Chinese Bronze Age Finds Coins

Bronze Age Finds

It is estimated that the Bronze Age in China lasted for at least 16 centuries, starting from the Xia dynasty (~2000 BC) to the Western Han dynasty (~100 BC). During this period, bronze was the material of choice for making weapons, cook wear, wine vessels, food vessels, musical instruments, mirrors, decorations and animal statues for various applications. In particular, during the Shang Dynasty, bronze objects were often used to distinguish between social classes.

In the Zhou Dynasty, bronze objects were regarded as a symbol of wealth, and a large number of bronze objects were used by royalties and the upper class citizens for decorative, entertainment and ceremonial purposes. These objects were often buried with the owner upon their death. To reflect its importance as a status symbol for the upper class, most bronze objects during the Shang and Zhou Dynasty were bulky and heavy with mystically themed designs to symbolise superiority and importance. During the late Bronze Age period (early years of the Western Han Dynasty), a bronze object was no longer a status symbol. Consequently, there was a shift in the design of bronze objects where a lightweight and practicality became much more important.

Because of the prolonged Bronze Age period, archaeological bronze finds are plentiful in China. These bronze artefacts provide not only archaeologists and historians valuable information on the society and culture during the Bronze age, but are also outstanding examples of ancient Chinese art.

To show the importance of these archaeological bronze finds and to commemorate the glorious Bronze Age of ancient China, People’s Bank of China has issued three sets of Chinese Bronze Age Finds Coins, recording 12 of the best and most important Bronze age finds in a series of 24 gold and silver coins. Here, we will look at the three sets of Gold coins: the 1981 Bronze Finds Gold, 1992 Bronze Finds Gold and the 1993 Bronze Finds Gold.

1981 Bronze Finds Gold

The 1981 Bronze Finds Gold set is the first set of gold coins in the Bronze Age finds series. The set consists of 4 gold coins with the following specifications: 1 oz, 1/2 oz and two 1/4 oz coins each with a purity of 91.6%. All coins in the set are proof coins and have a mintage of 1000. The obverse of the coins features the PRC national emblem, the words “Chinese Bronze Age Finds” in Chinese, and the year “1981”. The reverse features four different bronze finds, their estimated dates of creation, and the denomination.

The 1 oz gold coin has a diameter of 32 mm, a denomination of 800 Yuan, and features the Elephant Vessel – an elephant shaped wine ceremonial vessel commonly found in the Shang and Zhou Dynasty (15th – 11th Century BC). This 26.5 cm tall Elephant Vessel is one of the most elegant bronze objects from the Shang Dynasty and is covered with drawings of eleven different animals and mystical beasts.

The ½ oz gold coin has a diameter of 27 mm, a denomination of 400 Yuan, and features the Rhino Vessel – a large wine and ceremonial vessel found in the Warring States Period (~475 – 221 BC) which was modelled on the Sumatran Rhino. The Rhino Vessel, standing at 34.1 cm tall and 58.1 cm in length, is entirely covered by cloud patterns made with gold and silver thread inlaid.

The two ¼ oz gold coins have a diameter of 22 mm, a denomination of 200 Yuan, and feature the Winged Beast and Spotted Leopard statues, decorative statues made in the Western Han Dynasty (4th – 2nd Century BC). The Winged Beast is covered with cloud patterns made with silver thread inlaid, and is suspected to have been used by royalties and generals as floor mats. The Spotted Leopard features both jewel encrusted eyes and spots made with gold and silver thread inlaid. Its small size suggests that it was used as a tabletop weight.

1992 Bronze Finds Gold

The second set of the Bronze Finds series was issued in 1992, over 10 years from the debut of the first Bronze Finds Set. The 1992 set follows the same format as the 1981 Bronze Finds set, with 4 gold and 4 silver proof coins (the corresponding silver set for the first series was released in 1990).

On this note then, the 1992 Bronze Finds Set again consists of a 1 oz gold coin, a ½ oz gold coin, and two ¼ oz gold coins – each with a purity of 91.6%. A total of 500 sets were authorized for release. Similar to the 1981 set, the obverse of the 1992 coins features the PRC national emblem, the words “Chinese Bronze Age Finds” in Chinese, and the year “1992”. The reverse features another four bronze finds, their estimated dates of creation, and the denominations for the coins. It should be noted that the font is slightly different – the font used for the 1992 set appears rounder compared to the 1981 set.

The 1 oz gold coin, with a diameter of 32 mm and a denomination of 100 Yuan, features the Crouching Deer, a bronze statue made in the Warring States Period (476 BC –  221 BC). This Crouching Deer, which is 52 cm tall and 26 cm long, is encrusted with turquoise. It is believed that it was used as a mirror mount, with the antlers perfectly designed for holding a polished bronze mirror.

The 1/2 oz gold coin, with a diameter of 27 mm and a denomination of 50 Yuan, features the Western Han made Chengxin Palace Lamp, a gold gilt lamp dating back to 206 – 220 BC. One of the most famous artefacts from the Western Han Dynasty, the Chengxin Palace Lamp frequently appears in TV series and computer games. It was named after the palace for Queen Duo – wife of King Wen, the second Emperor of Western Han. The lamp is one of the most technologically advanced bronze objects during the period, produced with a slotted design that allows the adjustment of the direction and angle of the light. It is often regarded as one of the most finely crafted and the most artistic artefacts of ancient China.

The 1/4 oz gold coins feature two bronze objects from the Shang Dynasty and the Warring States Period: the Ram Vessel and the Tiger Token. Both of these coins are 22 mm in diameter and have a denomination of 25 Yuan. The Ram vessel, made in the Shang Dynasty (1766 BC – 112 BC), is one of the most finely crafted wine vessels from that period, with a lid shaped like a beast on one side and eagle on another. The entire vessel is covered with a dragon and phoenix pattern.

The Tiger Token is a small Tiger statue used by the Emperor and selected generals for the movement of troops. First made in the Warring State period (476 BC – 221 BC), the Tiger Token was divided into two halves, one held by the top general of the state while the other was kept by the emperor. The entire Tiger Token is needed to move any troops with over fifty men, thereby securing the military power of the emperor. It is worth noting that the Tiger Token uses an asymmetrical, somewhat random design to avoid counterfeits, which was quite an advanced concept and technology in the Bronze Age.

1993 Bronze Finds Gold

The 1993 set again follows the same format as the rest of the series, with 4 gold coins: one 1 oz gold, one 1/2 oz gold and two 1/4 oz gold coins. The obverse shows the PRC national emblem, the words “Chinese Bronze Age Finds” in Chinese, and the year “1993”. The reverse of the coins still features four bronze finds and the denomination in the same format. However, for the estimated dates of creation, a dynasty or era was used rather than an actual date. In addition, the name of the bronze object was added onto the coins. The font is again slightly different from the rest of the series. Furthermore the positioning of the words is different amongst the four

coins, as oppose to the 1981 and 1992 sets where the words are always positioned on the upper and lower edges of the coins. All four coins have a purity of 91.6% and a mintage of 500.

The 1 oz gold coin, with a diameter of 32 mm and denomination of 100 Yuan, features the Bull Lamp, a bull shaped lamp created in the Eastern Han Dynasty. Apart from the incredible craftsmanship, the lamp is well-known for its environmentally friendly design, with a connection between the burning lamp and the water filled interior, to capture any smoke and particles. It’s worth noting that lamp designs, which reduce air pollution, only appeared in the Western world after the 15th Century.

The 1/2 oz gold coin, with a diameter of 27 mm diameter and a denomination of 50 Yuan, features the Human-shaped Lamp, a painted bronze lamp commonly found in the Late Warring State Period. Human-shaped statues were commonly used during that period to hold various items such as lamps and mirrors. These statues vividly depict various aspects of life at the time through the use of body language and facial expressions.

The 1/4 oz gold coins, with a diameter of 22 mm and a denomination of 25 Yuan, feature two bronze finds: the Boar Vessel and the Horse Terra Cotta.  The Boar Vessel, a 40 cm tall wine vessel, is a rare find from the Shang Dynasty. It’s special design allowed for a rope to be attached for easy transportation. The Horse Terra Cotta is a rare bronze find from the Eastern Han period, depicting horses used for horse carts and battle carts.