The copper Cash was the first metal coin in use in the world.
It is thought that as early as 1200 BC the Chinese started to use cowrie shells as payment, instead of bartering goods, with the value carved onto each shell.
After 200 years or so, the demand increased and the supply of shells wasn’t enough, so people started to use bronze and copper imitation shells and these slowly developed into round copper coins with a hole in the middle so that they could be strung together. By the Warring States Period these coins had become very popular and manufacturing techniques were refined.
During the short Qin Dynasty the Emperor unified the country’s currency system which became known as banliang or copper cash. This currency system remained until the 20th century. By the time of the Song Dynasties coin makers started studying earlier coins and designers started thinking about the artistic merit of the coins they were producing.
Pictures courtesy of Ancient Coins.
The first is from the Western Han Dynasty and the second from the Northern Song.