Moneta Gallery Coin Museum

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[ Archaic: Cowries, Spades & Knives ]
China - Bone Cowrie

[ Archaic: Cowries, Spades & Knives ]
Ancient Chinese Gold

[ Archaic: Cowries, Spades & Knives ]
China - Lead imitati

[ Archaic: Cowries, Spades & Knives ]
China - Black Bone I

[ Archaic: Cowries, Spades & Knives ]
H 3.182

[ Archaic: Cowries, Spades & Knives ]
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Cypraea moneta cowrie- fresh (now Monetaria moneta)
Cypraea moneta cowrie- fresh (now Monetaria moneta)

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Registered: August 2005
Location: Arizona USA
Posts: 2,365
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This is not an example of ancient Chinese cowrie shell money. It is an example of what a modern, fresh from the sea, Money cowrie looks like. These were not found on the shores of China and they had to be transported great distances, another reason they gained value. As money in China they were used in some areas until 1674. Cultures the world over have coveted sea shells as items of decoration, trade items, and for monetary exchange and value. Most recently (early 20th C.) in parts of Africa cowries had a set value as small change and are still valued as decoration.
The Chinese are known to have used Cypraea moneta (now Monetaria moneta) and C. annulus as grave items, gifts, and eventually as money. The first mention of them in historical annals and archeological digs indicate that the shells were first used in the later Xia Dynasty (c. 2200 B.C.E.). The difficulty of acquiring these shells caused them to attain such a value that imitations made of stone, jade, bone, and bronze came to be used also. The first metal cowries of bronze and copper were made during the Shang Dynasty (1766 - 1154 B.C.E.) and predate Greek metal coins of natural electrum (natural gold alloy w/silver) fashioned into coinage around 630 B.C.E.
Presented here is perhaps the best collection of cowries and their imitations on the Internet. You're welcome to add yours! All types are represented here including a rare example of a gold leaf covered bronze and an example in solid silver. Both of these were highly valued gift or grave items. The item presented here is a fresh from the sea example so that you can see why they were so highly coveted.
Moneta Library has articles on Cowries to VIEW and DOWNLOAD:
The Worlds's First Money, Chinese Cowries and Their Imitations - by Ted Puls [ link ]
Cowries - Bob Reis: [ link ]
Origin of Cowries in Ancient China - UofPa: [ link ]
Metallic Cowries - Royal Asiatic Society: [ link ]
Nice Video on Cowrie history: [ link ]
An excellent article in ANA's "Numismatist" magazine, Oct 2017 > [ link ]
SEE how far back in time decorative sea shells were important to prehistoric man at his : [ link ]
Interested in Primitive Money? Then check out this YouTube video created by Kagins Auctions featuring Bob Leonard and Charles Opitz upon the massive sale in March 2021. Click this: [ link ]
The following is by Bob Reis, a prolific numismatic dealer and author:
There are two aspects to cowrie substitutes. One was that cowries had value, it was custom of the time to bury the dead with grave goods, over time the grave goods became more and more imitations of the real thing. The other was that in regions where cowries were scarce they might make imitations for the market, because something was better than nothing.
There are a variety of small bronze items that have been speculatively considered to have been some kind of local money, but they are not mentioned in the classical Chinese monetary and numismatic books. Notwithstanding, some of these objects are found in such large quantities that it seems reasonable to consider them as money objects. The idea that enigmatic bronze objects were early forms of Chinese “money” was popularized in Europe by a monograph written by H. A. Ramsden in 1912.
Zhou dynasty was a confederation of little kingdoms with a figurehead Emperor. Various constituent states started using money in their commercial activities. Odd shaped coins such as spade, knife, ant, nose, yibi, and possible money items like fish and cicada money were followed by the early round coins.
The oldest Chinese coins are at least as old as the earliest Greek coins. The Chinese coinage system differed from other systems in two ways. It was monometallic, only bronze coins circulated in general commerce. Gold and silver were treated as commodities. And the manufacturing method was by casting in moulds rather than by striking heated solid planchets.
· Date: September 8, 2007 · Views: 28,822 · Filesize: 26.0kb, 36.9kb · Dimensions: 743 x 500 ·
Keywords: cowry cowerie cowries shell China ancient Monetaria moneta

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Registered: September 2007
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posts: 1
September 10, 2007 6:43pm

I have reservation whether this one is an ancient specimen.

Registered: August 2005
Location: Arizona USA
Posts: 2,365
September 11, 2007 12:04am

You are exactly right - this is a 'fresh' one in pristine condition. This was a place to start the exposition on cowries and to show what they would have looked like to the ancient Chinese who came to value them so highly.

Registered: January 2010
Location: United States
Posts: 313
June 20, 2010 7:54pm

Regardless of whether this is actually ancient or not, it's still a beautiful specimen. I love the color and luster on this. I can certainly understand why the Chinese and other ancient civilizations valued these as much as they did. In reference to the history you gave, I was wondering if this where they got the slang term 'clam' from (i.e.- 20 clams etc.), in reference to money? Wouldn't surprise me. Thanks for sharing.

Registered: August 2005
Location: Arizona USA
Posts: 2,365
June 22, 2010 12:05am

'Clam' seems to be a uniquely American term but shells were a valued trade item to the Native Americans (Central and S. America too). The shell depicted here is FRESH, when we see the ancient ones from China, or anywhere else, they appear more like just calcium or chalk. When left in the ground or exposed to the light they quickly loose their golden color and luster.

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