Three Kingdoms History: Ancient Chinese Coins

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Ancient Chinese Coins: Wu Dynasty Coins

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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 and 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!

Wu Dynasty (Three Kingdoms) Coins

Da Quan Wu Bai—“Big Coin 500 (cash)” c. AD 236–? First cast by Emperor Da, Sun Quan, temple name Wu Taizu (ruled AD 200–252 The Wu territory had existed, though not officially as an independant state, under the control of the Sun family since the mid 190s when Sun Ce, Quan’s brother, consolidated his father Sun Jian’s former forces and allies from when Jian had been a general first under Han and then in service of Yuan Shu. Ce turned against Yuan Shu and began forging his own sphere of influence. Ce died in AD 200 and Quan took power, at one point acceding to Cao Pi’s requests for acknowledgement of legitimacy and being bestowed the title King of Wu before turning against Pi and establishing his own rival claim to the empire and took the title of Emperor Da of Wu in AD 222). Some historical records report that these coins continued to be used by the Jin dynasty that reunited China in AD 280 after Shu-Han had fallen to Wei, and Wei and Wu had fallen to Jin. As such I will list also the other Emperors of the Wu dynasty: Sun Liang, the Prince of Guiji, known posthumously as both Feidi and Youdi (AD 252–257); Emperor Jing, Sun Xiu (AD 258–263); and Emperor Mo, Sun Hao, temple name Guiminghou (AD 264–280)

This particular specimen demonstrates a well-known trait of many Wu dynasty coins, namely that most were cast from near-pure copper and copper corrodes very easily. There were apparently two mints in operation, one in Hubei and the other in Nanking, the ones at Hubei being of poorer quality with weaker characters. This specimen would seem to be from this mint.
Wu Dynasty (Three Kingdoms) CoinWu Dynasty (Three Kingdoms) Coin

Da Quan Dang Qian—“Big Coin 1000 (cash)” c. AD 238–? Issued two years after the Da Quan Wu Bai this coin is encountered in a couple of different sizes. This is the smaller and more common size, although none of the sizes come close to justifying the ostensible value of 1000 cash. Sun Quan apparently discouraged counterfeiting, however, by commanding the populace to turn in all their copper goods in exchange for the new currency. Still, as with Shu-Han, sooner or later the fiduciary nature of the coinage would have caught up with the markets. This specimen is well cast and unlike the Wu Bai above, it shows little to no signs of corrosion. Some of the Wu coins were cast from a brass alloy that does not corrode the way pure copper does, and this would seem to be the composition of this coin. There are also 2 other Wu coins—Er Qian (2000) and Wu Qian (5000) but are obscenely rare. Note that this coin reads clockwise instead of T-B-R-L.
Wu Dynasty (Three Kingdoms) CoinWu Dynasty (Three Kingdoms) 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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January 19, 2015