Three Kingdoms History: Ancient Chinese Coins

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Ancient Chinese Coins: Western Han Ban Liang

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While enjoying the rich stories, personalities, and lessons of the Three Kingdoms era, it is all too easy to forget that this is all taking place within a unique culture. A culture full traditions, unique weapons, armor, and clothing, unique pottery—and coins. That’s right, coins! If you are a coin collector, you are already very curious. If not, read on and enjoy this section. You might find it much more interesting than you anticipated. Presenting a detailed coin-by-coin analysis, presented, photographed, and written by Adrian Loder (web site; more coins; discussion; full credits) of Chinese coins ranging from the Early Han dynasty on into the Jin. And let’s not forget the Three Kingdoms!

Western Han: Ban Liang Coins

Western Han Ban Liang—c. 206–180 BC Emperor Liu Bang, temple name Han Gaozu (to 195 BC), Emperor Liu Ying, posthumous name Xiaohui Huangdi (195–188 BC), Empress Dowager Lu Zhi, temple name Gaohou (188–180 BC). This coin could conceivably come from the time of any of these rulers. Additonally, as there is little differentiation between Qin dynasty Ban Liang and early Western Han Ban Liang, it could even be a late-Qin issue, c. 220–206 BC under Emperor Ying Zheng, better known as Qin Shi Huangdi.

The characters of this coin were heavily obscured and I really felt more was underneath the patina than was showing. In my inexperience I used commercial-grade hydrochloric acid to remove the patina. Now everything is clearly visible, but it is quite ugly. I plan on re-toning it with Deller’s Darkener to improve the appearance and help prevent ugly, modern patina from forming.
Western Han Ban Liang CoinWestern Han Ban Liang Coin

Here’s another of the same variety, more likely to date to post-Gaozu times though as the diameter is a bit smaller—30 mm as compared to 32 mm. The patina is beautiful on this coin—the blue is pretty well visible in the scan, but there are also purple crystals that have formed on the top and bottom of the reverse. They don’t show too well in the scan, but in natural sunlight the blue and purple shows up brilliantly.
Western Han Ban Liang CoinWestern Han Ban Liang Coin

Yu Jia Ban Liang—“Elm Seed”, so-called for the small size. c. 200–180 BC Supposed to have been introduced because the Qin-size were inconvenient.
Western Han Ban Liang CoinWestern Han Ban Liang Coin

Western Han Ban Liang—“twill” Ban character. Appears to be one of the varieties supposedly of 4 zhu in weight though in reality they were/are lighter than this. c. 179–118 BC The rulers of this time were Emperor Wen, Liu Heng, temple name Taizong (180–157 BC), Emperor Jing, Liu Qi, posthumous name Xiaojing Huangdi (157–141 BC) and Emperor Wu, Liu Che, temple name Shizong (141–87 BC). Emperor Jing apparently did not have new coins minted but used the coins minted under Emperor Wen. I suppose that the “twill” character could be used to narrow the dating down, though I have found no info on this variety. Specimen does not appear to have rims, which means it is more likely to be from Emperor Wen’s time.
Western Han Ban Liang CoinWestern Han Ban Liang Coin

More of the same general sort as above, no rims, officially 4 zhu weight/value. No twill Ban character however, and the bottom of the Liang is like a “sideways E” as Cast Chinese Coins states, as opposed to the above, where the bottom of the Liang is like an M. These seem to be Hartill 7.17.
Western Han Ban Liang Coin
Western Han Ban Liang Coin

Western Han Ban Liang—similar to the other small ones except that these appear to have rims, which would date them to the reign of Emperor Wu, c. 136–119 BC Based on the shape of the Liang and the quality workmanship they seem to be Hartill 7.32. Note the reverses: both show the impressions of characters from other Ban Liang buried/stored/hoarded with them, created over time as the obverse of the other coin pressed against them.
Western Han Ban Liang Coin
Western Han Ban Liang Coin

Another specimen with rims, they’re easier to make out on this one because the edge of the coin has not been filed down. Additionally, the calligraphy on the Ban character is somewhat different, with the middle three vertical bars more narrowed.
Western Han Ban Liang CoinWestern Han Ban Liang Coin

Another specimen that appears to have outer rims, if so this would seem to be Hartill 7.32 as with the coins at the top of the page.
Western Han Ban Liang CoinWestern Han Ban Liang Coin

Ban Liang—This specimen has no rims and resembles a variety of early Western Han Ban Liang known as Wu Fen—“five cut” or cut into fifths. Meaning, the coins were one fifth of the normal 12 zhu weight, which would be 2.4 zhu. As a result those coins have wide center holes and narrow, lanky characters. This is not a Wu Fen, but a rarer, heavier variety with the same sort of casting style, possibly an ancient counterfeit from the time of the Wu Fen coins.
Western Han Ban Liang CoinWestern Han Ban Liang Coin

Ban Liang—This specimen is cast from lead. Fairly crusty but the characters, which are quite thin, are visible. It also has inner and outer rims, making it a later issue, possibly an ancient counterfeit or private casting from the time of the other rimmed Ban Liang, as at this time Western Han had little need to resort to casting coins from lead.
Western Han Ban Liang CoinWestern Han Ban Liang Coin

This is simply another Western Han Ban Liang of the 4 zhu variety. This specimen is rimless and the Liang is the “M”-shape style. Very nice, prominent characters on this specimen so while it is nothing extravagant or special it is a nice example of its type.
Western Han Ban Liang CoinWestern Han Ban Liang Coin

Copyright © 2001–2010 James Peirce
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All coin photographs and instructive text © Copyright 2006 Adrian Loder (Website)
Primary sources: David Hartill’s Cast Chinese Coins (ISBN: 1-4120-5466-4), Robert Kokotailo’s Calgary Coins Website
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March 7, 2014