Trivia moneta vases on Llanddwyn Beach

Porcelain was

invented in China

in the Han Dynasty

(206 BC – 222 AD)

The white clay

became known as


(the Italian for cowrie shell)

Monetaria_moneta or Money Shells

Cowries were used

as currency for

thousands of years

(and it was known as ‘shell money’)

More about Porcelain
The defining characteristic of objects made with the clay known as porcelain are their hardness and translucency (when made thinly).
It had begun to be developed in China from porcelain-like clays as early as the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1046 BC) but wares became highly prized and exported as ‘porcelain’ in the Han Dynasty.

Although in Europe the name porcelain came to be used, it was also referred to as ‘China’ reflecting the origin of the wares.
It was not until 1712 that a French Jesuit father gained access to the secret ingredients of the clay and the door was open for European production on a grand scale.

For MORE on porcelain this is a good place to start.

More about Cowries
Porcelain was thought to resemble the cowrie shell which shares qualities of fineness and translucency.

Those illustrated are known as the European cowrie (Trivia monacha) and were gathered many years ago from the beach at Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey, Wales.  They are shells of a small sea snail, or marine gastropod mollusc, of the family Triviidae (Trivia meaning common, and monacha meaning ‘solitary’).

In Wales they are known as cowries but in some parts of Scotland they are called ‘groatie buckies’ (maybe porcelain would have been called something else if named after those!).

More about Trade
So that goods could be exchanged between different people other than directly through the barter system, money was invented and before actual coins were used, people used shells.  Or ‘shell money’ as it was known.

Shell money, and especially using the cowrie shell of the species Cypraea moneta, was used in all continents but especially Africa and was still used in West Africa until the mid 19th Century.

It was also the earliest type of money in China.

More about TRADE