Cowrie imitation coins of the Chu state
Characters on Chu cowrie imitations:
1. Jin Metal
2. Jun Noble person
3. Xing Street, road or to go
4. Meaning and sound uncertain. The left part is shi ten, the right jin axe which were also a weight unit. Dictionary of Oracle Bone Inscriptions. is also used on Dang Jin spade coins from this period that were mostly found in the Chu area (Hartill 3.468-3.473). These spade coins were according to their legend equivalent to ten jin. Their weight were around 30 grams, roughly the same as ten totem face coins. The jin weight unit became lighter over time (see weights and units) 275 grams in Qin, 250 grams in Western Han and 235 grams in the Han. It was probably heavier in the period of the Warring States, XXXTjek herXXX but there was no standard for all states like in the Qin and Han. My own specimen of a Chu Dang Jin spade coin weighs 35 grams. If Dang Jin spades weighed 1/10 of a jin, the jin would have been 350 grams, which I think is possible. The two coins in jeffrey Youngs collection weighs XXXX grams. About 1/100 of a jin.
5. This character is by Hua Guangpu suggested to be tao which is the word for a kiln Karlgren 1047a. But the character in Hua Guangpu's catalogue is much closer to Ju . Other pictures are closer to a character that consists of he (standing grain) inside like this . But I haven't been able to find this character, even in the Jiaguwen Zidian or Kang Xi Zidian. The inner part of the character ju is rice, the whole character means a handful Karlgren 1017a. Because of this we know that the outer part can mean a curved hand. I think it may be possible that meant a handful of grain, maybe even as a fixed measure? It is unclear to me if and are variants of the same or are two different characters. I will just have to conclude that the meaning of the character on this coin is uncertain for now.
This type has three characters:
- lei . There have been many suggestions to
their meaning; the most commonly used is from Peng Xinwei p. 67: Ge Liu Zhu
which means "Each Six Zhu", but the characters have very little resemblance.
sui. If you look in dictionaries for the characters as they appear on the coin, the first is difficult to find, and you must look in special dictionaries for ancient words, although it is also part of almost one hundred modern characters: sui. Dictionary of Oracle Bones Inscriptions According to both Karlgren and Jiaguwen Zidian, sui means to walk like you are pulling something or are dragging your feet along. This character belongs to the most ancient, and there are very few sources available. The meaning of this character is clearly derived from a more basic meaning. For now, I think it is fair to say that in relation to a plough, it could mean to pull a plough. My next step will be to try to find more sources from oracle bones, because I think the derived meaning we got so far indicates that the original meaning could be to plough.
Tu. The second character is clearly tu which means soil.
Lei. The third character is also very obvious: lei a plough or to plough Dictionary of Oracle Bones Inscriptions, and like tu also used in nearly the same form today.
Sui is uncertain, but until I have more documentation, I will take the assumption that the meaning is  "The plough that ploughs the soil".
A plough scene from the Han period, but most likely the same kind of plough was used in Chu.
7. In Jeffrey Young's collection, on Gear Fishers homepage and on Bob Reis' homepage there are pictures of a coin with a character that is very close to yong which means "eternal". If you have pictures of a similar coin (or any other unknown type for that matter) please let me know.
Kang Xi Zidian is from1715, Karlgren from 1957 and Dictionary of Oracle Bones from 1958. I believe these are some of the best dictionaries for this period. Most bronzes have been found and investigated many years ago, but the main body of the many thousands of inscriptions on ox-shoulder blades, called oracle bones, are a huge source of ancient characters. I think this is the only place to find the remaining characters, also for other types of early coin legends.
Please remember that legends 4-7 are only speculations. I will hopefully find more sources in oracle bone- or
bronze inscriptions that will give more certain answers to the remaining
Xu Zhongshu ed.: Jiaguwen Zidian (Dictionary of Oracle Bone Inscriptions). Chengdu: Sichuan Cishu, 1988.
Karlgren, Bernhard: Grammatica Serica Recensa. The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Bulletin No. 29, Stockholm, 1957.
Peng, Xinwei: A Monetary History of China. Western Washington University, 1994.
Wagner, Donald B.: Iron and Steel in Ancient China. E.J. Brill, Netherlands,1993.
Hua, Guangpu: Zhongguo Guqian Daji. Hunan Renmin Chubanshe, 2004.
Kang Xi Zidian. China 1715. (Printed in Shanghai 1996).