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A World of Money: An Impressive Large Example of China’s Earliest Gold Coinage

A World of Money: An Impressive Large Example of China's Earliest Gold Coinage

By Heritage Auctions ……
Our December 5-6 Hong Kong Signature Auction of World and Ancient Coins features one of the most unique forms of currency we’ve offered – a sheet of “Block or Cube Money” from the State of Chu, dating to the period 400-220 BCE. It is divided into roughly 18 squares, each stamped “Ying Yuan” (Ying being the capital city of Chu, and Yuan the unit of weight). This piece measures 62x59mm and weighs 247.9 grams.

One of many diverse forms of coinage employed during the tumultuous Warring States Period–alongside spades, knives, round coins, and “ant nose money”–the gold cube or block money, however, immediate stands out amongst the rest. The earliest gold currency yet discovered in China, the Ying Yuan or Yuan Jin were cast in long, thin sheets approximately 3-5mm in thickness. The sheets were divided into either square or round sections, each bearing a set of characters, usually the name of a city and the unit of weight.

Although these pieces were first reported in historical and numismatic texts as early as 1050 CE, their character and origin were not properly discerned until 1878. Hartill has suggested that these sheets were purposely made to be chopped up into individual units, rather than the stamps serving as validation for the larger ingot, and indeed this is how the majority of specimens survive–in either one or two square units, making larger blocks or sheets extremely rare. For his part, Hartill records a sheet of 15 squares in his book, which he notes to be of the highest rarity. We note that a well-preserved sheet of 6 squares brought in excess of $25,000 in CNG’s Triton XIX Sale (lot 2276), suggesting that the appearance of such a specimen as the present at auction is virtually unprecedented.

Some hard deposits exist on the back of the piece, giving one of the few senses of its immense age. This offering is of the highest significance, and certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Dallas Auction Highlights

One of the featured collections in our Dallas auction provides a great opportunity for collectors to add fresh-to-market material to their collections. The Spring Creek Collection, offered as a part of our December 5-7 Dallas US Coins Signature Auction, is spread across every session in this auction, with a majority of the items to be found in the December 7 Internet-only Signature Session.

Consigned for collectors on behalf of a collector, this 152-coin consignment focuses on 18th- and 19th-century silver type, plus a few copper pieces added for good measure. The coins are largely in circulated condition, many with CAC endorsement, and nearly all with Choice surfaces. Early type, Bust, and Seated offerings make up the bulk of the collection, with some early Barber dates included. A stellar group of circulated Trade dollars stands out, as do many scarce dates and varieties throughout the different series.

A few of the highlights from this collection include:

Bid on this collection and the rest of the Dallas Signature Auction at

Heritage Auctions
Heritage Auctions
Heritage Auction Galleries is one of the world's largest collectibles auctioneers. Besides offering rare and valuable U.S. and world coins and currency, Heritage offers ancient coins, exonumia, antiques, comic books, sports memorabilia, and many other collectibles. The firm is based in Dallas, Texas.

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