I have no idea what these are...
October 15, 2021 8:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm a teacher, and one of my students brought these to class. She said that she found them in a crawlspace of a house that her family rented in San Jose, CA. We've spoken to another social science teacher, but we are no closer to an answer. Any ideas? (If it helps, this is for a fabulous student, and I'm thrilled that she brought this to me!)
posted by dfm500 to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My first thought is various types of Knife Money, a form of coinage from what’s now China that’s about 2000 years old. A quick google found this for sale, which is a set of replicas that looks a lot like what your student found.
posted by lepus at 8:13 PM on October 15, 2021 [16 favorites]

Try Google Lens, it finds a lot of similar items for the top right one: link.

That link brings me to (translated) 原文網址 Ancient Money Wonders: National Treasure Golden Chamber Zhiwan
posted by tiamat at 8:15 PM on October 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

It’s particularly interesting that those came from San Jose, CA because San Jose hosted one of the largest Chinatowns in California at the time it was burned to the ground by arsonists in 1887, displacing some 1400 people.

Intriguing that they were found in a crawl space too, because Chinese workers built tunnels to get home from work in Antioch CA after laws were passed there forbidding them from being on the street after sundown, and there were a series of linked tunnels under under a Chinatown in Portland Oregon that I’ve read also functioned as a refuge for Chinese people though there's no reference to that in the Wikipedia article.

I couldn’t find any mention of a similar underground in San Jose, but I don’t think that means there wasn’t one.
posted by jamjam at 10:34 PM on October 15, 2021 [19 favorites]

I have absolutely no idea, though they look quite interesting and I'm now incredibly curious.

You might consider cross-posting over on the What Is This Thing subreddit...
posted by stormyteal at 10:38 PM on October 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Lepus is right. I bought a set like that in the giftshop when the Seattle Art Museum had its Treasures From A Lost Civilization: Ancient Chinese Art From Sichuan Exhibition in 2000-02.
posted by emmling at 11:54 PM on October 15, 2021 [6 favorites]

The image of this type of money is still culturally resonant enough to be a symbol of Hang Seng Bank in Hong Kong. It’s the city’s largest “local” bank and has millions of customers. Cash coins are prominent in lots of financial logos and other art across Asia.
posted by mdonley at 3:09 AM on October 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: These are ancient Chinese coins or replicas thereof usually called "spade money". Except for one knife money which was broken in half.

The language on them are probably Seal Script.
posted by kschang at 5:59 AM on October 16, 2021 [6 favorites]

I would bet replicas. The smooth parts just look too smooth to be actual antiques.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:39 AM on October 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

There's a great coin shop in San Jose called Falcone that might possibly be able to shed some light (not sure if they have any experience with Chinese coins).
posted by pinochiette at 9:07 AM on October 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to add: Unless your student literally dug them out of the ground, the time most homes in San Jose were built points to most likely a set of replicas or something from a parent/grandparent, that fell into the crawl space during renovations or when played with by a child in the house (or both).
posted by Lady Li at 9:36 AM on October 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

Here are some pictures of the originals of the coin on top and the one on the bottom right. Both of these are from the reign of Wang Mang in 9-23 AD. The coin on the bottom right is a replica of one of sixteen denominations he introduced in 9-10 AD with face values from 1-1000 of the previous coinage. The one on top is from about 14 AD, when he replaced those sixteen denominations by two denominations.
posted by ectabo at 10:24 AM on October 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Agreed that these are very likely not from the old destroyed Chinatown, but just in case that reference piqued your interest, here's some additional detail on San Jose's Market Street.
posted by col_pogo at 12:18 PM on October 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey everyone!

Thank you for your prompt, helpful answers.

I agree that the coins are probably reproductions. Having handled them, they felt too polished and to 'thin' to be that old. That's my untutored thought, anyway.

It's fitting that we are discussing SJ's Chinatown. The class (Ethnic Studies) just read this article.

Thank you again for your time! Have a fabulous weekend, everyone!

posted by dfm500 at 4:39 PM on October 16, 2021 [6 favorites]

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