World of Coins

Research and reference => Numismatics => Topic started by: ChrisHagen on October 10, 2013, 11:37:16 PM

Title: First coins
Post by: ChrisHagen on October 10, 2013, 11:37:16 PM
Wow! These must be some of the earliest coins in the world, almost rivaling the Ionian electrum staters!
Beautiful pieces with amazing detail given their age, both in the devices but also as to the flan-shape itself which is so often rounded by natural exposure, however your coins are sharp and attractive, I really like them!
Title: Re: First coins
Post by: ChrisHagen on October 11, 2013, 10:31:45 AM
Chris hi!, For some more examples of Punch Mark Coins from the Mahajanapadas, see here (,20400.msg138248.html#msg138248), here (,21515.msg145547.html#msg145547), here (,21153.msg143250.html#msg143250), here (,21240.msg143770.html#msg143770), here (,22439.msg150468.html#msg150468), here (,21576.msg145817.html#msg145817), and here (,22720.msg152532.html#msg152532)

That first link... Wow. Is that a 2600 year old rainbow-toned coin? I am in awe!

A lot of good stuff in those links, your collection of these is very impressive!

Edit: this thread was split off from this one (,23948.0.html).
Title: Re: First coins
Post by: Figleaf on October 11, 2013, 05:56:59 PM
I don't like the way the "first coin" discussion is usually reduced to a fruitless discussion of Chinese and Lydian coins.

The basic point is that coins were not invented in the sense of someone having a "eureka moment". They came about in a long process of trial and error. Furthermore, even though no one would defend today that coins must be made of metal, it is useful to note that the traditional discussion is implicitly restricted to metallic objects. We know that nuts, salt, cattle, slaves and potential brides were used as intermediates in exchanges. The Chinese "bronze cowries" are a reflection of this, as are later types, like knife money.

I like to imagine that knives (or shovels, or arrowheads or spearheads or something similar, but I will continue to use knives as an example) were universally used objects, both in agriculture and warfare (even in the early middle ages, agricultural implements were used as weapons.) They must have been easily acceptable. This is the first step in a process of ongoing abstraction: merchants would propose and accept knives in payment of just about anything, as they knew they could sell them again at their next stop, while the seller knew he would sooner or later need knives.

The next step, separating metallic objects from others*, is that there was a bifurcation between traditional knives and "payment" knives. While traditional knives would be ready for use, payment knives would be the metallic part only and unsharpened. Of course, any blacksmith could turn a payment knife into a traditional knife by adding a handle and sharpening it. Meanwhile, dull knives were easier to transport. The problem is, that archeologists, finding a hoard of unfinished knives will, rightly or wrongly, tend to conclude that they found an ancient workshop, not an ancient hoard of coins.

At this point, the Chinese went their own way. Having a relatively stable government, the unfinished knives shrank in size and became guarantees that the little lumps of metal could be exchanged for a knife, an amount of rice or another commodity. In other areas, that method was not available, as times were much too uncertain.

In these areas, another abstraction took place. It was enough to have the metal, necessary for a knife. It was not necessary to shape the metal in the form of a knife. It could have any form that was easy to transport. Archeologists tend to call them ingots, suggesting that they were used in metals trade only. We have no information to confirm or deny that they were used as coins, but wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that such ingots could be used as an intermediate commodity in trade?

Not all metals had the same price. Therefore, a more expensive metal would be a lighter load for travelling merchants. The reasoning would be: if you accept a small lump of (say) electrum in payment for your fine hides or elegant pottery, you can trade it for a larger lump of bronze, which can be shaped into a knife. In that sense, the use of different commodities in standard weights or quantities would give a great impetus to trade: merchants could not just perform arbitrage on goods, but also on metal prices, the accepted weight of local knives and even the efficiency of local smiths.

However, the system was risky for individuals. They would have to know how much bronze was necessary for a knife as well as how much electrum was needed to be traded for that amount of bronze. The question of the quality of the electrum would also arise. Ideally, every clump of metal needed weighing and assaying to be used. It was logical for local rulers to provide a public service, stamping the metals (for a small fee), indicating that it was of acceptable quality and within a weight range.

Of course, stamping the metal raises other problems. The race between officials and forgers had started in earnest. The stamped metal lumps could be clipped after stamping. However, the archeologist's confusion is solved: a stamped lump of electrum is a coin. True, of course, but is it the first coin? Can coins only be metallic? Must they be stamped officially? Must they be issued for a certain area by a local ruler? A seasoned collector will answer those questions negatively. So why do we answer them positively when we are trying to decide what the first coin is?

As far as I am concerned, Indian punch marked coins are undoubtedly coins. However, they are sophisticated coins. They are officially stamped with recognisable symbols that cover practically the whole area of the flan. That suggests that there were even earlier objects used as coins. Maybe we don't recognise them as coins. Maybe they were dual purpose. Maybe some of the objects we routinely accept as coins were used for different purposes. The great concentration of Celtic coin hoards in places with religious significance has already given rise to the thought that objects such as rouelles were meant as religious sacrifice, rather than coins.

I don't think that finding the first coin is very important. What the first coin is, depends on your definition of a coin. How much insight do you get from almost randomly picking a point on a timeline, a process of developing the idea of money? Is not much more important to construct the process itself? Since that process is connected (by the idea of trust) to the stability and power of the rulers, constructing the money timeline may give important additional insights into the development of the idea of government, its task and functioning.


* Maybe. Maybe not. Could there not have been pieces of hide, representing a cow? The leather would have been lost long ago, so we would not have found them, which doesn't mean they never existed.
Title: Re: First coins
Post by: Prosit on October 11, 2013, 06:33:22 PM
One of the thoughts that I find intriguing is that the earliest humans are generally referred to as 'hunter gatherers".
Gatherers....hummm sounds suspiciously like "hunter collectors" and collectors trade. Who decided those were the first humans?
Who defines humanity? What made them human? The year before were they not human?

The year before those coins were invented were those lumps of metal not coins?
I agree with Peter, I really don't see any really distict point where coins were invented. They kind of evolved and maybe we don't recogonize the first coins.
Since we can't agree what a coin is anyway.

But I do like Miletos 1/12 staters...whatever it is  ;D

Title: Re: First coins
Post by: ChrisHagen on October 12, 2013, 10:07:00 PM
Peter that is a great post which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Thank you!

I agree that the "first coin" comment I made could have been replaced with a much more specific definition. "Coin" is definitely not a black-and-white thing and there is no doubt that many other objects could easily be considered coins, just as the many, many fine examples you point out.
Title: Re: First coins
Post by: EWC on December 28, 2014, 08:04:00 PM
I don't like the way the "first coin" discussion is usually reduced to a fruitless discussion of Chinese and Lydian coins.

The basic point is that coins were not invented in the sense of someone having a "eureka moment". They came about in a long process of trial and error.

I am afraid this seems to be contrary to the historical and archaeological facts.  I agree there was no need to assume a eureka moment - but because coins are so obvious an idea there is really  no need to invent them.  But there are clear points in history when states arise that function by encouraging their use.  This seem to happen rather quickly roughly around 600-400 BC in Greece, India and China.  Wars were fought between the newer coin using states and older custom and command type economies, which the coin using states - eventually - won.