Hartill 4.43 RARE ANCIENT Yan State knife money Spring and Autumn period 400 BC


RARE ANCIENT Yan State knife money

Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BC)


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Reference: Hartill 4.43

Chime stone shape, Ming Knife

Weight: 23 grams; Size: 133 mm; Bronze


Knife money is the name of large, cast, bronze, knife-shaped commodity money produced by various governments and kingdoms in what is now known as China, approximately 2500 years ago. Knife money circulated in China between 600 to 200 B.C. during the Zhou dynasty.


  • Ming knives: Ming knives are generally smaller than pointed tip knives, and their tips are approximately straight. This type of knife money takes its name from the character on the obverse, which has traditionally been read as ming (Chinese: 明; pinyin: míng). Other proposals have been yi (Chinese: 易; pinyin: yì), ju(Chinese: 莒; pinyin: jǔ), ming (Chinese: 盟; pinyin: méng), and zhao (Chinese: 召; pinyin: zhào). A mint for Ming knives was unearthed at Xiadu, to the south west of Peking. This was the site of Yi, capital of the State of Yan from 360 BC, so the reading of yi has found favour recently. Moulds have also been discovered in Shandong. These coins themselves have been found, often in great quantities, in the provinces of Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Manchuria, and even as far afield as Korea and Japan. They are found together with pointed and square foot spade money.

  • Two different shapes of Ming knife are found. The first, presumably the earlier, is curved like the pointed tip knives. The second has a straight blade and often a pronounced angled bend in the middle. This shape is known as 磬 qing, a chime stone. Their alloy contains around 40% copper; they weigh around 16 grams.
    A wide range of characters are found on the reverses of Ming knives. Some are single characters or numerals, similar to those found on the pointed tip knives. Two large groups have inscriptions that begin with the characters you (Chinese: 右; pinyin: yòu; literally: "right") or zuo(Chinese: 左; pinyin: zuǒ; literally: "left"), followed by numerals or other characters. You has the subsidiary meaning of junior or west; zuo can also mean senior or east. (The excavations at Xiadu revealed in the inner city a zuo gong left-hand palace, and a you gong right-hand palace.) The similarities between the other characters in these two groups show that they were determined by the same system. A smaller group has inscriptions beginning with wai (Chinese: 外; pinyin: wài; literally: "outside"), but the other characters do not have much in common with the you and zuo groups. A fourth group has inscriptions beginning with an unclear character, and other characters similar to those found in the you and zuo groups. By analogy with thewai, this unclear character has been read as nei (Chinese: 内; pinyin: nèi; literally: "inside") or zhong (Chinese: 中; pinyin: zhōng; literally: "centre").




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Hartill 4.43 RARE ANCIENT Yan State knife money Spring and Autumn period 400 BC



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