Today I Learned: Chinese “Knife Money”

Knife Money

4th century Chinese Knife Money

I am not referring to the cash that someone would set aside to buy an imported folder of varying quality.Instead, I came across something new to me during my content trawl. Apparently during the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C., Chinese states, most notably Qi state in Eastern China, issued what have come to be called “knife money”.


Examples of Chinese “Knife Money” from the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. (photo from Wikipedia)

These “coins” were cast in molds and bear inscriptions that are sometimes commemorative in nature, other times they may denote value. They may be of varying alloy composition, though Copper and Tin are the primary materials.


more examples of Chinese “knife money”


“During the fourth and third centuries BC, a distinctive type of money was issued in the Qi state, in the form of large knives. The knife money was associated with particular cities within the state, and the knives are almost always found in modern-day Shandong province. The inscriptions on some of the knives indicate that they were sometimes issued in commemoration of important events, such as the inauguration of a new ruling dynasty. The inscription on this knife money indicates that it is ‘legal currency of Qi’.

Knife money has its origins in the scraper-knives of nomadic hunters and fishermen of northern and eastern China. By the sixth and fifth centuries BC the northern and eastern states of Yan, Qi, Zhongshan and Zhao were using knife money with inscriptions. The inscriptions were usually numerals or single words such as ‘fish’ and ‘sheep’, perhaps indicating value.”

It is relatively common to find ingots of refined metal that were used as trade items. Rarer, but still frequently encountered are tool “blanks” of raw material where the initial shaping work of a rough tool have been started.

These don’t even have to be metal. Often, archaeologists find shaped cores of flint or chert that have been transported or traded many hundreds of miles from their source dating back to before the advent of metallurgy.


  1. Tony says:

    Note the similarity between these examples of “Knife Money” and our Polish friend, Mr. Trollsky’s example of a Knife from a Wrench, (convertible to money or other goods). You’ve got to admire someone who has the ability and skill to work with his hands and create functional tools. Great skill to have for present and future times. When I first saw them I thought briefly they might be his Wrench Knife as it progressed. Love your site; visit it daily.

  2. Herp says:

    Pretty cool! I bet they trade a bit better today than they used to.

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Today I Learned: Chinese “Knife Money”

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