in "TREE" form. We have only noticed one of these.
S-115, Wu Shu with a rim on the upper edge of the inner hole on the obverse.
A mold for this type with a upper rim on the inner hole was found (reference Schjoth page 9) dated to the 2nd year of Shen-chio (60 BC), leaving little doubt this was an issue of Emperor Hsuan (73-49 BC).
S-258. Wu Shu with a small raised half dot on the lower inner-rim of the obverse.
In March of 1998, we purchased part of a Wu Shu hoard which contained examples of S-115 (rim on the upper edge of the inner hole) as well as examples of S-259 and S-258 (small and large half dots on the bottom edge of the inner hole). All of the coins were basically as cast, or close to it, with identical powdery green patination over-layered by a very fine brown clay. There is little double but that these coins all came from the same hoard and must have been cast and circulated at about the same time. If S-115 dates to about 60 BC, then these two types must be from that general period as well.
S-304, Wu Shu with the center punched out These are known as "Yen-huan" which means "thread rings". The specimen illustrated appears to have had the center cut out with a slightly irregular shaped punch used from the blank reverse side, and which has slightly dished the coin on that side. Average (6 specimen) 24.0 mm diameter, 16.1 mm inside diameter, 1.60 grams. It is not known exactly when or why these coins were cut down in this way, but the average weight on these suggest the possiblity of a 3 shu denomination.
|WEI DYNASTY, AD 221 - 265|
S-208-210, Bronze 5 shu. "WU SHU". 12.0 mm. Average about 0.75 grams. These diminutive coins have high rims which protect the characters, so these are seldom seen worn, but are sometimes softly cast. We have seen a few specimens with an intentional raised bump on the lower edge of the hole.F $7.50 VF $17.00
|LIANG DYNASTY, AD 502-557|
Issue of Emperor Liang Wu Ti
S-223. Bronze "WU SHU". Reverse: blank. This is the only Wu-shu variety with a full inner rim on the obverse.F $22.50 VF $37.50
|LIANG DYNASTY, AD 502-557|
Issue of Emperor Liang Wu Ti
S-225. Bronze "WU SHU". Reverse: blank. This variety was cast with no rims at all and was known as the "Nu-ch'ien" (female cash).F $22.50 VF $37.50
|Image not yet available||LIANG DYNASTY, AD 502-557|
Issue of Emperor Liang Wu Ti
S-227-231. Bronze "WU-SHU" with the left radical of "SHU" missing. Reverse: blank. Schjoth lists the type both with and without rims.VF $60.00
|LIANG DYNASTY, AD 502-557|
Issue of Emperor Liang Wu Ti
S-232. Iron "WU SHU". This variety was cast with full rims, and lines radiating from the corners on the reverse.F $47.50 VF $69.50
|SUI DYNASTY, AD 581 - 618|
Issue of Emperor WEN
S-253, "WU SHU" with very straight arms on "WU" and wide well-finished rims. From 10 specimens we found an average weight of 2.63 grams and a size of 2.8 mm.F $5.00 VF $8.00
Towards the end of the Western Han Dynasty, China was in effect ruled by the family of Wang through a series of puppet Han emperors. There is some dispute as to what happened in the beginning years of the first century AD, but it appears that Wang Mang became regent for the child emperor P'ing Ti. In AD 7 Wang Mang replaced P'ing Ti with the infant Ju Tze Yung, giving himself the office of Acting Emperor.
As Acting Emperor he introduced three new issues to circulate alongside Wu shus.
Round coins worth 50 Wu Shu (250 shu), knife coins worth 500 Wu Shu (2500 shu),
and knives with gold inlays, worth 5000 Wu Shu (25,000 shu).
Since Wang Mang first issued these as Acting Emperor of Han, they can be considered to be coins of Western Han. A more detailed discussion of these, and others issued of Wang Mang, is available below under the Hsin Dynasty.
The interregnum of Wang Mang was a very interesting time in Chinese history, but remember the old curse, "May you live in interesting times".
The exact dates and events that led Wang Mang to power differ a little between references, but for the time being we are using mostly those given by Robert Tye in his essay WANG MANG (paperback, 20 pages), but in a few cases, where noted, other dates may be used. If you are interested in learning more about this period and would like to read his essay, let us know and we will see if it is still available from him.
About 47 BC, Mang was born into the most powerful family in China, a family that effectively ruled through a series of puppet Han emperors. He held a series of high governmental posts before becoming Minister of War in 7 BC, but fell from favor and retired two years later.
Robert Tye records that in AD 3 Mang became father-in-law to the Emperor and, in AD 6, was appointed regent to the child Emperor P'ing Ti. This differs somewhat from the information recorded by Michael Mitchiner (in Oriental Coins and their Values, The Ancient & Classical World) who says Wang became regent to P'ing Ti in AD 1 but replaced him with Ju Tze Yung in AD 7 at which time Wang gave himself the office of Acting Emperor.
Both sources agree that in AD 9 (January 10 according to Tye) Wang declared himself Emperor, establishing his "Hsin" (new) Dynasty.
The China of Wang Mang's day was one of extreme wealth and yet extreme poverty: a very few owned almost everything while the vast majority of people just barely survived. Wang set up a system very much like modern communism, and through a series of monetary and economic reforms confiscated the wealth of the elite, redistributing part of it among the common people. His first two coinage reforms, along with the nationalization of land in his economic reforms, succeeded in confiscating the wealth of the elite, transferring it to the state treasuries where it remained until Mang's death when 150 tons of gold were found to be still in storage.
He tried (with only partial success) to abolish slavery, he nationalized land and distributed it in plots to those who wished to work it, and he reformed the tax system to make it fair to all. He brought in a system to regulate prices, and his third coinage reform was intended to facilitate trade. None of this worked the way he intended and his fourth and fifth reforms seem to have been an attempt to undo the damage.
In the end, he created a nightmare of political and economic upheaval that resulted in famines, anarchy and rebellions among displaced people. The last years of his reign were a period of chaos during which an estimated twenty-five million people died, about half China's population. It must have been a very interesting time, indeed!
As with many aspects of the early years of Wang Mang, there is dispute over his reign titles. So far we have found the following information, but it may not be fully accurate:
|CHE-SHE **||AD 7 to 8||As acting Emperor of Han|
|AD 9 to 14||As Emperor of Hsin|
|T'IEN-FENG||AD 14 to 22||As Emperor of Hsin|
This first reform was made while he was either regent for the last Western Han Emperor or Acting Emperor. In either case, these are technically Han Dynasty coins.
Wang's intent was to allow Wu Shu to continue to circulate for small transactions, but to introduce a fiduciary (token) coinage to replace gold in larger transactions. This was poorly received by a populous not used to token coinage, so Mang ordered that all gold be turned in and exchanged for the new coins. We have not found a record of the penalty for continuing to hold gold, but many of the aristocracy were executed at this time.
|1 Wu Shu (5 shu)||WU SHU||ROUND COIN|
|50 Wu Shu (250 shu)||TA-CH'UAN WU-SHIH||ROUND COIN|
|500 Wu Shu (2500 shu)||CH'I TAO WU-PAI||KNIFE COIN|
|5000 Wu Shu (25000 shu)||YI-TAO P'ING WU-CHIEN||KNIFE COIN|
S-119, "YI-TAO P'ING WU-CHIEN" (One knife: value five thousand). The "YI-TAO" inscription on the handle is of inlaid gold. Valued at 5000 Wu Shu (25,000 shu). The specimen illustrated is 74 mm long by 15 mm across the blade and 27 mm across the handle. The weight of these varies considerable. The three specimens we have weight range from 25.84 to 38.85 grams and average 31.41 grams.F $1000.00 VF $1400.00
At that time 5000 Wu Shu was equal to 1/2 cattie of gold. A cattie weighed about 120 grams, so these knifes were valued at about 60 grams (2 ounces) of pure gold. We have not been able to find a relative value for gold in ancient China, but in the same time frame in the Roman Empire, this would have been at least a year's wages to an average citizen.
S-116, "CH'I TAO WU-PAI" (Ch'i knife five hundred), value 500 knife coin with the characters in raised bronze. About 75 mm long, 29 mm across the handle and 14 mm across the blade. Average weight (3 specimens) 19.4 grams (range from 18.4 to 20.3). The specimen imaged has been cleaned to reveal the glossy dark gray patina one often seen on Wang Mang coins.VF $375.00 XF $550.00
These knife coins are sometimes referred to as key coins, and are very well cast, although on the value 500 the characters on the ring handle are sometimes weak. The edges are usually finished with slightly coarse file marks around the outside, but much finer file marks on the leading edge of the knife blade (as if the knife had been sharpened). Both types should be examined quite closely as good quality fakes exist. On the value 5000, genuine examples are often found with the gold inlays missing, but for which new inlays have been applied (such specimens are worth less). If the inlays are genuine, the patina should in part overlay them.
S-117, "CH'I TAO WU-PAI" (Ch'i knife five hundred), but only the handle of the knife with the blade intentionally cut off in ancient times (the stub has been filed smooth, and has genuine patina over it). The specimen illustrated is 29.4 mm, 12.0 grams. We have seen at least four others cut this way (and one cut in modern times), but have not yet been able to determine if these were part of one of Wang Mang's reforms, or if they were cut this way after the time of Wang Mang for use during the Eastern Han period, or if they were used as amulets.VF $125.00
S-120+, "TA-CH'UAN WU-SHIH" (Great coin value 50). These are the only coins to circulate during all five of Wang's reforms, and today be very common. We see a great variety of sizes and weights, from about 1.5 to 10 grams. It is likely that the heavier specimens are the earliest and the lighter ones the latest, although specimens under 3 grams are likely contemporary counterfeits. There is a wide variation of calligraphy styles, probably indicating dates and mints, but this information has been lost to us. The high rims protect the coins from wear and these are seldom seen below a grade of VF.
It appears there was a major problem with counterfeiting these token coins, as one would expect when some denominations represented an entire years wages in just one coin. To counter this the death penalty was brought in for this offense, although that does not appear to have solved the problem.
In AD 9, Mang de-monitized the Wu Shus and both the value 500 and 5000 knifes, leaving the Ta-Ch'uan current and adding a smaller new coin, the Hsiao-Ch'uan Chin-Yi (worth 1 Wu (5) Shu but with only 1 Shu worth of metal). Since the people had been forced to turn in their gold in exchange for the high-value knife coins, the de-monetization of them must have destroyed the wealth of many families.
With only two token denominations legally circulating, it appears people continued to use Wu Shu coins, not trusting the new currency. To counter this Mang ordered anyone found holding Wu-shus to be either banished or executed. He was obviously determined to see that the new coinage was accepted!
|1 Wu Shu (5 shu)||HSIAO-CH'UAN CHIH-YI||SMALL ROUND COIN|
|50 Wu Shu (250 shu)||TA-CH'UAN WU-SHIH||ROUND COIN|
S-139-141, "HSIAO-CH'UAN CHIH-YI" (small coin value one). These are very small coins with very high rims and sharp characters but they occasionally show up cast from worn molds. Schjoth lists these as rare, but this is certainly not true today. Average (11 specimens) 1.14 grams, 14.9 mm (but we have seen them from 14.0 to 15.5 mm, and about 1.0 to 1.32 grams).F $12.00 VF $17.50 XF $22.50
This issue tends to have fairly high rims with a very well finished square edge. The patination in normally a very glossy dark brown cuprite, but they are often seen somewhat encrusted. These are seldom seem worn, so are graded according to visual appearance, which usually is most affected by casting quality and surface preservation.
With gold now outlawed and the high value knife money demonetized, large transactions must have been difficult. To facilitate trade, a series of new denominations were added to the two already circulating. Small denominations were round coins of 1, 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 Wu Shu. Large denominations were in the form of spade money from 100 to 1000 Wu Shu by intervals of 100. This brought the total number of denominations in use to sixteen:
|1 Wu Shu||HSIAO-CH'UAN CHIH-YI||ROUND COIN|
|10 Wu Shu||YAO-CH'UAN YI SHIH||ROUND COIN|
|20 Wu Shu||YU-CH'UAN ERH SHIH||ROUND COIN|
|30 Wu Shu||CHUNG CH'UAN SAN SHIH||ROUND COIN|
|40 Wu Shu||CHUANG CH'UAN SSU SHIH||ROUND COIN|
|50 Wu Shu||TA-CH'UAN WU-SHIH||ROUND COIN|
|100 Wu Shu||HSIAO-PU YI-PAI||SPADE COIN|
|200 Wu Shu||YAO-PU ERH-PAI||SPADE COIN|
|300 Wu Shu||YU-PU SAN-PAI||SPADE COIN|
|400 Wu Shu||HSU-PU SSU-PAI||SPADE COIN|
|500 Wu Shu||CHA-PU WU-PAI||SPADE COIN|
|600 Wu Shu||CHUNG-PU LAI PAI||SPADE COIN|
|700 Wu Shu||CHUANG-PU (7) PAI||SPADE COIN|
|800 Wu Shu||TI-PU (8) PAI||SPADE COIN|
|900 Wu Shu||TZU-PU (9) PAI||SPADE COIN|
|1000 Wu Shu||TA-PU HUANG-CH'IEN||SPADE COIN|
With the exception of the two types from the previous reform, and the value 1000 spades, all of the coins of this reform are rare, suggesting this was a very short-lived series, probably only for part of AD 10. There are several types for which we have never seen a genuine example, and cannot give any valuations. Fakes exist of all the rare types, so we recommend examining any specimens very closely.
The spade types are all found with and without a line extending from the hole to the upper rim, although the meaning of this line is uncertain. It may indicate two mints were operating, or that there were two different issues of these coins. These are poorly cast coin and usually seen with rather rough surfaces.
Hartill 9.20, Value 100 spade inscribed "XIAO BU YI-BAI" (meaning "small spade 100). Average (1 specimen) 32 x 20 mm, 5.46 grams (the specimen has a corrosion hole in it, so was probably just slightly heavier when cast).VF with corrosion hole $265.00 VF $495.00
Hartill 9.23, Value 400 spade inscribed "XU BU SI BAI" (meaning ordered spade, 400). This type exists with and without a line extending from the hole to the upper rim (same value). This is a poorly cast issue, and usually seen with rather rough surfaces. Average (1 specimen) 28.1 x 20.4 mm, 7.51 grams.VF $425.00 VF $575.00
Hartill 9.27, Value 800 spade inscribed "DI BU BA BAI" (meaning Graduate Spade, 800). Average (1 specimen) 44.9 x 20.7 mm, 8.45 grams.VF $425.00 VF $575.00
S-145-147, Value 1000 spade inscribed "TA-PU HUANG-CH'IEN". This type exists with and without a line extending from the hole to the upper rim (same value). These are well cast with sharp characters. It appears that Mang's reign title at this time was "Huang-shih-chu". It is possible that the "Huang" on these coins is a reference to that title. Average (3 specimens) 57 x 25 mm, 12.01 grams (the weights vary slightly).VF $55.00 XF $77.50
The particular specimen illustrated has a slight casting flaw on the left edge, which will not be seen on most specimens (we pick it for the clarity of the characters)
A list of relative values for cowry shells, tortoise shells, silver and gold was compiled, suggesting such items were used as currency during the late Western Han period, possibly all through the Zhou, Ch'in and Han dynasties.
|COWRY SHELL||UNDER 30 mm||3 Wu Shu|
|30 to 60 mm||5 Wu Shu|
|60 to 90 mm||15 Wu Shu|
|90 to 120 mm||25 Wu Shu|
|over 120 mm||108 Wu Shu|
|TORTOISE SHELL||125 to 175 mm||100 Wu Shu|
|175 to 230 mm||300 Wu Shu|
|230 to 355 mm||500 Wu Shu|
|over 355 mm||2160 Wu Shu|
|SILVER||8 Taels (1/2 cattie)|
|1580 Wu Shu|
|8 Taels ordinary silver||1000 Wu Shu|
|GOLD||1 Cattie (120 grams)||10,000 Wu Shu|
This does not necessarily imply these items remained in circulation during Mang's reforms. Robert Tye (page 14) speculates these were rates to be paid, in token currency, when the old currency items were turned in. This certainly seems to fit with Wang Mang's overall methods.
It appears the death penalty did not stop the problem of counterfeiting, so a new approach was tried. The new penalty was confiscation of property, enslavement to the state for the counterfeiter, his family, and the entire families of his five nearest neighbors. We assume the theory was that the neighbors should have some idea of what went on next door and would be likely to turn in the counterfeiter rather than risk themselves. There is no evidence that this worked.
The experiment of the third reform was a failure, and the fourth reform saw a return to the coinage of the second reform.
|1 Wu Shu||HSIAO-CH'UAN CHIH-YI||SMALL ROUND COIN|
|50 Wu Shu||TA-CH'UAN WU-SHIH||ROUND COIN|
This was Mang's last coinage reform, with two and possibly three new coins being introduced. The first was the "Huo Ch'uan" valued at 1 Wu shu (5 shu) and of five shu weight. The second was the "Huo-pu", a spade coin valued at 25 Wu Shu (125 shu). There is another fairly common coin called the "Pu-Ch'uan". It is not mentioned in the ancient records but seems to belong with this series, possibly an early version of the Huo Ch'uan. These are all very well cast coins, of fairly uniform size and weight and seldom show up in grades below VF.
The Ta-Ch'uan Wu-Shih also continued to circulate, but with the reduced value of 5 shu. It is likely that the lighter Ta-Ch'uan Wu-Shih were cast during this period.
|1 Wu Shu||HUO CH'UAN||ROUND COIN|
|1 Wu Shu||PU-CH'UAN||ROUND COIN|
|1 Wu Shu||TA-CH'UAN WU-SHIH||ROUND COIN|
|25 Wu Shu||HUO-PU||SPADE COIN|
The Huo-ch'uan coins are found with many minor varieties (Schjoth lists 21) and a few major ones. Some of the minor varieties may indicate mint marks, but many are probably illicit castings. The major varieties probably had meaning in the form of mints and dates, but this information is now lost to us. There are far too many variations to go into here at this time (maybe one day), so we have put most of them together under the generic heading of S-149 varieties, and commented only on the more distinctive ones.
S-149 variety. Obverse: "Huo-Ch'uan". Reverse: blank. Average (20 specimens) 2.25 grams (range 2.0 to 3.45 grams), 22 mm (range 21 to 23.2 mm). Very well cast coins with finished rims.F $4.00 VF $6.00 XF $10.00
The Huo Ch'uan coinage exist in a couple of preculiar varities, some of which may have more to do with the Eastern Han Dynasty than the time of Wang Mang. While examining a recent group of these, we noticed that there seemed to be two sizes (ones in the 21-22 mm range, and those over 23 mm). This may suggest two distinct issues, probably at different times, but there is not enough evidence yet to support and firm conclusions.
Schjoth & Coole not listed. Cut down "HUO-CH'UAN". These are well cast and clearly issues of Wang Mang, but have been cut down, removing the outer-rim and about 1/2 of the characters. The specimens we have examined range from 14.7 to 16.9 mm.
FD-488. These are variations on S-149 that are very heavy, normally over 5 grams, and are about double the thickness of normal "HUO-CH'UAN" coins. There exact significance is not know, but they turn up on a regular basis suggesting they were made this way intentionally.
We have owned one example of this type that had 4 rays extending from the corners of the inner obverse rim. It was 6.6 grams and 24.5 mm.
Coole-10111. Small "HUO-CH'UAN". The casting on these varies from slightly crude to quite good, but unlike the cut down examples they have full rims. The specimens we have examined range from 13.5 to 16.4 mm.
We find it unlikely that these small and cut down Huo-Ch'uan would have been allowed to circulate during Wang Mang's time. They were most likely used between AD 25 (death of Wang Mang) and AD 41 (official demonitization of Wang Mang's coinage).
The Pu-Ch'uan coins exist with three major varieties, and while we may never know the meaning of these varieties, it is possible they indicate different mints. The specimens seem to vary between 25.5 and 26.5 mm and average (12 specimens) about 3.50 grams, there is considerable weight variation in these. All three types are of about equal rarity and the same value. One seldom sees an example below a grade of VF, so these could not have continued to circulate for too long after they were minted.
S-175. Obverse: "PU CH'UAN" without any rays on the inner corners of the inner rim. Reverse: blank.
S-176. Obverse: "PU CH'UAN" with two rays extending from top corners of the inner rim. Reverse: blank.
S-177. Obvrse: "PU CH'UAN" with two rays extending from the bottom corners of the inner rim (as illusrated above). Reverse: blank.
Other minor varieties of this type exist. We have had an example with no rays, but a dot on the obverse inner rim. These are very well make coins, with very well defined and finished rims. It appears they did not circulate a great deal because we have never seen a well worn specimen of this coinage (most specimens will be found in a grade of XF).
S-148, "HUO-PU", spade coin valued at 25 Wu-shu (125 shu). Average : 58.5 x 22.5 mm. 15.4 grams (12 specimens) but the weights do vary more than a gram either side of this.
These are the commonest of all spade coins, and must have been cast in very large numbers. They are attractive coins, very well cast with sharp calligraphy.
Most specimens of this type have edges that were file finished with file marks visible perpendicular to the coin, however about 20% of the specimens one encounters never had the edges finished, and a fine casting seam will be visible all the way around the edge.VF $22.50 XF $32.00
Wang Mang came to a very bad end. The Han had raised an army from the people displaced by Mang's reforms and on October 4 of AD 23 that army entered Ch'ang-an. Over the next few days the fighting was intense and Mang's troops were slowly defeated. On the third day, after much hand to hand combat in the palace, Mang was killed and his body was hacked to pieces. House of Han was once again on the throne.
It is interesting that the coins of Mang's final reform must have met with acceptance, as they continued to be used for sixteen years after his death. It was only in AD 40 that they were finally demonetized and Wu Shu were once again cast. This is probably why the coinage of that reform is so common today.
In AD 22, a man connected to the House of Han and known as Liu, rebelled against and captured Wang Mang, re-establishing the Western Han Dynasty. As the last Emperor of the Western Han, Liu moved the capital to Lo-yang in Honan Province, at which time he also became the first Emperor of the Eastern Han and adopted the name Kuang Wu Ti.
|Kuang Wu Ti|
also know as Liu*
|Ming Ti||AD 58-75|
|Chang Ti||AD 76-88|
|Ho Ti||AD 89-105|
|Chang Ti||AD 106-107|
|Ngan Ti||AD 107-124|
|Chao Ti||AD 125-126|
|Chuen Ti||AD 126-144|
|Ch'ang Ti||AD 145-146|
|Che Ti||AD 146-147|
|Huan Ti||AD 147-167|
|Ling Ti||AD 168-188|
|Chao Ti||AD 189-190|
|Min Ti||AD 190-190|
|General Tung Cho|
through several puppets
through a puppet
son of Ts'ao-ts'ao
* Liu was the last Emperor of Western Han and the first emperor of Eastern Han.
** Ts'ao-pei was the last Emperor of Han and first Emperor of the Wei dynasty.
Although this is a list of official Emperors of the Eastern Han, following Emperor Ming Ti, most were ineffective figureheads with real power in the hands of a bureaucracy of public officials, members of the courts and military generals. The most powerful of these appears to have been Ts'ao-ts'ao, who ruled through a puppet emperor (whose name is uncertain) but who was forced to give up his throne in favor of Ts'ao-pei, Ts'ao-ts'ao's son. As Ts'ao-pei was not of the House of Han, he quickly moved to establish the Wei Dynasty.
The Han dynasty did not exactly end in AD 221, as Liu Pie, a legitimate member of the House of Han opposed Ts'ao-pei, establishing himself in Szechuan Province as first Emperor of the Minor Han Dynasty. For the next 300 years, there was a member of the House of Han ruling some part of China under various dynastic names, probably ending in AD 589 with the fall of the Ch'en Dynasty.
Few innovations occurred in Eastern Han coinage. Wang Mang's last coinage continued to circulate, and may have continued to be cast, until about AD 41 when they were demonetized and the Wu Shu were re-introduced. Only two identifiable Wu Shu varieties can be shown to have been cast during the Eastern Han (from inscriptions on molds). For the most part only generic Wu Shus were cast, in the pattern used for almost 700 years.
The coins of Wang Mang continued to circulate until the 16th year of Chien-wu (AD 40). These coins are today more common than one would expect if they had only been cast during the last 8 years of Wang Mang. This suggests that they continued to be cast during the first 16 years of Kuang-Wu. After AD 40 the Wu Shu was re-introduced, but no specific varieties can be assigned to this period (Schjoth mentions a mold has been found with markings indicating it was used in the 20th year of Chien-wu (AD 44) (reference Schjoth page 13). The type is standard.
S-178a. Obverse: "WU SHU". Thought to have been issued in AD 186, the obverse has four rays extending from the corners of the central hole, and an inner rim only on the reverse. Reverse: blank. These coins are fairly common, but seldom grade below VF, suggesting a large issue with a short period of circulation. Average (8 specimens) 3.9 grams, 25.5 mm.F $15.00 VF $25.00 XF $35.00
S-179. Obverse: "WU SHU". Reverse: blank except similar to S-178a except that the four rays extending from the inner rim are on the reverse rather than the obverse. Average (9 specimens) 3.58 grams, 25.5 mm.
The rays extending from the inner rims on these coins are said to represent the four walls of a city. As of yet, we can find no reason to assume this is true. The use of rays radiating from the central hole, but with varying numbers of them, also occur on the Huo Chuan and Pu Chuan coins of Wang Mang.
On some recent groups of these, we noted that the examples with rays on the obverse seemed to be slightly heavier and slightly higher grade than those with rays on the reverse. This tends to suggest that the reverse rays examples were an earlier issues than the rays on obverse type, but the sampling is still too small to be sure that this is a correct analysis.
S-180. Obverse: blank. Reverse: blank. No rims on either side. Average (1 specimens) 1.23 grams, 21.5 mm. There is no way to grade this coinage, as there is nothing on it to wear (we just grade them all VF). The last specimen we handled looked distinctly like the outer edge was a cut edge, but the patination was intact over all surfaces.VF $35.00
There is a slightly cryptic notation on page 13 of Chinese Currency, by F Schjoth, where he say that "The records of this Emperor" (Emperor Hsien, the last ruler of Han, AD 189-220) "state that during the 1st year of Ch'u-p'ing (AD 190) the rebel Tung Cho did away with the Wu-shu coinage. He cast smaller coins and melted down for the purpose the bronze images and horses found at Ch'ang-an (Hsi-an Fu)". From this we believe he is trying to say that the blank coins without rims (S-180 above) are the issue of the rebel Tung Cho.
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