Three Kingdoms History: Ancient Chinese Coins

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Ancient Chinese Coins: Xin Dynasty Shuiyin Gu

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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!

Wang Mang/Xin Dynasty: Shuiyin Gu Coins

Wu Zhu—I have these placed in with Wang Mang’s coins, but this is not 100% certain (heck, it isn’t even 50% certain). Usually these are attributed to Western Han under Emperors Wu or Xuan, or sometimes to Eastern Han, under Emperor Guangwu. However, the shiny, black surface has made others wonder if they are not coins of Wang Mang’s first coinage reform, during which the Wu Zhu coins continued to be cast. According to a very knowledgeable Chinese coin dealer, this surface is called Shuiyin Gu—“Ancient Mercury”. Despite the name, the effect has nothing to do with actual mercury but refers to the shiny, silvery appearance of such coins (the Chinese for mercury—Shuiyin—literally is “silver water”). This dealer says it is caused by high tin content, and previously I believed that the added lead was the cause, but according to a chemist friend it is a form of cuprite formed most likely by exposure to fire, and has nothing to do with lead or tin.. Apparently coins with this appearance often are unearthed in Shaanxi province, so these could be Western Han coins unearthed from there or a similar locality. For now I will leave them on this page but it’s really quite up in the air in my opinion. [Note that the shininess of these coins is most likely caused by exposure to fire and not lacquer or the presence of a certain metal.]
Wang Mang / Xin Dynasty Shuiyin Gu Coin
Wang Mang / Xin Dynasty Shuiyin Gu Coin

Xiao Quan Zhi Yi—“Small Coin Worth One (Cash)”—part of Wang Mang’s second currency reform of 9 AD One of the Liu Qian—Six Coins—each of which was an incremental increase in size and value, leading up to the other common coin in the series, the Da Quan Wu Shi.
Wang Mang / Xin Dynasty Shuiyin Gu 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