August 29 – Copper Coins, Way Back When!

Posted on August 29, 2018

Japan's first coins were officially minted on this date in 708.
They were made of copper and had a square hole in the middle, not unlike the coins minted by the Chinese in the 600s. 

We know that China was making golden coins in the 200s, and there is some evidence that both China and India were creating coins way back in the 7th Century B.C.E.

Note that I said "some evidence" - apparently we don't have any oh-so-ancient coins from these earliest Chinese and Indian coins. But we DO have actual coins that were created by the Lydians way-way-way back in about 600 B.C.E. Because of this direct evidence, some scholars don't mention the probability that China and India separately, at around the same time, invented coins - and instead they simply state the Lydians invented coinage!

This map shows three probably origins of coins.
Lydia, on the leftmost (westernmost) side of the map,
is where Turkey is today. India and China are the two
other places where coins are thought to have been
independently invented.

The earliest Lydian coins we know about were made of electrum, which is a naturally-occurring combination of gold and silver. The coins were not of standardized shapes and sizes but were standardized according to weight, so they may have been weighed rather than counted. Of course, having standardized shapes and sizes - and having flat coins - makes it possible to stack them, sort them with machines, and (in the case of round, flat coins, invent coin slots and vending machines)...

Here are some questions I had about coins...

Are all coins round?

No. In addition to many different roundish-shaped - but not perfectly circular - ancient coins...

...There were ancient coins that were of radically different shapes, like these spade- and spear-shaped coins.

And, in more modern times, there have been squarish, flower-shaped, 6-sided hexagonal, 12-sided (almost round) dodecagonal, and other shapes of coins. 

And how about these right-now Chinese fan-shaped collectible coins?They're designed to encourage you to buy "the complete set," since all of the fan-shaped coins fit together to make - you guessed it! - a circle!

Why did Chinese and Japanese coins have those central holes? And why were the holes square?

Apparently, after the coins were cast and cooled, coin makers would string the coins on square rods and then were able to use a rasp to smooth the edges of many coins at once. If the holes and rods were round, the coins wouldn't stay in place for scraping and smoothing.

Even though this practical reason probably tells the entire story, there is also a theory that, inChinese mythology, the round shape of the coin represents the universe, and the square shape of the hole represents the Earth (then believed to be a square) or China (the Chinese character for "country" is surrounded by a square).

I don't know why EVERYBODY doesn't put holes in their coins!

1 comment:

  1. Hi. I no its a bit late. But the coin with the bat and butterfly do you no anything about it. Cheers thankyou.