Historians believe that the Chinese first started using cowry shells for money near the end of the Xia Dynasty (about 4,200 years ago). But due to their rarity (they had to be brought from the South China Seas), imitation shells were carved from jade, bone and other materials. Towards the end of the Shang Dynasty (1766 – 1154 B.C.) bronze shells started to be produced, and are regarded as the first metal coinage in human history, pre-dating the coins minted by the Lydians (of modern day western Turkey) about 600 B.C.
The shell money transitioned into currency of different shapes; bridge money, fish money (fish meaning prosperity in many cultures), spade and knife money, are a few examples. Circular coins with holes in the middle came into use about 350 B.C., and were issued for over 2,000 years, by every major ruler and many rebels and pretenders, ending with the Qing (Ch’ing) Dynasty in 1911.
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