World Coins

Coins of War: Chinese coinage a staple of protection

We’re all aware of the historical lens that coins provide. Not only does coinage tie us to the past, but they can challenge our imagination, as well.

Coins have been used for plenty of things throughout the centuries; armor, however, doesn't quite top that list. 


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A recent blog from the Gainesville News, citing an article published at Primal Trek in February 2013, shed light on coin-laden garments used by the Tlingit that reportedly featured medieval Chinese coins as armor. The blog noted that the “the Tlingit warriors would sew the heavy brass and bronze coins (which had square holes at the center) into their attire using interlocking patterns in a manner similar to chain mail. The garments also carried ceremonial significance as well.”

The Tlingit tribe, which thrived for centuries along the southern coast of Alaska and regions of western Canada, are well-known for their skilled craftsmanship, beautiful structures, and detailed art.

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During the 16th and 17th centuries, disparate cultures found themselves connected, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, through growing trade routes. It is believed that Boston sea merchants traded Chinese coins to the Tlingit for sea otter pelts, according to the American Museum of Natural History.

The Chinese themselves used these same coins for medicinal purposes, citing the benefits of elevated iron and zinc that helped them maintain a clean bill of health. 

A collection of the coins can be seen at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. 


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