Moneta Gallery Coin Museum

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Cypraea moneta - fresh
Cypraea moneta - fresh

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Registered: August 2005
Location: Arizona USA
Posts: 1,895
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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 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:
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 ]
· Date: September 8, 2007 · Views: 17,367 · Filesize: 26.0kb, 36.9kb · Dimensions: 743 x 500 ·
Keywords: cowry cowerie cowries shell China ancient

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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: 1,895
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: 1,895
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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