CHINA - Cast round coins, 3rd Century BC - 1913
The main currency of China from 221 BC until the 1920s was in the form of cast copper
coins with square center holes. It is a wonderful series to collect. One can make a nice
collection of several hundred different pieces and never pay more than say $3.00 per
coin. In this series are the absolute cheapest ancients and medievals. What other series
has BC coins for $2.50? Or thousand year old coins for 50 cents or less? Though availability
is down from its peak about ten years ago, there is still enough around, with more coming
out, to maintain nice low prices for the ordinary material, and one can be assured that
most of the rare pieces will also turn up in one's lifetime.
For this article, just for fun, I'll use pinyin romanization. You probably won't have any
trouble with it. If you do, too bad. It's the official right way. You will use it and like it.
We have ways to make you do what we want!
A question which comes up fairly frequently has to do with the genuineness of the tons of
Chinese cash which have been placed (umph!) on the market. Now I'm willing to admit
that I've been fooled. Twice. I purchased a rare Song piece which was fraudulently
made from nineteenth century coins and artificially blackened to fool just such a
demi-expert as myself (and the guy I bought it from of course). I also got a hollow
handle spade and missed the repaired tip (and so did he!) Counterfeits are not rare. I've
seen thousands. Most, whether contemporary or made for collectors, I can tell at a
glance. With practice you will too. Most material coming out now, including the "as
struck" ancients, are genuine.
Authenticity, like most things Chinese, is actually not quite so cut and dried. In various
places at various times "private" casting was sanctioned,and one is always finding coins
which are smaller and cruder than the government standard for that particular issue. Too,
official corruption at the mints often led to production of an "A" coinage and a "B"
coinage. The Japanese imitated Chinese coin types for several hundred years, the
Vietnamese for about a thousand. I believe it was Macao in the nineteenth century where
an industrial district was given over to the manufacture of counterfeit cash to spend in
Canton. In the case of small Ban Liang many or most are probably private castings, and
who could tell for sure anyway? Probably 20-30% of Northern Song coins are privates.
Some coins seem to be available only as privates. On the other hand, most Qing lots
contain very few counterfeits. The wholesalers take them out and you have to try,
usually unsuccessfully to buy them separately.
Then there are the amulets. These have been made for luck, for fun, for religion, for
memento, all sorts of reasons. Some of them are obviously not coins, being larger, more
ornate, artistic, etc. Unmistakable. Others are just exactly like coins, except perhaps a
bit larger or smaller than they're supposed to be, or they have the wrong style of
calligraphy, or a strange reverse inscription, or even just dots and lines which don't
belong. Since most but certainly not all of these were privately made, any
comprehensive catalog would be more or less impossible (though an able attempt has
been made for Korea). This has tended to depress the price for these items.
While we're discussing amulets you should be aware of the occasional coin which has
been "amuletized." Usually this was done by engraving the coin. Engraving can be
simple, turning a 25 cents coin into a $2.00 item, or it can be complex, yielding a pricey piece
of art. The other main amuletizing methods were placing the coins in ornate settings,
including making strings of them into swords, bowls, fish, human figures, etc., and
painting them. In my experience engraved coins are one in several thousand items,
(crudely) painted coins are "a few" per thousand, and of course "emplaced" coins do not
occur in lots.
On to the coins themselves.
QIN DYNASTY, 255 - 207 BC
One of the Zhou feudatories, the head of the House of Qin, overthrew the last Zhou
Emperor. His successors proceeded to suppress the other noble families whose power
had been both the strength and the weakness ofthe Zhou state. Modern centralized
government was inaugurated by the penultimate emperor of this line, known to us as Qin
Shi Huangdi, 221-209 BC, from whose tomb has recently been excavated the celebrated
terra cotta army. He was the first in China to establish the welfare of the state as the
prime consideration of government, abolishing local laws, burning the old books, killing
scholars, and prohibiting the teaching of unauthorized subjects. To set the boundaries of
his domain he built the Great Wall. He also suppressed the local coinage, replacing the
various knives, swords, round coins, etc. with the round-coin-square-hole pieces which
thereafter became the standard.
These first cash were large size coins inscribed Ban Liang. Ban Liang were made for a
couple of centuries under both Qin and Han Emperors. Lately some people are claiming
that they were also cast during the last years of Zhou. (To enjoy Chinese coins you must
have a predeliction for ambiguity.) The Ban Liang come in various sizes from 65mm
down to about 10mm. The pieces of about 15 grams and 36 plus millimeters are
traditionally attributed to the House of Qin. 15 grams make half (Ban) of a Chinese tael
or ounce (Liang), and thus are supposed to be the "standard." Larger coins would then be
assumed to be amuletic or presentation pieces. Whatever, the 15 gram coins are highly
desired, are pretty scarce, and usually get over $100. Pieces larger than that are
extremely rare. I don't remember ever seeing any offered.
Several other coins are attributed to the Qin. Most are large coins with various ordinal
numbers on them. All of them are very rare, many are today seen only as rubbings in the
HAN DYNASTY, 206 BC - 200 AD
Qin Shi Hunagdi may have been a brutal tyrant but that didn't stop the populace from
illegally casting enormous volumes of counterfeits. Upon the death of Qin Shi his son Er
Shi ("Second Emperor") ascended. He could'nt keep the lid on as his father had, and was
overthrown, a statistically normal fate for the children of tyrants.
At the time of the accession of the House of Han the currency reflected the anarchy
which prevailed in the land. The Qin policy of maintaining a high intrinsic value had
made for a terrific coin shortage, which void was filled by the illegal light imitations.
The response of the beneficient Han Emperor was to legalize private casting without
imposing any standards. Everybody went to town with their homemade money. Obeying
Gresham's law the coins got progressively smaller, still bearing the old Ban Liang
inscription. until they attained the august size of 10mm. The tiny pieces are called "elm
leaves" by Schjth and "elm seeds" by Fisher. The elm leaves are actually fairly elusive,
and are not found in wholesale lots of Ban Liang. They had traditionally been extremely
cheap on account of being so small and ugly. Lately their scarcity has been recognized
and they will get up to five times the price of a common Ban Liang, which is to say
The government eventually felt that it had to take the currency in hand. It issued a coin
with two thirds the weight of the old Qin coins. These are identified by their Chinese
weight as "8 zhu Ban Liang," the zhu being equivalent to 100 millet seeds. The 8 zhu
coins are traditionally ascribed to the Empress Gao, 187-180 BC, and are usually $20-30
Being caught in the normal bind of governments everywhere, Han felt itself compelled to
inflation, and forthwith produced coins of 4 zhu weight, yet still retaining the old "half
ounce" legend. These are ascribed to the Emperor Xiao Wen, 179-156 BC. They are
fairly easy to obtain at $8 or so.
As the constraints on the government mounted it started to experiment with still smaller
coins. Coins were issued inscribed Si ("four") and San ("three") Zhu. These were not
accepted by the people and are rare. Bowing to tradition the government issued Ban
Liang coins, but it achieved its fiscal objective by setting the weight where it wanted itat
3 zhu. These are ascribed to the early years of the Emperor Wu. They are absolutely the
cheapest BC coins in the world. You can buy them by the hundred. Nice ones are a
couple of bucks.
There are a few "special" Ban Liang coins with extra characters, dots, lines, slightly
different readings, etc., and a few other odd pieces of the period (the Yi Huo series, e.g.).
All are rare.
Control over the weight of the Ban Liang coinage never having been obtained, the
government resolved again to replace them. In 118 BC it introduced the Wu (five) Zhu
coins. They were nice coins with outer rims to discourage filing and were so well
accepted by the people that they continued to be issued by the Han and successors for
about seven hundred years. For the most part they maintained their size and weight,
which became more or less the standard size for Chinese cash coins thereafter.
According to tradition BC versions of the Wu Zhu are known by the rendering of the
character Zhu, in which the phoneme is written with square "hips." These get a big
premium, usually goinng for $20 or so. Later versions have round "hips" and can be
obtained for a dollar or so.
There are records of silver coins being made by the Han, but none have been found in our
The continuity of the Han dynasty was interrupted in 7 AD when the minister Wang
Mang deposed the emperor and usurped the throne. He gave himself the dynastic name
Xin, but the Chinese to not accept him as a legitimate emperor, and do not mention his
dynastic style in the records.
Wang Mang attempted to reform governmental to better approach the old Zhou practices.
In the realm of finance he tried to introduce a denominated token currency in copper and
an official precious metal coinage. None of the latter are known to survive. The earliest
of these "reformed" coins were the Chi Dao and Yi Dao knives and the Da Quan Wu Shi
cash. The knives in no way resemble their Zhou precursors, looking more like modern
keys, or a cash coin with an attached blade. There are two types, value "500" and 5000"
cash respectively, the latter with the Yi Dao inscription incuse and filled with gold. The
500 is scarce and gets a couple of hundred dollars. The 5000 is rare. Its owners usually
ask four figures. The round ends with blade removed are sometimes found, getting $80
The Da Quan Wu Shi were first issued as robust coins, larger than the Wu Zhu but not
worth anything near the 50 cash claimed by their inscriptions. A poor excuse for a
reform, not likely to inspire public confidence. Extensive counterfeiting occurred, and
these coins are found in sizes ranging from 27mm down to 12mm or so. The big ones are
$5 coins these days. Little ones go for more.
Several other coins of the Da Quan series were issued. These include values of ten,
twenty, thirty, forty, and one. All are rare except for the "one," the Xiao Quan Zhi Yi
which usually runs $10 or so.
Wang Mang issued several different types of spades. These somewhat resemble the late
small square foot types of Zhou. There is a series of small pieces with numerical values
from "100" to "1000." Only the "1000" piece with inscription Da Bu Huang Qian readily
findable at $35 or so.
None of the denominated coins worked. They were withdrawn in 14 AD and replaced by
the Huo Bu spades and the Huo Quan cash. This was a very prolific coinage. The spades
are $10-20 in XF. The cash are $1 or so, not bad for a coin contemporaneous with the
reign of Augustus in Rome. Both types have been available in "as struck." There are
varieties of the Huo Quan. These include smaller pieces, extra lines and dots, and the
enigmatic pieces up to 20 times the normal weight, dubbed "bisquits" in the trade. These
are all scarcer than the normal coins.
The last numismatic effort of Wang Mang was the issue of the Bu Quan cash. These are
scarcer than the Huo Quan coins, and used to get $20 or more. Now they run about $5.
His reign dissolving into chaos, revolt broke out in Sichuan province. The rebels issued a
small iron coin, accounted the first iron of the series, inscribed Tie Ban Liang ("iron half
tael"). This coin is extremely rare.
THE HAN RESTORED
With the death of Wang Mang the Han authority was reestablished and the Wu Zhu
coinage resumed. These later Wu Zhu are very common, sometimes available for less
than $1. There are numerous "dot and line" varieties, also some with extra or repeated
characters. Examples in iron are known. These are all more expensive than the normal
type. There are also coins from which the center has been cut out. Both the centers and
the outer rings circulated and both are available of late at a few dollars. As the power of
the Han waned the Wu Zhu were cast by neighboring contemporary dynasties, sometimes
with distinctive variations, sometimes "as is." There is also a scarce late Han coin called
the Wu wen xiao qian ("no legend small coin") which is scarce, but no one ever believes
they have a real one. How can you tell if a blank coin is genuine? So they are both hard
to get and hard to sell.
END OF HAN TO START OF TANG
221 - 589 AD China was a divided country. There was instability, war, problems,
turmoil for about four hundred years. This period coincides with the time of troubles on
all the fringes of Eurasia from Gaul to India. The triggering mechanism for this political
decline was the expanded wandering of the various Central Asian horse peoples. These
migrations out of the hearland were always traumatic for all concerned. Where their
numbers became large enough the civilized bureaucratic structure collapsed. All of the
wanderers were war-like. Some groups were ferocious. They often won their
engagements and were fond of pillage and looting and rape and wanton destruction. The
settled folk hated them and refferred to them collectively as "Barbarians."
(Some surmise drought and famine as proximate causes for a tribe to get up and go. In
the latest and best documented of these expansions, that of the Mongols, the legend
ascribes an ecstatic vision by Jenghis Khan as the spark. But you have to remember that
the bubonic plague accompanied the movements of the Mongols, so some degree of
natural disturbance can be assumed.)
So as Rome was unsuccessfully dealing with the Celts and the Goths, in China it was the
various Tatar tribes who eventually brought down the Han. The period is known as the
"Six Dynasties" Era, to whit: Wu, Jin, Song, Qi, Liang, and Chen. However, other small
kingdoms issued coins during this period. It's confusing. Most of the coins are rare.
In 221 AD Wei broke away from Han, followed in 229 by Wu. Wei continued to make
Wu Zhu. Wu issued the big Da Quan Wu Bai and the very big Da Quan Dang Qian,
respectively valued at 500 and 1000. Actually the 500 comes pretty small. I had one
once the size of a nickel. But they're all pretty rare. You're a lucky duck to find a 500 for
$50, and let's not talk about the 1000. Wu also issued little Tai Ping Bai Qian and a few
other "Ping" coins. Same comments apply.
The House of Han lingered on until 265 AD. They issued the Zhi Bai Wu Zhu ("worth
100 Wu Zhu") in various sizes, with a few varieties and derivatives as usual. The
"regular" coins are $50 or so, the "fancies" are rare. What are they worth to you?
In all, 221 -265 AD is known as the "Three Kingdoms" period. It closes with the advent
of the Western Jin, 265 - 316 AD,to whom are ascribed the tiny Wu Zhu, 10mm dia.,
which are the second commonest of Six Dynasties coins. Availability is spotty. Prices
range from $10 to $20. Jin moved its capital east and issued the Tai Xia Ji Xing and Tai
Yuan Huo Quan coins, which are so rare that Schjth didn't list them. I've certainly never
The Jin government disintegrated in 420, beset by rebellion. Two very rare coins, Feng
Huo,and Han Xing, are ascribed to the rebels. The next 169 years are called "The
Division of North and South."
Song, 420 - 478, cast Si ("four") Zhu coins (rare), a larger than normal Wu Zhu (rare),
Xiao Jian (rare, but I had one once), Jing Ho, Xiao Shou and Yong Guang (all very rare),
and a set of small coins with round holes denominated in Zhu, some of them square,
which are very very rare.
Laing, 502 - 565, cast a distinctive wu Zhu with a complete inner rim on obverse, which
feature is lacking in Han specimens. It also issued Liang Zao Xin Quan, Da Ji Wu Zhu,
Da Tong Wu Zhu, and Da Fu Wu Zhu, all of which are rare.
Chen, 557 - 587, issued Tai Huo Liu Zhu, which is very rare.
Northern Wei, 386 - 584, made the Tai Ho Wu Zhu and the Yong An Wu Zhu (both
scarce, $50 or so).
Northern Chi, 550 - 577 issued Chang Ping Wu Zhu ( maybe $25-35).
Northern Zhou, 557 - 581, made a Pu Quan (maybe $30), Wu Xing Da Bu (rare), and
Yong Tong Wan Guo. This last coin comes in sizes ranging from a double cash to 10
cash. The middle size ones are handsome coins, slightly available, usually at $40-50.
The oldest amulet I ever owned had a Yong Tong obverse, Ursa major reverse.
At the close of the period all China was united under the Sui Dynasty, 581-618 AD. Sui
issued a very distinctive Wu Zhu in which the Wu is formed of two traingles. This coin
is fairly available at $10.00 or less. Also attributed to Sui is a very rare Ping Dang Wu
The Six Dynasties period closes with the advent of the glorious Tang. Tang established
the four character obverse which became standard for the next thirteen hundred years. I'll
continue from there next time.
CHINA -Cast Coins 618 AD - 1280
The rise of the Tang Dynasty, 618 - 907 AD, marks the emergence of the modern state
that we recognize today as China. Chinese governments are traditionally classified
according to their yin / yang nature. Tang was quite assertive and outgoing. Externally it
advanced the borders at the expense of the Turks and the Vietnamese and pursued active
relations with India, Persia, and the Islamic Caliphate. Internally it refined
administration and encouraged arts and learning. Financially it promoted stability by,
among other things, reforming the coinage. The Tang reforms set patterns which lasted
until the advent of the Republic.
When the armies of the first Emperor Gao Zu entered the old Sui capital Changan they
found great disorder in the coinage. Tiny counterfeit coins made up the entirety of the
circulation. These he replaced with the Kai Yuan ("New Gate" more or less) Tong Bao
money. These were the first Tong Bao ("Good money" more or less) coins, which
became the standard appellation. The weight of 3«g and the presence of rims inside and
out, front and back also set the norm thereafter.
The regular Kai Yuan coinage is extremely plentiful. Contemporaneous with the "dark
ages" of Western Europe, you can get an average circulated piece for 50 cents, a nice VF for
$1. It was struck without change for the next three centuries.
In this coinage calligraphy varieties start to emerge as collecting possibilities. These
varieties were officially ordered to mark some occasion or other. Most of these
occasions are now unknown. In the Kai Yuan coins one finds variations in the character
Yuan. The lower horizontal stroke is written with left (common), right (not common),
and double (scarce) hooks, also no hooks (straight and curved, both common).
Pricewise, a "right hook" is $5 or so, a "double hook" somewhere between $10 and $20.
Crescents and dots, also known as moons and stars, were added to these coins as
distinguishing marks. The Kai Yuan crescent is supposed to be the mark of the long nail
on the little finger of the Emperor's right hand, impressed by him in the reverse mold to
indicate his approval. The nailmarks are found in many different positions on the
reverse. "Bowl" crescents on top are common (50 cents), "lids" on the bottom are much less
available ($2-3), others go on from there. The marks vary in size too, from big
impressive ones to thin, short things which might just be mistakes, but probably aren't.
Kai Yuan with dots are fairly scarce as Kai Yuan go. The commonest dot coins are
probably those with the dot under the Tong on the obverse. This mark indicates a branch
mint and runs $10 or so. Coins exist with both moon and star and are fairly scarce.
Also found for the first time in this series are anomalous coins where the impressions in
the mold were rotated 90 degrees, yielding what is called an octagon or "flower" hole.
These are fairly scarce for most types, occurring most frequently in the coinage of the
Northern Song Dynasty. The practice died out during the time of the Ming.
The second Tang Emperor continued the Kai Yuan coinage unchanged. The third could
not leave well enough alone and introduced a new coin, the Qian Feng Quan Bao in 666
AD. These were tariffed against the Kai Yuan at ten to one, though in size they were
identical. As usual in China the people rejected the token money. It was withdrawn and
is very rare today ($100 or more, beware of deceptive fakes). Learning nothing from
history, the tenth Tang Emperor issued the Qian Yuan Chong Bao in 758 AD. These
weighed about as much as five of the Kai Yuan but were forced into circulation as equal
to fifty. Once again they were resisted by the public. The government backed up and
reduced the value several times. Then it really put its foot in it by casting a small version
of the Qian Yuan the same size as the Kai Yuan. General confusion ensued, with much
counterfeiting. The entire experiment was abandoned, the Kai Yuan remaining
dominant. Da Li Yuan Bao, the first Yuan Bao ("new money")coin, was made in 766,
Jian Zhong Tong Bao in 780. Both are extremely rare. In 780 a full value ten cash was
issued with the Kai Yuan inscription, which is scarce.
In 841 a great persecution of the Buddhists began. Many temples and monasteries were
sacked, the bronze of the bells and statues being sent to the provincial mints for coining.
The obverse inscription remained Kai Yuan as before, but this time to the reverse was
added the word Chang to indicate the Hui Chang year title. In subsequent years mint
names were substituted. Together they form the "Hui Chang Kai Yuan" series. On most
of these (and on succeeding coins with reverse inscriptions until the Qing Dynasty) the
reverse is usually found at least a grade lower than the obverse. Most of these
mintmarked coins are $5-$20 items. A few (e.g. Ching - the capital province, and Lo -
the capital city) are more common, and a couple (Fu, Yong, Gong) are very rare.
Two extremely rare types end the Tang series. They are the Xian Tong Xuan Bao of 860
and the Tian Yu Yuan Bao of 904. I have never even seen counterfeits of these, let alone
the real thing.
A couple of rebellions were attempted later in the Tang period. Coins produced by the
rebels include the De Yi Yuan Bao and Shun Tian Yuan bao coins, both quite scarce, and
the Tai Qi Tong Bao, which is excessively rare.
THE "FIVE DYNASTIES" PERIOD, 907-960
The five decades following the fall of the House of Tang formed, let us say, a window of
opportunity of which various factions sought to take advantage. The House of Song
eventually won out. In the interim not only the Five Dynasties listed in Schjth, but also
"Ten Kingdoms" as listed in Ding Fubao issued coins. Here follows a list of the issuers,
issues, and findabilities. The history is too convoluted for a brief article such as this.
(all coins are copper "1 cash" unless mentioned
DYNASTY YEAR TITLE COMMENT RARE?
Kai Ping Yuan Bao
1, 10 cash
907-921 AD Kai Ping Tong Bao 5 cash extremely
Tian Cheng Yuan Bao
923-935 AD 926 AD
Qing Tai Yuan Bao extremely
Tian Fu Yuan Bao
936-942 AD Tian Fu Cheng Bao extremely
Han Yuan Tong Bao
947-948 AD Qian Yu Yuan Bao very rare
Zhou Yuan Tong Bao
comes with &
951-954 AD without moons scarce
& stars var-
10 cash very rare
(all coins are copper "1 cash" unless mentioned
DYNASTY YEAR TITLE COMMENT RARE?
Yong Tong Quan Bao
937-975 AD Yong Tong Quan Huo 10 cash in extremely
Bao Da Yuan Bao 1 & 2 cash extremely
Tong Xing Quan Huo extremely
Tang Guo Tong Bao seal & orth common
10 cash rare
Da Tang Tong Bao rare
Kai Yuan Tong Bao seal script common
iron 1 cash rare
Qian Feng Quan Bao
5 & 10 cash
907-953 AD also in iron very rare
Tian Ci Fu Bao 10 cash extremely
Yong Ho Tong Bao 1 & 10 cash extremely
Yong Long Tong Bao
2 & 3 cash
907-948 AD Tian De Tong Bao 3 cash extremely
Tian De Chong Bao 3 cash extremely
Kai Yuan Tong Bao 10 cash rare
Qian Heng Tong Bao
907-970 AD Qian Heng Chong Bao copper extremely
Da Yu Yuan Pao extremely
Guang Tian Yuan Bao extremely
Yong Ping Yuan Bao
907-925 AD Tong Zheng Yuan Bao extremely
Tian Han Yuan Bao rare
Guang Tian Yuan Bao scarce
Qian De Yuan Bao scarce
Xian Kang Yuan Bao scarce
Ming De Tong Bao
925-966 AD Guang Zheng Tong Bao extremely
Da Shu Tong Bao extremely
Ying Sheng Yuan Bao
Ying Tian Yuan Bao extremely
NORTHERN SONG DYNASTY
The great House of Song established its sway over most of China by 960 AD, though
some of the "Ten Kingdoms" endured for a decade or so. Song ruled united China until
1127, when the north was overrun by the Tatars, and endured thereafter in the south until
extinguished by the Mongols in 1279.
The early Song Emperors were fond of changing their year titles. For the eight Northern
Emperors there thirty one different year titles on the coins. For many of the issues the
same year title will have both a Tong Bao and a Yuan Bao designation, a few will be
styled Chong Bao ("heavy money") as well. To this profusion of types can be added what
I'll call "level 1" calligraphy varieties. This is where the overall style is typically
rendered in the so-called "seal," "orthodox," or "grass" styles, among others. Some Song
types were issued in all three styles. Thus we have a rather large series.
There are also quite a few moon and star varieties. Most are at least scarce. And it is
actually even more complicated than that. The Song were also fond of making what I'll
call "level II" calligraphy varieties. This is where, for example, the top component of
Tong is rendered as either a triangle or as a square, the changes being made for various
administrative and commemorative reasons. There are a lot of these small calligraphy
varieties. Some are listed in the "Big Three" references, but there are many more. I
heard a rumor once that there was a Japanese reference for these varieties but I've never
seen the book.
The good news about the Northern Song coins is that most of them are extremely
common. You can get most of the year titles as 1 cash coins in acceptable condition for
less than $1 each. A half dozen are difficult, only a very few are impossible. Currently
Northern Song coins are available by the thousand, exported from Indonesia, where they
were sent by Ming traders, to Singapore, thence into our market.
For Song the chart format once again seems applicable.
NORTHERN SONG COINS
YEAR TITLE COMMENTS RARITY
Song Yuan Tong Bao
numerous moon & star varieties,
968-976 this title is picked out by wholesalers
iron 1 cash extremely
Tai Ping Tong Bao
976-990 orthodox script common
iron one cash extremely
iron 10 cash extremely
Chun Hua Yuan Bao
990-995 grass script common
2 cash rare
iron 1 cash extremely
Zhi Dao Yuan Bao
995-998 orthodox script common
grass script common
grass script w/ abbrev. Dao common
Xian Ping Yuan Bao
2 cash rare
10 cash extremely
Jing De Yuan Bao
iron 10 cash extremely
Xiang Fu Yuan Bao
1008-1017 sim. w/ wide rims scarce
2 cash rare
3 cash rare
iron 2 cash extremely
iron 3 cash extremely
Xiang Fu Tong Bao orthodox "normal"
Tian Xi Tong Bao
1017-1023 orthodox script common
iron 2 cash extremely
Tian Sheng Yuan Pao
1023-1032 orthodox script common
orthodox iron 1 cash extremely
seal iron 2 cash extremely
Ming Dao Yuan Bao
1032-1034 orthodox script "normal"
This title sometimes picked
by the wholesalers
Jing Yu Yuan Bao
1034-1038 orthodox script common
iron 2 cash extremely
Huang Song Tong Bao
seal and orthodox script,
1038-1040 large & small chars., all: common
Mongol seal script extremely
2 cash scarce
iron 1, 2, 3 cash extremely
Kang Ding Yuan Bao
1040-1041 iron 1 cash extremely
Qing Li Chong Bao
2 cash rare
3 cash scarce
iron 2 cash extremely
Huang Yu Yuan Bao
1049-1054 orthodox rare
Zhi Ho Yuan Bao
1054-1056 orthodox common
Zhi Ho Tong Bao
seal, Zhi like mirror scarce
Zhi Ho Chong Bao
2, 3 cash rare
5 cash Fang, Guai rev extremely
iron 3 cash rare
Jia Yu Yuan Bao
1056-1064 orthodox common
Jia Yu Tong Bao
Zhi Ping Yuan Bao
1064-1068 orthodox common
iron 1 cash extremely
Zhi Ping Tung Bao
Xi Ning Yuan Bao
seal, major vars.
1068-1077 orthodox, major vars. common
seal & orth, Heng rev. very
iron seal & orthodox extremely
Xi Ning Tong Bao
iron 1, 2, 3 cash very
Xi Ning Chong Bao
2 cash, large & small,
seal & orthodox "normal"
big ones possibly "3"
Yuan Feng Tong Bao
1078-1085 orthodox common,
but only as 17th c. Japanese imit-
ations. Chinese originals are rare
2, 3 cash, seal & grass "normal"
iron 2 cash seal & grass scarce
Yuan Yu Tong Bao
seal, orthodox, grass
1086-1093 seal, grass common
2, 3 cash, seal & grass "normal"
iron 2, 3 cash scarce
copper 1 cash with var.
characters rev. Most seen
are Japanese. Chinese are rare
Shao Sheng Yuan Bao
seal, orthodox, grass
1094-1097 2 cash, seal, orth, grass "normal"
iron 3 cash scarce
Shao Sheng Tong Bao copper & iron 1 cash very rare
Yuan Fu Tong Bao
1098-1101 orthodox rare
2 cash, seal & grass "normal"
iron 1 cash seal & orth extremely
iron 2 cash seal & orth scarce
Yuan Fu Chong Bao 2 cash, orth extremely
Sheng SongYuan Bao
seal, orth, grass
1101 2 cash, seal, orth, grass "normal"
iron 1, 2 cash extremely
iron 3 cash scarce
Sheng Song Tong Bao
Dang Wu rev. very rare
Chong Ning Yuan Bao
copper & iron, orth
Chong Ning Tong Bao
2,3 cash "normal"
10 cash common
iron 1 cash extremely
iron 2 cash rare
Chong Ning Chong
10 cash common
10 cash, Shi rev. very rare
iron 3 cash rare
Da Guan Tong Bao
1107-111 2, 3 cash scarce
10 cash "normal"
10 cash, Ban Liang rev. very rare
50 cash, 100 cash extremely
iron 1, 2 cash very rare
iron 3 cash scarce
Zheng Ho Yuan Bao
iron 2 cash extremely
Zheng Ho Tong Bao
seal & orth
1111-1117 2 cash, seal & orth "normal"
iron 1, 2 cash seal & orth rare
iron 3 cash seal & orth scarce
Zheng Ho Chong Bao
copper 2, iron 1, 2, 10 cash very rare
Chong Ho Tong Bao
orth & seal
Xuan Ho Yuan Bao 1 & 2 cash, orth & seal very rare
Xuan Ho Tong Bao
seal & orth
1119-1126 Shen rev. very rare
2 cash, seal & orth normal
iron 1 cash seal & orth very rare
Shen rev. scarce
Jing Kang Yuan Bao 1, 2 cash, seal & orth very rare
Jing Kang Tung Bao
1,2 cash, seal & orth
1126-1127 iron 1 cash extremely
Jing Kang Chong Bao
SOUTHERN SONG DYNASTY
Pushed out of Northern China by the Tatars, the Song court retired to the south. Coinage
continued on the old models, but output was diminished, making all the southern coins
generally scarcer than the northern. The first four year titles followed the old pattern,
with many varieties of calligraphy, size, styling etc. These year titles are:
-Jian Yen, 1127-1131
-Shao Xing, 1131-1163
-Long Xing, 1163-1165
-Qian Dao, 1165-1174
All of these titles exist in 1 and 2 cash values, in Yuan Bao and Tong Bao stylings ( plus
Chong Bao for Qian Yen), in copper and iron, and there are also a few mint marked
reverses. Generally the one cash coppers are scarce or worse, the 2 cash are a bit easier
to find, iron and coins with inscribed reverses are rare. All these are notable for the
crummy condition in which they're usually found.
Starting in 1174 and continuing for a hundred years the coins have regnal years on the
reverse of most (but not all) of the copper 1 and 2 cash. Most of these dated coins are
reasonably common, enough so that one can buy complete sets of the dated Southern
Song 1 cash made up into a little album in Singapore. That's 88 coins. The set retails at
around $150, down from over $200 maybe five years ago. From time to time the two
cash are available at reasonable prices ($10 or so). All Southern Song coins are scarcer
than the common Northern Song. None, more or less, can be had for less than $1. Some
of the year titles have moon &/or star reverses, and a few have mint designations. Of
these, only the Chun XI Yuan Bao with moon and star is common enough to be an
occasional find in a bulk Northern Song lot. The rest are scarce to impossible. A couple
of the titles have large 10 and 100 cash coins, all of which are rare except the Duan Ping
5 cash, which is scarce.
The year titles with dates are:
-Chun Xi, 1174-1189, of "normal" availability
-Shao Xi, 1190-1194, also "normal"
-Qing Yuan, 1195-1200, "normal" again
-Jia Tai, 1201-1204, "normal"
-Kai Xi, 1205-1208, "normal"
-Sheng Song, 1208, an abortive title, rare large
iron coins only
-Jia Ding, 1208-1225, generally a common title.
there is a series of large coins in which the third
character, normally Yuan or Tong, is replaced by exotic
characters like An, Chen, Zheng, Hong, Long, and others,
-Bao Ching, 1225, another abortive title
-Da Song, 1225-1228, "normal"
-Shao Ding, 1228-1234, "normal"
-Duan Ping, 1234-1237, "normal"
-Jia Xi, 1237-1241, "normal"
-Chun Yu, 1241-1252, "normal"
-Huang Song, 1253-1258, "normal"
-Kai Qing, 1259, scarce
-Jing Ding, 1260-1265, somewhat scarce
-Xian Chun, 1265-1275, "normal"
where "normality" refers only to the 1 cash coppers.
In the last years of Song were issued three very rare titles: De Yu in 1275, Jing Yen in
1276, and Xiang Xing in 1278. That ends the Song coinage except for the anomalous
copper "tallies" illustrated in Schjth, which possibly do not exist except as occasional
counterfeits, and the two extremely rare rebel coins: the Ying Yun Yuan Bao of 994 and
the Zhao Na Xin Bao of 1130.
I'll continue with the Tatar and Mongol dynasties next time.
East of China is the Pacific Ocean. In all
other directions is a Sea of Grass, all of it
inhabited. The people of these inland regions have always been seen as a threat by the
Chinese. They referred to them generically with words which we would translate as
"barbarians." They particularly feared the nomadic horse-and-iron peoples of the north
and west. It was against the recurring depredations of the nomads that they built and
maintained the Great Wall.
For their part, the nomads feared and envied their settled neighbors. The highfalutin airs,
complicated philosophies, rituals and social courtesies of the city folk they scarcely
noticed. Book learning and "law" they held in contempt. But they sure did notice the
stuff they had in the cities. Fine silks, gold, mirrors, drugs, fancy women. The Chinese
ways of obtaining the alluring products of civilization, which is to say, to earn or finagle
them, same as us, was not appealing to the nomads. Their tendency was to just go and
take it. Like most three year olds.
Imagine an enormous gang, larger than the police, larger than the army even, and better
In periods of Chinese weakness the barbarians advanced into the Central Country (Zhong
Guo) and stayed a while. The gang kicks you out of your house, takes your children, and
makes you support them. Chaos deepens. The civilization starts to fall apart. Some
local bureaucrat goes to the barbarian chief and explains how he can make the chief
much richer than he is now. Chief's no dummy, he sees that his men are strangling the
Golden Goose, so he takes the local on. This bureaucrat is either a traitor or a patriotic
hero, depending on how you look at it. He recreates the bureaucracy, teaches the
barbarians the ropes, simultaneously tightening and lightening the yolk on his people. At
least now they know what to expect. In three generations at most the barbarians have
assumed all outward expressions of the Chinese culture and have become effete. Their
military prowess eroded, their nomadic culture abandoned for the trappings of
civilization, they totter, then melt. China continues as before. Meanwhile, beyond the
wall, in the Sea of Grass, new nomad tribes are gathering strength.
As part of the process of civilizing the nomads the bureaucrats set up normal tax
collection procedures. To facilitate collections "money" is required. Thus coins were
made, on the standard Chinese model, with the year titles of the barbarian kings.
Barbarian coins of Chinese module are known from at least as early as the seventh
century AD. In a Recent Russian book, The Ancient Coins of Central Asia, by E.
Rtveladze, (Tashkent, 1987) are pictured two square holed copper coins of Sogdian kings
of the seventh and eighth centuries. These have a cursive sodgian legend on one side, on
the other are two marks. Described in the book as "royal insigniae," they are strongly
reminiscent of the Chinese Wu Zhu. These are well made pieces with nice clear legends,
and have the same size and weight as Chinese one cash coins. There are no listings of
suchlike coins in the normal references, which is not so surprising for the Chinese
catalogs, since they're not Chinese. But Mitchiner omits them from all three volumes of
his Oriental Coins and their Values as well. They must be extremely rare. For myself I
am convinced there are other of these imitative coin types currently unknown in the west.
Such coins have most definitely not made it to the market.
THE TATAR DYNASTIES
The Tatars were nomads who began to extend their influence from the eighth century. In
conformance with the nomad norm, they were great horsemen and fearsome warriors.
Their notoriety spread such that their name became the catchall term for all nomads of
the period. Tatar "hordes" overran progressively larger and larger portions of Northern
China, eventually establishing the first of several "Tatar Dynasties," the Liao, which
endured from 907-1125.
Schjth lists ten year titles for the Liao Dynasty. Staak lists eighteen. All of them are
rare to extremely rare. In ten years I've had one, the Qian Tong Yuan Bao of 1101-10.
Qian Tong is a $100 coin in VG. I've had want lists for this dynasty which have not
changed in all that time, the coins are so tough.
The next Tatar dynasty to be established was that of the Xi ("Western") Xia, 990-1227.
Once again Schth's collection was light on these coins. He only listed five titles. Staak
lists twelve. All are very rare or worse, except the Tian Sheng Yuan Bao coin of
1149-70. These are rare too, but they can't be too rare, because I've had two, for which I
paid $65 a piece, high for a cash. but I considered them bargains. Still do.
The fall of the Liao occurred coterminously with the rise of the Jin ("Gold") Dynasty,
1115-1234. With Jin coins one can do more than wait and pine. A couple of the titles
are available in the $1-2 range. These are one cash coins of the Zheng Long title,
1156-60, and the Da Ding, 1161-95. Zheng Long exists also as a rare iron coin. Da Ding
comes in iron (rare), with mintmarks (scarce to rare), and in 2, 3, and 10 cash versions
(all rare). It was succeeded by Cheng An Bao Huo, 1196-1201, which is extremely rare.
This title was followed in turn by Tai He Zhong Bao, 1201-1212. There is a nice large
ten cash of this title written in seal script which is occasionally available in the $25-50
range. Other coins of this title are very rare. The other Jin titles are Chong Qing, 1212,
Zhi Ning, 1213, Zheng Yu, also 1213, and Tian Xing, 1232. I've never seen any of them.
THE YUAN DYNASTY, 1280-1368
The orphaned son of a Mongol clan chief began to have visions of Mongols united in
pursuit of their destiny. Charisma began to flow from him and the clans coalesced into a
coherent unit. The Mongol nation under the great Khan Chinghiz won over or conquered
its nomad neighbors. Then the united tribes rode out of the Sea of Grass to seize the
wealth of the cities which had been promised by the visions of Chinghiz. God really was
on their side. By the time of the death of Chinghiz' grandson Mongols ruled from Korea
to the border of Vietnam, from the unknown lands of eternal snow to Northern India, and
all the way west as far as Hungary and Poland.
This grandson, Kubilai, was the one who completed the conquest of China. Legend has it
that his early thoughts of what to do with his new country were more or less along the
lines of: expropriate everything, kill everyone, and use the wonderful warm land to breed
a lot of horses. As outlined above, a local bureaucratic savior appeared, explaining to the
new barbarian Lord the methods and benefits of long term exploitation over short term,
thus allowing the people to continue. And with the establishment of the Mongol
bureaucracy inevitably came the taxes, and with them the coins.
The Mongol (Yuan) government is notorious among numismatists for their enormous
issue of paper money. At least we've read in the records that it was enormous. We can't
tell now. No examples seem to have survived. The Song issued paper money as well,
but that series has left no specimens either. The Yuan maintained a gigantic army,
wasted a lot of money. Inflation was bad. Bureaucratic norms were constantly being
corrupted by the personal whims of the rulers. Chaos advanced. Most Yuan coins,
therefore, are scarce.
Kubilai's first two year titles were issued before he had completed his conquest of China.
These are the Da Chao Jin He and the Zhong Tong of 1260. Both of these titles are very
rare. After the conquest there are seventeen titles listed in Staak, of which six are listed
in Schjth. Only a few are available. Zhi Da Tong Bao, 1308-11, runs $5-10. The large
Da Yuan Tong Bao 10 cash of 1310, with handsome Mongol seal writing, has been
$20-30. The other titles run from over $100 to "forget it." The series includes some
gigantic coins. One of Staak's illustrations is 105 millimeters in diameter. Too bad
they're not available. Iron coins appear to be unknown.
After less than a century of misrule the Mongols lost their edge. Rebellions and coups
began in the 1350s. Several of these movements issued coins. All are very rare to
THE MING DYNASTY
A Buddhist monk gathered the people about him and drove the Mongols out of the south.
Setting up his capital in Nanjing, by 1368 he had reclaimed all of China for the Chinese.
Thinking at first to call his dynasty Da Zhong ("Great Chinese") he had coins made with
that year title, 1364-67. The oracles however declared Da Ming ("Great Bright") to be
more appropriate, and thus the splendorous Ming Dynasty was inaugurated.
The Da Zhong coins are not rare but Ming remains a dynasty of highest repute,
everybody wants the first Ming coin, it's not that common. Thus a one cash usually runs
$5 or more. The title is also found on 2, 3, 5, and 10 cash coins, with and without a half
dozen provincial mint designators, all of them at least scarce. Iron coins do not seem to
With the adoption of the Ming designation the Da Zhong coinage ceased, replaced by the
Hong Wu. This, in it's plain one cash version, is one of the commonest year titles,
usually available by the thousand at 25 cents or so. It comes with "one dot" and "two dot"
Tong (one dot is commoner), with nailmarks variously placed on reverse (not all that
common), with Yi Li ("1 cash") reverse (about $1), and with mint designators, most of
which are scarcer (say $8 and up). There are also 2, 3, 5, and 10 cash, all scarce or
worse. A plain 2 cash will be over $10.00. A plain 10 will usually top $30.
The old Emperor died in 1398. The next Emperor was not very good, only lasting three
years. Among his unmemorable acts he issued the Jian Wen coins. These are supposed
to have been so ugly that all were withdrawn on his demise, and today they are at least
extremely rare and possibly do not exist as originals.
The next Emperor issued the Yung Lo coins, 1403-24. This is another extremely
common item. Enormous quantities were exported to Japan where they served as the
mainstay of the currency for almost two centuries. There are no "varieties" of this coin,
no multiples, mintmarks, nailmarks. Nothing. It was followed by the rare Hong Xi
coins, which were made only in 1425, and by the Xuan De issue, 1426-36, which runs a
couple of bucks. Then follow Zhong Tong, 1436-49 and rare, Jing Tai, 1450-56, Tian
Shun, 1457-64, and Cheng Hua, 1465-88, all extremely rare. Hong Zhi Tong Bao,
1488-1506, is available for a couple of bucks, though a Hong Zhi Zhi Bao is extremely
Then came the extremely rare or nonexistent Zheng De, 1506-21. The one cash of Jia
Jing, 1522-66, costs a couple of dollars. 2,3, 5, and 10 cash of this title are rare. Long
Ching, 1567-72, is darn scarce, but available. After that was Wan Li, 1573-1619.
Being made for more than forty years, you'd expect the Wan Li coins to be
hyper-common. Turns out not to be so. The plain one cash will run a couple of bucks.
With mint designations they are scarce to rare. A 2 cash is very rare. A giant 1000 cash
is extremely rare. Once I had a two cash with Tian ("Heaven") reverse, not listed in any
catalog I have. I've provisionally decided it was an amulet.
An interesting variety of the Wan Li coins are made of yellow brass and coated with a
dark glaze. These are the products of an ongoing fraud operation at the Ministry level.
In essence the mints produced an "A" series of good copper which was issued to the in
crowd, and a "B" series of cheaper brass, dressed to look nice, and issued to the poor
slobs on the outside. Naturally the glazed coins are more common, but on most the glaze
has worn and chipped off, leaving a shiny yellow coin. It was a popular fraud, and
continued through the end of the Ming and well into the Qing.
Wan Li was followed by Tai Chang, 1620, which is very scarce, and Tian Chi, 1621-28.
A Tian Chi one cash will run about $5. Plain 10s are available in the $20-30 range.
There are 1 cash with mintmarks, also with Yi Qian (1 mace) reverse, most of which are
scarce. 1 cash with dot reverse run just a bit more than the plains. There are also Tian
Chi Tai Chang hybrids, extremely rare.
The last regular year title of Ming was Chong Zheng, 1628-44. The picture for this title
is similar to Tian Chi. There are large and small coins, with and without dots and
mintmarks. Plain 1 cash are a couple of bucks. Most varieties are somewhat scarce.
I mentioned a hybrid title above. There are actually more than a few of these things.
There is a Tai Chang coin with Wan Li reverse, a Long Ching with Tai Ping Tong Bao (!)
reverse, and my favorite: Zheng Zheng Zheng Zheng. I have also seen coins inscribed Yi
Qian only, there is a Yi Wen, a Yi Fen, a Wu Qian, anonymous coins with values only.
There are also inscriptions which look like they say something, only nobody can figure
out what. These "specials" drift imperceptibly over into the amulet field. I'll bet that
many or most are actually Qing era products, made in memory of the "Good Old Days."
In the course of each dynasty there were rebellions, some of which have left numismatic
remains. The greatest number of these were issued during the end of Ming and the
beginning of Qing. The first listed are traditionally those of several Ming scions driven
south after the fall of the dynasty in 1644. These are Hong Guang, issued by a grandson
of the Wan Li Emperor, Da Ming, by the Prince of Lu, Long Wu, by a descendant of the
first Ming Emperor, and Yong Li, by another grandson of the Wan Li Emperor. The first
three are scarce. The Da Ming coins, being quintessentially Ming (even though they
aren't), are very popular and expensive. On the other hand, the Yong Li coins are
relatively common. The plain one cash goes for a couple of bucks, with mint designators
maybe $10, the 5 and 10 cash with Yi Fen ("one penny") reverse have lately been
available at $20 or so. There are also Yong Li coins in seal and grass script, scarce but
The next group of rebel coins belong to various pretenders, warlords, and ephemeral
dynasts, all eventually suppressed by the Manchu Qing. These are the Da Shun (a
"murderous ruffian" according to Schjth, whose coins are somewhat scarce), Xing Zhao
(his son, who surrendered to the Manchus and was ennobled, his coins are more
common), Yong Chang (1 and 5 cash, both available), and Xi Wang Shang Gong (in
copper, silver, and gold, all extremely rare).
Finally there are the issues of the Ming General Wu Sangui and associates. It was he
who invited the Manchus into China "to restore order." Then he rebelled and set up a
rival dynasty far to the south in Yunnan. Wu's kingdom endured until 1681 when his son
was conquered and China once again united, albeit under foreign domination. The elder
Wu issued the Li Yong and Zhao Wu coinage, most of which is fairly common. The
younger cast under the title Hong Hua, the one cash of which are also common. An
associate of the Wus, Geng Jingzhong, occupied Fujian and issued the Yu Min coins. Yu
Min coins are not rare. In the past decade very large coins of this title have been on the
market with reverse legend Gong Yi Liang ("Board of Works one tael"). These are not in
the older references, and as they actually weigh about three taels one might tend to
suspect them of being amulets. In workmanship they are several cuts above the other Yu
Min coins, from which fact one might begin to think about a later date of issue. Ah,
Chinese coins! All questions, no answers.
The Manchus were not Chinese, therefore officially barbarians. They had become very
powerful by the end of Ming. Called in to quell the chaos which ensued on the death of
the last Ming Emperor, they seized the opportunity and stayed for 250 years. Following
the normal barbarian pattern they became quite Chinese in short order. The bureaucracy
Coins were made before the inauguration of the dynasty in both Chinese and Manchu
versions. The earliest are the Tian Ming (different Ming meaning "administration" rather
than "bright") pieces of Khan Nurachi, 1616-26. These are exceptionally hard to get.
Last time I tried I was quoted $160 wholesale in Singapore. I ordered it but it was gone.
Next time it was $240. Forget it! The same title in Manchu ("Abkai Fulingga Han Jiha")
costs about $35 in normal low grade. Large versions of these coins are sometimes seen.
They are later amulets or forgeries.
Nurachi was succeeded by Abahai, who continued the simultaneous issue of coins with
Manchu and Chinese inscriptions. He actually did issue some 10 cash coins. But no
matter. Whether 1 or 10 cash, Tian Cong Tong Bao or Sure Han Ni Jiha, his coins are
just not available. If you see one you'd do well to assume it's a fake and take it from
The successor to Abahai was a six year old boy. His regent conquered China for him and
he grew up to be the Shun Zhi Emperor. His coins started out on the old Manchu
module, which was about 20% heavier than the Chinese. These coins have blank
reverses and distinctive calligraphy, and are scarce.
Blank reverse coins of Chinese module from Beijing mints are more common. The early
series encompassed coins with reverse characters Xin ("new"), Hu (for Board of
Revenue), and Gong (Board of Works) at top. Xin is scarce, Hu is common, Gong is in
between. A Hu or a blank will run a few dollars.
A few years later a series of coins was inaugurated with a single mint designator
character reverse. The commonest of course are the Hu and Gong coins, which will cost
a couple of bucks. Other mints will be $5 and up. Some will not be available. After a
few years the characters Yi Li ("one cash") were added. Most of these are also
moderately scarce, the Yun (for Miyun in Zhili) being the only common one.
The next series dropped the Yi Li legend and substituted a Manchu version of the mint
designator. The Boards of Revenue and Works adopted a wholly Manchu reverse. Most
of these coins are very common. You can get them by the hundred. $1-2 retail is normal.
The only scarce one in the series is Yuan (from Shanxi). The Singapore dealers like to
keep them for the twelve coin "mint sets" and charge an arm and a leg for them as
singles. How about $40? There is also an extremely rare coin with Xi ("South") reverse,
probably a pattern.
The coins of the famous Kang Xi are fairly straightforward. That is unless you choose to
get into dating them by calligraphy variety, as expounded in W. Werner's Ch'ing Cash
until 1735 (Taipei 1976). There are twenty six major reverse types. The Board mints
have Manchu only reverses, the provincials are Chinese-Manchu. Of these only five are
scarce: Guilin ($5), Hunan ($15), Zhili ($30), Taiwan ($60 and lucky to get it), and
Gansu (who knows?) The others are $1-3. The Board mints have "one dot" and "two
dot" Tong varieties, and also come as half size mint frauds. Occasionally you'll find one
with dark enamel, but the practice was discontinued during the reign. Very few people
pay attention to these things. The "one dot" coins are rare from Board of Revenue, scarce
from Board of Works.
A parallel series exists with all Manchu reverses. I've never seen them, think they're
probably late patterns. There is supposedly a genuine Board of Works 100 cash,
undoubtedly also a pattern, palace coin, or some such, and not something any of us will
ever see. At least not a real one.
As part of the celebrations of the Emperor's sixtieth birthday the head tax was abolished,
which led to an instant increase in population. The birthday was commemorated by
slightly changing the Xi character. According to Burger the story that they were cast
from melted Buddha statues and contain gold is a myth. Because of their auspicious
associations these birthday cash are highly prized, hard to get, usually cost $20 or more.
There's another set of coins from Fujian with additional year cycle designations,
evidently genuine, and extremely rare.
Kang Xi cash were the subject of extensive amuletizing in later years. One finds large
and small versions, double sided pieces, things which might be real, except they're too
big, small, thick, thin, wrong calligraphy, etc. The later Emperors cast Kang Xi coins for
use in the palace. Imitation has been more extensive for this title than for any other.
Remember this whenever you find a strange one.
On the death of Kang Xi in 1722 the Yong Zheng Emperor ascended. The new Emperor
swept out the corrupt mint officials and ended the practice of forging at the mints, so that
no half sized coins are found. In the first few years some rare coins were cast with mixed
Chinese-Manchu reverses. These were replaced with all Manchu reverses, which
remained the standard style for all mints until the end of the dynasty. There are fifteen
major mints in this series (plus branch mints, e.g. the four branches of Board of
Revenue). The scarce mints are Hubei, Shandong, Shanxi, and Honan. All run $10 and
up. Gansu is even scarcer, was $30 the last time I had one. Guangdong coins are listed
in Schjth, Ding, and Staak, but the mint was closed during Yong Zheng so such coins
have to be forgeries. More mysteries.
I should be able to finish up the Empire next time.
Under the fourth Qing Emperor the Chinese Empire expanded greatly and grew very rich.
This Emperor invaded Vietnam, conquered Xinjiang, and brought Tibet into a vassal
relationship. In commerce he greatly increased the production of silk and porcelain,
exporting ever larger quantities to an emerging Europe grown fat from the exploitation of
the New World. Thinking shrewdly and planning ahead he forbade the import of any
manufactured products from Europe, accepting only silver bullion.
With the passage of time the drainage of specie from Europe began to be felt on a
"macro" level. The situation became egregious enough that good old King George III of
England sent a representation to the Emperor, making gifts of the wondrous new
European mechanical products, clocks and suchlike, and asking if there wasn't some little
value added commodity which the Chinese might desire. The Emperor sent back a nice
letter to the barbarian king thanking him for the quaint and curious gifts. No, they really
didn't need anything, China was the biggest country in the world, please continue
bringing silver as before, and next time please observe the protocols proper to a barbarian
chief when addressing the Son of Heaven. George's ministers must have gnashed their
teeth, but at the time there was nothing they could do.
This Emperor used the Qian Long year title, 1736-96. It is the most common title of any
Chinese cash. Coins were cast at twenty six mints, with a few more made by later
Emperors as memorials. If you buy 1000 Qing cash you'll find most of the mints in the
mix. Board of Revenue is the most common mint of course, followed by Board of
Works. The scarce ones are Taiwan ($50 or so), Annam (over $100), Shantung ($10),
Khotien in Xinjiang (never saw one). Several other Xinjiang coins are memorials by the
Guang Xu Emperor in the late nineteenth century. Iron coins are unknown for this
Emperor. A zinc coin of the Sichuan mint is conceivably a mother coin, which is to say a
model used to impress the sand molds to make the regular coins. Of the more than
50,000 cash I've handled I've found precisely one zinc coin from China, and it wasn't this
one.. See below for details.
All the catalogs (except the SCWC) list a Qian Long coin with no legend on reverse. I
have had several of these, but all of them were normal coins with reverses filed flat.
Genuine pieces will have outer and inner rims on reverse. Nothing less will do. A few
pieces are found with extra dots, all scarce, and a few with anomalous Chinese-Manchu
reverse legends, all rare. There are also "10 cash" palace issues and special birthday
coins, also rare.
Out of respect for his grandfather, Kang Xi, the Qian Long Emperor abdicated before the
years of his reign should exceed his ancestor's sixty one. Qian Long's last decades had
shown the langorous decay and corruption which is the norm for senescent regimes, and
the disorder was reflected in the coinage, which was heavily grafted and debased. The
new Emperor immediately closed all but four of the mints and set about reforming their
bureaucracies. In this period the Qian Long tile continued to be used. To indicate the
change in administration and to give respect to his predecessor the Emperor changed the
base of the Long character so that it formed the word Shan ("mountain," where the
Immortals live). The four "Shan" Long mints are Board of Revenue, Board of Works,
Guizhou, and Wushi in Xinjiang. All are available for a few dollars.
The following year the Emperor reopened many of the provincial mints and began
issuing money with the Jia Qing title. Most Jia Qing coins are almost as common as the
Qian Long. Anhui mint is new and rare. This title has more common "extra dot" coins
than any other Qing title. There was also a fairly large issue of double size coins from
the Board mints which are occasionally available. A large number of normal size pieces
with amuletic reverses are illustrated in Ding Fubao. Two different thousand cash
patterns are illustrated in Staak. A few iron coins are listed in the SCWC. All these are
myths to me.
In 1820 the Emperor died, to be succeeded by the unfortunate Dao Guang Emperor.
Unfortunate in that it fell to him to have to fight the British who were intent on selling
opium in China. Opium import was prohibited, but the British found that it was the only
thing they could sell to get back some of their silver. After a century of importation it
was beginning to be a problem. The Emperor enforced a ban, and the British attacked.
China lost, and import continued. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Taiping rebellion
broke out at the close of his reign. The quality of the coinage deteriorated during this
period. Many coins are found badly cast. For many mints early large and later smaller
coins are found. In general the Dao Guang title is somewhat less common than the
preceding Jia Qing, itself just a bit less common than the Qian Long coins.
Like it's predecessor, Dao Guang comes from the Board mints in double size, and from
numerous mints with extra dots. "shapes" are a feature of this reign. Crescents, circles,
dotted circles, triangles, etc. are found from several mints. Only Board of Revenue with
dot on bottom reverse can be said to be (slightly) common among the specials. Again,
there are birthday cash which are occasionally available, and iron coins, which aren't.
The entire reign of the next Emperor, Xian Feng, 1851-61, was devoted to the
prosecution of the war against the Taiping movement. Inflation became serious, thus the
issue of the various large coins. The one cash coins are cruder and quite a bit scarcer
than any of the preceding titles. Wholesalers pick them out of the bulk. Occasionally
they are available by the hundred. Last time I got them they were cleaned with abrasive.
Yuk. The coins start small and get smaller. Commonest mints are the Boards, Fujian,
and Yunnan. Several new mints started up, most of which are scarce. There are some
specials with dots, etc., all of which are scarce or rare. The only available Qing iron
coins are from this reign. These are the Board issues. They are usually very badly made.
The average coin looks aG. The only Qing coin in zinc I ever found was this title. Yes
folks, I actually found a Board of Revenue zinc coin in a San Antonio coin shop about
ten years ago, so I can tell you what they look like. Small. Undistinguished. Ugly.
Now on to the multiple cash. Forget about the iron ones of course. Check your 1000 and
500 cash very carefully. Most are fakes. Basically only 10, 50, and 100 cash turn up
with any frequency. Commonest mints are the Boards, Zhekiang, Fujian, Jiangsu, and
Sichuan.. Except for the 100 cash, the full weight copper coins of Fujian are available,
though their popularity drives up the price.
Weakened by the Taiping war, China next blundered into another war with England. The
Emperor was forced to sign a concessionary treaty from which his prestige never
recovered. His government in tatters, he abdicated in 1860.
THE DOWAGER'S EMPERORS
The last three Qing Emperors did not rule. Policy was set by various court factions
revolving around the widow of the Xian Feng Emperor, the "Dowager Empress." She
was a great court schemer, but a terrible, lousy, bad administrator. By the end China was
practically a turkey on the table for the European Imperialist powers, ready to be sliced
up. The Dowager started out auspiciously enough. In the reign of the first of her
Emperors, her six year old son, 1861-75, the Taiping rebels were finally suppressed, but
the country was in a terrible state which got worse as the years passed.
The first coins of this boy Emperor had the Chi Xiang title, which is very rare and gets as
much as four figures. The Dowager didn't like the name and had it changed to Tong Zhi.
These coins are much scarcer than the Xian Feng, so we see that every year title from
Qian Long is scarcer than the previous. The pattern holds through the close of the
dynasty. Coins are smaller and uglier than preceding. It's often hard to tell the official
coins from the contemporary counterfeits.
The commonest Tong Zhi 1 cash mints are Zhejiang, Jiangsi, Jiangsu, Guangxi, and
Yunnan. Guangxi with a circle top reverse has recently become relatively common.
Reduced size 10 cash from the Boards are also fairly available. All the other mints,
specials, etc., are scarce or rare.
The next Emperor, a nephew this time, also ascended as a child. Some attempts began to
be made to deal with European culture, and the making of machine-struck coins began.
There really are no common cast cash of this title, though I suppose the Board 10 cash
have been my most consistent finds over the years. Several each of Fujian, Hunan, and
Shensi have come my way, and last year some of the scarce Honan coins came out.
Everything else is rare, or very rare, or extremely rare, or nonexistent.
The next Emperor we all know. We all saw the movie, right? Xuan Tong was a puppet
Emperor for three inglorious years. Cast coins were issued from the Boards and from
Gansu, Yunnan, and Tongzhuan. Small Board of Revenue coins are about $10. Large
(i.e. normal size) pieces are scarce lately. The others are rare. And that ends the Qing
The Jin Long coin of the 1832 rebel is extremely rare. You'll notice the SCWC
illustration is a drawing. Staak's picture would seem to be a rubbing. I've never heard of
a real one, or of a counterfeit for that matter. It is quite ephemeral.
Not so the Tiaping coins. This rebellion was a gigantic movement involving millions of
people for over fifteen years. The charismatic leader combined Christian and Confucian
elements in a cosmology which put him roughly in the position of Christ returned
(something like Sun Myung Moon today). His program called for common ownershp of
property, what we have traditionally called communism. The movement controlled large
regions of the south in the 1850s. It set up local governments and cast coins for general
The most common Taiping coins have Tai Ping Tian Guo obverse and Sheng Bao
reverse. One cash are $25 or so, 3s are $60 or more, 10s are over $100, the giant 100
cash is more or less unavailable. Coins with the same legend arranged differently are
scarce. Tai Ping Tong Bao, and Tian Guo / Sheng Bao are very scarce. Huang Di Tong
Bao and Ping Jing Sheng Bao are very rare. Taiping coins exist in silver and gold. You
actually see these in auctions from time to time. Be very careful. I'd hate to see anyone
pay big bucks for a fake.
Just as the Taiping movement was on the verge of extinction a Muslim rebellion broke
out in Xinjiang led by Ghazi Rashid. He issued cash with arabic inscriptions and small,
thick teardrop shaped coins. They used to be rare, but now are somewhat available.
Another Muslim rebel, Yakub Beg, 1865-77, attempted to unite the eastern Turks with
the Ottoman Empire, striking coins of Islamic style in the name of the Ottoman Sultan.
Both of these rebels were suppressed.
The Xinjiang coinage is anomalous in several respects. Poor communications and
undeveloped economy made for an ongoing coin shortage, so that many normal sized 1
cash coins are marked as 10 cashes. Numerous Xinjiang coins were actually made at the
Board mints in Beijing. Numerous earlier year titles were cast on the order of later
Emperors. Making a confusing situation much worse is the absolutely wretched
technique of most of the local issues.
All the Xinjiang coins used to be rare. In the last decade a few came out in large enough
numbers that their prices have become reasonable. In the Xinjiang context this means
$3-5 or so. Some of these, by title and mint, are:
Qian Long - Ushi
Jia Qing - Aksu
Guang Xu - General issue 1 cash with Manchu Boo Chiowan, etc., Boo
Yuan/Ku and Boo Xin general issue 10 cash, 10 cash of Aksu, Kashgar, and
Kuche. This emperor also had 10 cash made with the titles of his
predecessors. The Qian Long and Dao Guang coins of Aksu are common.
Of the coins made at the Board mints in Beijing the most obvious are those of Ili. The
Xian Feng 4 cash has come out in enough quantity to drop it's SCWC price from $400 in
1986 to $75 now. It's still very scarce. The 100 cash you know about, right? Almost all
We can finish up the cast cash quickly now. Min Guo Tong Bao 10 cash, listed in SCWC
under Yunnan, are adequately available, but the typical casting is weak and fuzzy, so that
really nice ones are hard to find. The accompanying 1 cash coin with the barely readable
reverse character is scarce, that with San ("three") reverse is rare. Three other
Republican titles: Kai Yuan, Tian Zhao, and Ming Dao are all extremely rare pattern or
souvenir coins. Fu Jian Tong Bao coins are available, the 1 cash less so than the twos.
Fu Jian Shun Zao 2 cash is a rare pattern. The extremely rare Hong Xian coins of the
usurper Yuan Shigai (the gentleman on the "fat man" dollar) are simply patterns. His
coup never really got off the ground.
Before moving on to the Chinese struck coins the sycee should at least be mentioned.
Examples of the ingots are known from the Song period but are not on the market.
Realistically the earliest available sycee are from the mid-nineteenth century. We have
the testimony of Mr. Kann in his Currencies of China and of Mr. Sigler in Sycee Silver
that the most common types, at least in late Qing times, were the 50 tael "shoes" made by
the banks. These are occasionally available, as are ten tael "kettledrums." Small pieces
of a tael or less are seen, most of which are quasi-amuletic.
By far the most common type is the 5 tael "packsaddle" ingot of Yunnan. These were
traded south into Burma and Thailand in trade for opium among other commodities, and
tended to be hoarded as is instead of being made into fat man dollars as befell most of the
sycee in China. Packsaddles were made until the 1920s by numerous firms in Zhengdu,
and usually cost about $100 these days. Mitchiner illustrates a piece with Republican
inscription, which he erroneously attributes to the communists, and which I have been
seeking in vain since I purchased his book.
I have never seen a fake packsaddle. The potential fraud in the sycee would be the
addition of spurious counterstamps to kettledrums or shoes. The ingots usually did not
carry a year title, and that is the inscription most often added. The little pieces are still
being made in Hong Kong, etc. for birthday and wedding present, sometimes with
antique Qing titles. I'd guess that most of the small ones are modern.
CHINA - IMPERIAL STRUCK COINS - A DECEPTIVELY COMPLEX SERIES
To my mind the most important fact about the struck
coins of the late Chinese Empire
and Republic is that the local mints operated autonomously as profit making businesses.
Though the central government attempted from time to time to assert its control all these
efforts were, in the end, largely ineffectual. In practice this means that in any particular
instance one is more likely than not to find wide variation in striking characteristics, if
not in intrinsic value, within a given issue. The mints struck both provincial and
"general" issues, and also did private contracting for the medallic items we call fantasies.
Frequently the operations were graft ridden and corrupt. At times some of the mints
issued fraudulently debased versions of regular coins in large numbers. Each local
Chinese mint negotiated independently with the Western firms who were vying for mint
business. There is thus a rich series of patterns, off metal strikes, mules, etc. new types
still being occasionally found.
Very few people were sentimental about their coins. Unique pattern or private
medallion, they were subject to being spent at any moment. They circulated alongside
cash, sycee, chopped foreign dollars, and more and more paper money. Even the rarest
pattern tael may conceivably be found with legitimate wear.
The number of possible numismatic objects appears not to have a limit. Amuletic
versions of old coins are still being made, deriving their market value strictly from their
ephemerality. The most recent of these are perhaps the excellent base metal copies of
rare Republican dollars which appeared a couple of years ago.
Until the advent of World War II the wheel of commerce which the various Chinese
coins greased was a local commodity market. Coins circulated as bullion. Silver and
copper moved around the country with shifts in local price ratios. Some issues were
minted strictly for export to some other province where their sale would bring a profit.
Mint fraud was a constant problem. Copper coins were frequently issued lightweight,
silver was frequently debased. For the most part this debasement is not reflected in the
catalog listings. Most collectors and dealers do not perform specific gravity tests on their
coins, but it remains an important aspect of the series. Some of the 20 cents silver coins,
supposed to be .800 fine, assay at .400.
Imperial Chinese struck coins divide into five broad categories:
1) early local emergency coins,
2) holed cash,
3) provincial (English-around-dragon),
4) Tai Ching Ti Kuo,
EARLY LOCAL COINS
Some ephemeral local issues were struck before the arrival of the first European minting
machinery in 1889. The most famous and available are the "old man" and "military
ration" dollars. The Old Man coin actually says TAIWAN in Manchu, which would
seem to indicate something, though I think I remember reading some article arguing that
they really were made somewhere else. The military ration coins do not say "Taiwan"
anywhere. There are Fukien ration dollars too, very rare. I've had a few of the old men.
For any specimen of this coin you'll find that half the people you show it to will say it's a
fake. I can't say for sure that I've seen a real one. If it was me collecting old men and
military rations I'd just assume that all coins were counterfeit and vigorously appreciate
their esthetic qualities.
We also have the four types of "silver cakes" of Hunan and Kiangsu to covet. These are
basically round sycee, hand made by local silversmiths. A few were ordered by the
Imperial government, a few by the province, most were privately ordered and say so in
their legends. Before they were listed in SCWC they were practically unheard of. Now a
few of them are out and around. I am personally very leery of them, especially the
handsome Shanghai pieces. You have nothing to compare them with to establish
authenticity. That's just my inexperience talking. They are cute and exotic, engagingly
crude, pleasingly thick, very rare bargains if they really are real. So what if you can't tell
Pattern taels and fractions were made in mysterious Kirin in 1884 (?). Though I've never
actually seen any of these, I assume that they were handmade, as the modern mint
machinery was not brought to Kirin until 1901.
The first modern machinery was bought from the British in Hong Kong in 1887 and was
installed just up the road in Canton in Kwangtung province. Silver coins were struck in
1889, followed in short order by the brass cash coins weighing a full official (Kuping)
mace (ch'ien) Millions of these were made, but they turned out to be too heavy, so
production ceased during the year, and the coin is uncommon enough to be worth a
couple of bucks in XF. The "different style" coin mentioned in SCWC must be rare. I've
never seen one. In 1892-94 lighter cash were issued. These are very common today.
Full size struck cash exist as patterns or as small run experiments with mintmarks for
Chekiang, Hupeh, kiangnan, Kiangsu, Kirin, Anhwei, Shantung, and Szechuan, and the
Board of Revenue, though I suspect no one has actually seen this last. Most were made
at foreign mints as samples. All are very scarce to rare. Most often seen is the Kiangnan
piece, usually crudely struck, and often selling under its listed catalog value.
In 1905 a new small round holed brass cash was introduced equal to the Tai Ching Ti
Kuo 1 wen coins. These were struck at Kwangtung first with the Kuang Hsu title, later
with Hsuan Tung. Both of these are common coins, but they are popular in Asia and get
three to ten times the SCWC prices there, thus there is no wholesale available from the
Small 1 wen cash were also struck for Fukien with both the Kuang Hsu and Hsuan Tung
titles, both scarce. And there are rare patterns of the central government Tung Pi (copper
coin) type. Finally there is the Fengtien copper 10 cash, well struck, handsome, scarce,
and popular, and a Kwangtung pattern 10 cash, extremely rare.
PROVINCIAL SILVER COINS
Silver and copper were accounted differently in China. Local economics always favored
silver over copper, which would be hoarded while copper was spent. The formerly
ubiquitous Mexican cap-and-ray pesos had disappeared in the late 1880s, prompting the
issuance of Chinese substitutes. Minors followed in short order. The standard silver
denominations were 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, and dollar. The largest volume of minors was in
20 cents coins, not because people liked them best, but rather because they were easier to
force onto the market, and thus were the most profitable to the mint. Scarcest
denomination is typically the 50 cents. Silver coins and brass cash only were struck through
the end of the nineteenth century.
The first modern coins were the Kwangtung silvers with English legend around the
Emperor's title. The Emperor didn't like that at all. It reminded him that China was
surrounded by foreign enemies. These people fitting China out with a modern currency
were, after all, the same ones who sold them opium. So the first coins of Kwangtung
were withdrawn and are rare. The dollar and the pattern tael are "classic" rarities. These
coins were replaced in 1890 with English-around-dragon coins. The 10 and 20 cents are the
most common dragon minors and are available in uncirculated. The 5 cents is less so, the 50
cents and dollar are pretty scarce. The type was adopted by most of the mints thereafter.
Kwangtung 20 cents and dollar coins of Hsuan Tung are reasonably available and are also
found in high grade.
In 1893 silver coins were struck at the arsenal on Taiwan island. The 5 cents is rare. The 20 cents
is very rare. The 10 cents would not really be so bad, except that the coin is hyper-popular for
the obvious reason that it is the only available Imperial silver of that sentimental
overpopulated island. Any Taiwan coin near SCWC price would have to be a bargain.
Modern mints were opened thereafter in rapid succession. Hupeh was next. In 1894 it
struck undated 10 cents, 20 cents and dollar coins specially marked for provincial use. These coins
are very rare. In 1895 it began to issue 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, and dollars of the normal type.
The 5 cents is scarce, the others are fairly common, the dollar actually being one of the
commonest of the dragon dollars. There is also a tael of one of the abortive tael trials,
which, though expensive and scarce, is the commonest of the taels.
The Chekiang, Fukien, and Peiyang (Chihli) mints began to issue silver in 1896.
Imperial coins of Chekiang are all scarce or worse. The dollars are classic five figure
rarities. Numerous varieties of the 20 cents are recorded. The Fukien minors are common
enough, and are found in high grade. The dollar is another classic rarity.
The first Chihli silver types (1896-99) had the unusual circular Manchu legend. The
minors are interestingly denominated in Jiao (dimes). They are not particularly common.
The type was superseded in 1899 by the normal English-around-dragon type, 20 cents, 50 cents,
and dollar only. 1899 20 cents is the most common minor, and it's scarce. The dollars are
common. Year 34 is especially so, by virtue of restriking by the mint under the Republic.
There is also one of the experimental taels, this one very rare.
Anhwei, Fengtien, and Hunan issued silver starting in 1897. All Anhwei silver is scarce.
Coins of years 23 and 27 are very rare. Same is true for the Hunan silver, the rare ones
being the undated (1897) 5 cents and of course the pattern 50 cents and dollar. The first Fengtien
silver, like that of Chihli, had the circular Manchu inscription and denomination in jiao.
All of these are fairly scarce. English-around-dragon dollars were issued dated 1903, 20
cents in 1904. The minor is available, the dollar scarce. In 1907 coinage was issued for the
Tung San ("Eastern Three") or Manchurian Provinces, of which Fengtien was one. The
10 cents is scarce, the 50 cents and dollar scarce to rare, but the 20 cents has been fairly
common recently. I heard that in the early '60s the Capital Coin Company had a lot of them in
uncirculated which they gave out as premiums. A large batch came out of China in the
'80s, including more uncirculated pieces. So even though the original mintages of the
numerous varieties are smaller than many others,Kiangnan e.g., they have been
temporarily abundant. Get 'em while they're here.
Before leaving the Tung San I should mention the Heilungkiang patterns. I'll just
mention them, because they're fabulously rare.
The first Kiangnan silver was issued in 1898 in 2 varieties: with and without a circle
around the dragon. Circled are more common, the uncircled dollar is pretty scarce.
Kiangnan coined fairly prolifically until 1905, issuing dated 10 cent, 20 cent and dollar coins for
each year in numerous varieties, many or most of which are available. A couple of the
1904 dollar varieties are among the commonest dragon dollars. 5 cent coins are not so
common. 50 cents are rare. 10 cents and 20 cents were struck in 1911 with the Hsuan Tung
title, and are somewhat scarce, despite a large reissue of fraudulently debased 20 cents in 1916.
Also in 1898 Szechuan issued the standard denominations without date. The dollar is
common. The minors are scarce. All denominations were again issued in 1909 with the
new Emperor's title, and the same comments apply. A set of patterns was produced for
Shensi in 1898, which are, of course, classic rarities.
Kirin silver started in 1899. They used hand cut dies in soft iron for many of the early
coins, a plethora of die varieties resulting. Coins tend to be crude, grades tend to be low.
Of the two main Kuang Hsu types, flower vase center or yin-yang center, neither is
notably more common than the other. 1908 coins with Manchu legend in center are
scarcer, as is the 1908 20 cents with "2" (jiao). Kirin 50 cents are relatively more common than
those of most other provinces. Dollars are fairly scarce.
Tientsin mint issued silver starting in 1907. These so-called "General Issues" without
provincial designation are scarce by and large. Only the Hsuan Tung dollar could be said
to be common (in lower grades), but it's popular and sells fast. Tientsin struck a large
number of classic patterns: the Peking series, the 1903 taels and fractions, the gold taels,
etc. A Peking set was sold at auction during the '80s, as have a couple of gold taels.
Yunnan was the last provincial mint to open under the Empire, striking 20 cents, 50 cents,
and dollars in 1908, and 50 cents and dollar again in 1909, all of which are available in lower
grades but elusive in uncirculated. A set of coins with Kuang Hsu title but without
English legend was issued in 1911. The 10 cents is scarce. 20 cents is less so, a small hoard of
uncirculated pieces having come to market in the '80s. The dollar is common in
circulated, scarce in uncirculated until now, but as it was restruck in 1949 one would
expect a lot of the restrikes to be reposing still in people's basements or in holes in the
ground. The 50 cents coins were also restruck in 1949 in debased alloy. Evidently plenty of
them made it out to the market, as they are the commonest Imperial style half dollars,
albeit not Imperial products.
Imperial coins of Kweichow are anomalous, if indeed they are Imperial at all. All are
handmade and very rare. SCWC wonders if they were perhaps made along the coast,
which makes sense. Why would an isolated landlocked region in the south make an
imitation Japanese yen? I bet they're private.
PROVINCIAL COPPER COINS
The first copper 10 cash coins were struck to relieve the copper market, which was full of
crummy counterfeit cast cash. The official Board of Revenue 10 cash had shrunk to the
size of the old Li, which is to say an old 1 cash coin. The mints weren't really casting
anymore, just a few trees now and then to keep up appearances. So when the nice big
new coppers were introduced the market loved them immediately. They had a good
intrinsic value and a convenient size. The practice spread like wildfire across the
country. In many cases the mint overproduced, glutting the market and depreciating the
value of the coins. Provinces were constantly prohibiting circulation of foreign copper,
which in sufficient quantity could unbalance the local market.
The new coppers remained popular and circulated widely. They were subject to the same
hazards of official fraud through both debasement (brass) and short weight. Imperial
types were restruck during the Republic. Die varieties abound. I know a collector who
has over 4000 of them. There are many mules. All told, however, there can't be more
than thirty or so major common types. Grade can be a problem too. You can sometimes
get 10 cash coins by the hundred or by the kilo and none of them will be XF or better. In
fact, average grade will be VG. Plus planchet flaws, plus die deterioration. It can be a
1, 2, 5, and 20 cash were also struck in small amounts, but they never amounted to much.
10 cash coins remained the workhorse copper coin. The reference for them is The
Minted Ten Cash Coins of China, by T. Woodward. Mr. Woodward mentions an
estimate of over 31 billion 10 cash coins struck until 1925.
It took the government eleven years before it got around to minting copper. Again, it was
done first at Kwangtung in 1900, with the only coin of the series which called itself a
"cent." This, and accompanying "Ten Cash" coin are common and exist in high grade. I
won't discuss the mules. Mules get what the market will bear and there are many more
than are listed in SCWC.
Fukien coppers were struck at three different mints, all of them privately operated.
Starting in 1901 5, 10, and 20 cash were struck for the provincial government. 5 and 20
cash are scarce in either copper or brass. (Check diework and surface carefully on brass.
That's what most counterfeits are made of.) Most of the FOO-KIEN 10 cash are common
and well struck, except for the oddball "CASHES" coin. The "CUSTOM HOUSE" coins
were struck in 1905 at the Mamoy arsenal. They're reasonably common, except again for
the one with the fractured grammar.
There is this mysterious 10 cash from Kiangsu listed in the SCWC. It is described as
ND(1898) Y#-, brass, rare. This would make it the first struck 10 cash coin. The coin is
not illustrated, and is not in Woodward. I don't know anything about it. Does anyone?
Aside from the 1898 whatsit there are regular copper coins issued from 1901. The
undated 5 and 20 cash are scarce. There are a whole bunch of major 10 cash varieties,
most nice and cheap. The "KIANG-COO" coin is actually extremely rare, shouldn't have
a price. I don't think it's been offered in my lifetime. There is, however, a transitional
variety between the original "COO" and recut "SOO" where the "C" is clearly visible
under a crudely cut "S." I've had this coin, so by definition it's more common than
"COO." Check your "SOO" coins. You might be lucky.
A copper mint was set up at Chinkiang city in Kiangsu in 1905, striking only 10 cash and
a pattern 20 cash. Most varieties are well struck and reasonably common.
Hupeh, Hunan, Nonan, Anhwei, Peiyang, Kiangnan, and Kiangsi, began issuing coppers
in 1902. There are varieties galore from this mint. The coins are usually found in
unfortunate grades, but availability is for the most part more than adequate. Some of the
commonest coins of the series are from Hupeh. Under Y102.3 is a note stating that the
coin is found with both coin and medal alignment. Most of the 10 cash dies were not
locked into the collars and are found in all kinds of positions, so alignment is not that
significant. The undated 1 cash of 1906 is relatively common as 1 cash coins go. A
small hoard of Uncs came out about five years ago.
Anhwei 5 and 20 cash are rare. Of the numerous 10 cash varieties most are rather scarce.
In my experience only Y36a.1 could truly be said to be common. The "ONE SEN" and
"ONE CEN" coins are popular and seldom offered. "TOEN CASH" are a bit more
common, hen's teeth rather than blue moon. There are also two 10 cash "service medals"
with standard dragon reverse and military legend obverse which never show up.
Peiyang struck 10 cash only. These are common enough, and a brass 1 cash is findable
Undated Kiangnan 10 cash are scarce to rare. Dated coins started the same year and
continued in great variety until 1905. Most of the major subtypes are very common. A
1906 2 cash is not around.
Hunan, Honan and Kiangsi struck copper only between 1902 and 1905. Kiangsi and
Hunan made only 10 cash. Most of the numerous undated Hunan varieties are common.
High grade coins are scarce. Even the commonest Kiangsi varieties tend to be elusive.
Honan 10 cash tend to come poorly executed and in low grade, and not all that often.
Many were melted and restruck into the prolific Republican issues.
In 1903 production of copper began at Chekiang, Fengtien, Szechuan, and Tientsin.
Most Chekiang 10 cash varieties are available in lower grades. 5 cash are more available
than most others of that denomination. The 20 cash is rare.
Even the commonest Fengtien 10 cash varieties are not easy to find. 20 cash are even
harder. The copper "dollar" token is impossible.
Szechuan copper runs from slightly tough to extremely rare.
Tientsin struck 5 and 10 cash coins for the Board of Revenue (Hu Poo). The 5 cash is
available, which is not bad for a 5 cash. Most Hu Poo 10 cash are fairly common. The
20 cash, struck in Hupeh, are the most common of that denomination. High grade
specimens are most likely Republican restrikes. There is a handsome 10 cash of Hsuan
Tung which shows up every now and then, usually in a disappointing grade. The 1 cash
of the last Emperor is scarce, 2 and 5 cash are impossible.
Shantung struck 10 cash in 1905 and a scarce 2 cash in 1906. None of the 10 cash are
common, and the 2 cash is scarce. Kwangsi is represented only by an extremely rare
Kirin coppers are all at least scarce. Woodward did not discuss them in his book - too
many varieties. He said he'd get to them later but never did. A 2 cash is rare, as is a
"cashiform" 10 cash. The 50 cash, only Imperial coin of that denomination, is extremely
rare. The late Daniel K. E. Ching had one, which I assume will eventually come up for
TAI CHING TI KUO COINS
The Imperial government toyed with several schemes for a national coinage to end the
chaotic corruption of the provincial issues. The tael was promoted by the Imperial Court,
but the market was dominated by Mexican cap and ray pesos. None of the tael projects
got past the trial stage. The most wide ranging reform was the Tai Ching Ti Kuo series
of 1905-11, based on the dollar.
Tai Ching Ti Kuo coins were supposed to be struck at a standard weight and alloy, with a
fixed copper/silver ratio . All the dies were supposed to be made at Tientsin mint and
distributed to the provinces. Most of the dies actually were made at Tientsin. But the
carefully made coins entered the market as just another offering of money. They were
never struck in large enough numbers to drive out the polyglot provincials. Issue of
silver was confined to Tientsin. Provincial mints used the new dies at their discretion
creating numerous mules. A few made their own dies. The system was abandoned for
much of the coinage of the last Emperor.
Most of the Tai Ching Ti Kuo coins, including some of the cheap ones, are scarce to rare.
The few that aren't are so common as to throw the entire series into disrepute. Probably
90% of the Tai Ching coins I've met in my life have been three types: Central
Government 10 cash Y10.5, 20 cash Y21, and Hupeh 10 cash Y10j.5. These three coins
usually come heavily circulated. The rest of the series gets a lot more interesting.
Central Government coins without mintmark from Tientsin were struck 1905-09. The
1908 1 cash is "not common," 1909 is pretty rare. The nice undated piece with the hole
in the middle was never common and I haven't seen one in a couple of years. I think the
price is too low. All the 2 and 5 cash are tough. Apart from the varieties mentioned
above 10 and 20 cash are only moderately available at best. Silver, struck at Tientsin
only, is mostly scarce. Only the undated (1908) dollar has had any strong market
presence, and it's popular and sells quickly. Pattern taels and fractions are rare Singapore
Anhwei coins are scarce. Chekiang coins are scarce. Peiyang coins are scarce. Fengtien
coins are scarce to rare. Fukien coins are scarce. Honan coins are scarce. Hunan coins
Hupeh coins are scarce with the exceptions of the Y10 series of 10 cash which are
common. A few of the Kiangnan 10 cash are moderately available. The rest are scarce.
Kiangsi coins are scarce. Kiangsu coins are scarcish. Chingkiang coins are scarce. Kirin
coins are very scarce.
I hate to say that coins with 50 cents catalog values are scarce. I'm just going by my
experience. I've handled thousands of Chinese coppers. 75% have been provincials, the
Tai Chings distributed as described above. A lot of cheap coins are ones I've never seen.
In practice some are less available than pricey coins whose high quote has pulled them
onto the market.
Kwangtung coins are not scarce, but can't be called common either. Shantung coins are
scarce. Szechuan coins are scarce. Yunnan and Yunnan/Szechuan coins are scarce to
rare. These are the high priced ones that are actually more available than say the cheaper
Kirin or Kiangsi coins
I've saved the worst for last. The coinage of the Western "New Territories" was chaotic.
Local mints were primitive. Much of the silver coinage followed Central Asian
conventions, which means in practice that we ignore minor calligraphy varieties in the
Turki legend. Before the '80s all Sinkiang coins without exception were rare. Then
quantities of some coins were put on the market, depressing the price. Now most of the
material has been absorbed, but prices remain low.
With a couple of rare exceptions, only silver was struck during the Empire. The copper
market was served by old fashioned cast cash right up to the end.
Common coins. Well, the restrike version of the Tientsin struck KM1a "15 cash" is
around in Unc. Y6 and Y7 « tael and tael have been available in weak VG-VF.
Miscellaneous Kashgar 3 and 5 mace coins showed up in quantity once upon a time. I
had twenty odd Y18a 3 mace, including three date varieties (not new dates) unlisted in
SCWC. So what? The little half miscals of Yarkand show up more often than any other
small silver. All the other Imperial Sinkiang coins are still what they used to be. Rare.
My choice of one word to describe the coinage
of the Republic of China would be
"chaotic." The last Emperor's government had seemed to have become as incompetent,
corrupt, destitute as it possibly could be. With huge areas leased to foreign governments
and corporations the Imperial regime was reduced in large measure to acting as a rental
agency. The Republican government never got a handle on the situation. In fact, things
got much worse. Central authority was never fully established. With foreign
encroachments, regional conflicts, coups d'etat attempted and successful, warlordism,
finally the Japanese invasion and the civil war, the country was in continual turmoil for
almost 40 years.
The anarchy and strife is reflected in the coinage. There is no such thing as a definitive
list of these coins. All of the corrupt activities which had been practiced in Imperial
times were magnified and added to under ephemeral Republican oversight. Where
previously mints could be utilized occasionally by private parties, now they were
frequently leased out to the highest bidder. And let's not even discuss the private
concerns striking round metal objects. The Canton mint was perhaps the most
thoroughly privatized "government" operation, and it is from there, where the profit
motive was most powerful and government reigned least, that the most debased coins
As with the Imperial series there are a few dozen extremely common coins, a lot of
moderately scarce pieces, and plenty of impossible items. There are many more
ephemerals: fantasies, semi-private and private commemoratives, experimental issues,
off metal strikes, trials, patterns, etc, and far more die varieties than are listed anywhere.
Imagine trying to do a Noe-style treatment on this series... Headache. Eyestrain. Ten
FIRST COINS IN KWANGTUNG
Though many mints continued striking Imperial dragon coins after the fall of the Empire,
in a few areas Republican types were adopted right away. Canton mint was one of these,
issuing the copper 1 cents and base silver 20 cents starting in 1912. The cents continued until
1918. 1914 is the only common date, though all can be found in AU-Unc. The brass
versions can best be thought of as "official counterfeits" which would be used to pay off
less favored clients of the mint such as employees, etc. Mintages of many of the brass
cents were most likely higher than of copper for that year, but they were not accepted and
most did not survive in large numbers. The 1916 brass is the exception, far and away the
most common of the subseries.
The 2 cents companion of 1918 is quite scarce, its numismatic unpopularity alone keeping it
from being a very expensive piece. It's not fair. Relative to this coin there are plenty of,
say, that big Ethiopian copper, but that one gets the bucks. Who's to account?
20 cent pieces were struck 1912-1915 then from 1918-1924. The hiatus was caused by a
blockade on bullion shipments from Hong Kong occasioned by World War I. 1912 is
common enough, 1919 and 1920 still more common. Other dates may be a little scarce.
Companion 10 cents of 1913 and 1914 are not as common as the 20 cents. 1922 date is scarce.
The portrait 20 cents of 1924 is scarce, of 1928 rare, of 1929 very common, and in Unc to
boot. The portrait 10 cents, also 1929, is about a tenth as common as the 20 cents, but still
None of the various copper nickel 5 cents are scarce, if not quite common. They tend toward
weakness in striking, the mint evidently not being used to working in that hard metal.
True uncirculated pieces are tough. The late copper 1 cent of 1936 is rare.
Republican types were also struck from 1912 at Fukien, Kiangsi, and Szechuan, with
some old fashioned brass cash cast in Yunnan and Fukien as well. These were provincial
coins for the most part. The "crossed flag" 10 cash without provincial name, struck at
several mints, were all made later.
Fukien cast brass 1 and 2 cash are scarce, the 1 much more so than the 2. They are
always completely wretched coins. Usually the 1 cash are so crude you can't tell whether
there are five stripes or six. An undated copper 10 cash, two different silver 10 cents, two 20
cents, supposedly of 1912-13, and another 20 cents dated 1911, are scarce. The mint was not
officially open during the 'teens, and given that two of the three "early" designs are the
same as those used in the '20s, one would naturally suspect a later date of issue. It
reopened officially in 1924, striking crude, base 20 cents coins dated 1923. These are fairly
common, as are similar pieces dated 1924. Coins dated to Republican year 13 are scarce.
The commemorative coins for the Northern Expedition are rare. for the Canton Martyrs
scarce All the 10 cents coins are at least scarce.
The military government in Szechuan issued a large series of coins from 1912. Officially
struck at two mints, and unofficially at several others, all are crude and base. One can
distinguish the products of the two official mints as follows: on Chengtu coins the radical
of the characters "Tong" (copper) or "Yin" (silver) has a third cross stroke made of 2 dots,
while for Chungking it is a solid line. Both mints struck copper prolifically, but Chungking
coined very little silver.
There are three types of 5 cash, all scarce to rare. 10 cash are somewhat available, the
debased brass versions more so than the coppers. The same is true of the 20 cash. 50
cash is the most common denomination, year 1 the most common date, brass the most
common metal. 100 cash coins are a bit scarcer, 200 cash scarcer still. All Szechuan
coppers are at best only half as common as their equivalents from Honan. Year 1
dollars from Chengtu are common, Chungking versions are rare. Early 50 cents are scarce, 20
and 10 cents are scarce to rare. Coins dated years 1 through 3 continued to be struck on a
small scale (except for year 1 dollars) at least until 1924. Operations temporarily ceased
after the looting of the mint by one of the warring armies in 1925. Minting began again
the following year with new small module 50, 100, and 200 cash. All are scarce, the 100
being least so. The "other" 100 cash variety with seal script obverse is very rare. 1928
and 1932 silver coins are also very rare.
Kiangsi coins include one dated 1911, but even Woodward had only a rubbing of it. Of
the 1912 dated issues most are only a little bit scarce, though Kann said that the output
was "enormous". The two Kiangsi mints were closed from 1906 until about 1920, so
these coins must have been struck after that.
Shansi mint was not opened until 1919, at which time the rare 10 cash was struck, the
dies probably coming from Tientsin. I don't have any personal knowledge of the
"official" forgery of a Hsuan Tung 20 cents of Manchurian Provinces.
Honan issued "crossed flags" type coppers from 1912-1914. By denomination 20 cash
are very common, followed by 100 and 200 cash, then 50, finally 10. Brass versions are
scarce. "CHINA" and "star" varieties of the 20 cash are rare. 1931 50 and 100 cash are
scarce. Die varieties of 10 and 20 cash are superabundant, minting technique is usually
miserable, wear is usually most egregious. Well struck red uncirculated for this series is
the impossible dream. (Watch one appear now.)
The mint at Changsha in Hunan was another notably corrupt operation. In the first
decade of the Republic it evidently continued to strike Imperial types. At some point it
began to make the 9 pointed star type 10 cash and lightweight crossed flags type 20 cash.
The latter were so debased that the National government attempted (unsuccessfully) to
become involved in a remedy. The 10 cash are not uncommon. The 20 cash in typical
poor strike are plentiful. Constitution commemoratives dated 1922, but probably struck
the following year, are scarce. The Hunan mint closed in 1925.
There are coins from Hunan with the Hung Hsien title dating from the abortive attempt
by Yuan Shih-kai to make himself Emperor. Kann called them patterns. SCWC notes
that they circulated "briefly." The two statements are not contradictory. In China at that
time any coinlike object was apt to be pressed into circulation when the possessor's need
demanded its use. The Hung Hsien coins are all rare.
In 1914 the mints at Tientsin in Chihli and Wuchang in Hupeh were reorganized and
reopened. Hupeh in Republican times struck Imperial style 10 and 20 cash in, according
to Woodward, "enormous quantities." The 10 cash coins were mostly the 1907 Tai Ching
Ti Kuo general issue Y10.5, the 20 cash was the Hu Poo type Y5. Several weight
standards were used, and one can assume that the scarcer brass versions are Republican
products. Hupeh also restruck the Hsuan Tung dollar and was a major producer of the
1914 Yuan Shih Kai ("Fat Man") dollars. All of the Republican coins marked "Hu" or
some such are very rare and conceivably should be thought of more as patterns
(notwithstanding some of them may have circulated) than as regular coins.
"General Issue" coins were struck at several mints. Most of the production was done at
the two facilities at Tientsin ("Central" and Peiyang) and at Wuchang in Hupeh. Mints in
Kiangsu, Anhwei, Hunan, Shansi, Honan, and the Manchurian Provinces also made some
of the coins. Most common of course are the crossed flags type 10 cash, which were
probably struck after 1920. There are four major types, a larger number of minor types,
and innumerable subtypes, die varieties, some mules, etc. Y301, 302, 303 are perhaps
the most common of these common coins, a decent quantity of Y303 at least having been
preserved in uncirculated. Availability of the 1916 dated coin with center hole is also
good, though there is nowhere near the quantity of this piece as of the various undated
types. Interestingly, the pattern with Signor Giorgi's imprimatur also occurs in pricelists
with some degree of frequency, trading in the $100-200 range. 10 cash dated 1924, 1928,
and 1933 are rare. Those dated 1936 through 1939 are common, especially 1936, which
is easily available in AU and can be found in "Gem." 10 cash patterns aping the various
portrait dollars exist, going for a couple of hundred dollars and up when they're offered.
1 cent coins of reduced module were struck in 1939, 1940, and 1948. The first is rare, last is
scarce. The 1940 aluminum coins are common enough, but Uncs are scarce. The brass
type is not as common, and usually comes with spots.
20 cash coins are nowhere near as common as the 10 cash. 1919, 1921, and, perhaps
surprisingly, 1924 have been most common in my experience. The little 1940 brass coin
is not scarce except in Unc. Other 20 cash coins are scarce to rare. Half cent coins of 1916 are
scarce. Those of 1936 are not scarce, but also are not ubiquitous like the cents of that
There is this struck 1 wen Min Guo Tong Bao pattern with a square hole, ostensibly from
Tientsin circa 1912. It is very rare, as is a similar Hung Hsien 5 cash pattern of 1916. A
Hung Hsien 10 cash cast pattern is extremely rare. I don't think it has ever been offered.
But I'm probably wrong.
In 1912 a series of undated commemorative "Birth of Republic" coins was struck. The
expensive dollar is most frequently seen, usually in XF-AU at some discount price. The
cheaper 20 cents is pretty darn scarce, the 10 cent is nigh unto impossible. Also attributed to 1912
are a few other commemoratives with portraits of Dr. Sun and Marshall Li, and another
with portrait of Mr. Chin, all Chinese patriots. The latter is called a pattern. I'd call them
all semi-private issues, though all are found circulated. They were obviously not meant
as regular issues. Those with English legends exist in blundered versions. These are of
course scarcer, and do not get as much of a premium as their rarity might justify. The
commemorative portrait series continued through 1927. All of them have high prices and
all are available. Any Hong Kong dealer is apt to have most of them.
In 1914 the Fat Man coins began to be struck. 1914 dollars were made initially by
Tientsin and Wuchang, later at Nanking and in Shanghai after 1933. It was last minted in
the 1950s. 1914 is by far the most common date for fat man dollars, though the 1919-21
coins are by no means scarce. 1919 was struck in base silver at the Anhwei mint, and
base versions and die varieties from other mints can be found. Companion 10, 20, and
50 cents coins of 1914 are reasonably available. Other dates tend toward scarcity.
The last Emperor got married and had coins issued to honor the occasion, a perfect
example of semi-private coinage. The 10 and 20 cents are reasonably common, the dollar is
rare, but still available. Sun Yat-sen memorial minors are quite rare, probably rarer than
the much more expensive dollar.
The undated 1927 "Memento" dollars are common and cheap. There really are two kinds
of reeding, neither scarcer than the other. The note in SCWC about modern base metal
restrikes applies to several other scarcer dollars as well.
1932 "birds over junk" dollar is common and high priced. I don't mean there are a
million (though maybe there are), but there are more around than people want to buy.
The "junk without birds" type is common and cheap.
Most coins of the 1936-42 Shanghai series of nickel minors are common. 1936 is the
common date for all but the 50 cents, for which it is 1942. The 50 cents is tough in Unc, the others
are not. 5 cents coins with the extra characters are rare. "A" mintmarked coins are common.
Off metal strikes are all rare. 1936 50 cents is impossible, as is the experimental reduced size
dollar. The 1940 aluminum 5 cents is common, but tough in Unc.
What did I leave out? Oh yes, the impossible 500 cash and the fat man gold. The gold
actually keeps on turning up in auctions. I won't insult them by calling them common,
but if you're willing to pay the price you can find them. Forgery of these coins does not
appear to be a problem.
And, as I've mentioned before, there are lots of patterns, trial strikes, essays, mules, off
metal concoctions, etc. etc. to confuse the issue.
Yunnan struck the "No English around Dragon" silver coins until about 1916 when the
side view portrait 50 cents was issued. This coin has not been notably scarcer than the 3/4
face portrait coin of 1919, just more expensive. In my experience the really tough pieces
are the coppers. Circulated specimens of the copper-nickel coins are not scarce, but
sharply struck Uncs are rare. 1932 20 and 50 cents are common. The 1949 "Pavilion" 20
cents used to be rare. Now it's common. The gold turns up at frequently at major Singapore
and Hong Kong auctions. Draw your own conclusions.
10 and 20 cents were issued for Chekiang dated 1923. The 10 cents is reasonably common. The
20 cents is impossible. A one cent coin for the Manchurian Provinces is scarce, but findable.
A pattern dollar is impossible. Copper coins from Kansu dated 1926 (most likely made
in Szechuan) are pretty scarce and never seem to come better than VG or so. The Yuan
Shih-kai type dollar always seems to be available. At least you can always find one
within a few weeks of starting to look for it. Not so the Dr. Sun type, which is only seen
from time to time.
Kwangsi coppers are next thing to impossible. The 10 cents is no better. Nice quantities of
the 1923-27 20 cents have been put into the market. The other dates are very tough.
Kweichow silver coins are not as rare as they seem. You can usually find an "auto"
dollar whenever you want one, and "bamboo" dollars come up for sale every year. There
has been some quantity of seal script 20 cents around, and the other 20 cents type is also offered
from time to time. I have even seen at least one each of the antimony 10 cents and the 50
cents for sale in someone's list in the last five years or so. I've never seen the copper half cent.
Shensi coppers are all rare. If you are diligent you might run into one of the commoner
2 cent varieties in low grade.
First there are the numerous varieties of crossed flags type 10 cash without mint name.
Several hoards of low grade coins came on the market in the '80s, which dropped prices
on some to reasonable levels. A few 20 cash came out with them, most in even worse
condition. Well struck XF specimens appear only in dreams. The 1912 5 miscals in very
rare. A large batch of 1949 dollars came out in 1980 or so. Almost all of have been
absorbed, and the coin has become scarce again. The 1912 taels have been and remain
Cast 10 cash of Aksu have come on the market recently. The KM photos are of "gem"
versions of these coins. Usually they are barely recognizable. The struck version is
scarce to rare.
Kashgar 10 cash are the most common Republican coins. 1930 is most common date.
The coins are also the best struck of any Sinkiang copper, but that's not saying much.
These are occasionally found in XF with nice smooth surfaces and at least a partially
sharp strike. Many of the Hijri dated coins are available as well, as also the 1928 coins
with Tong Yuan ("copper round") in star, but these are more or less never found in high
grade.. Aside from the common dates and types the rest of the coins are rare. There
really isn't any middle ground in Sinkiang. Either there are plenty of them, like Y38.1
1334, or they just aren't there at all, like the 5 and 20 cash, or the Y38.3 10 cash, priced
in four grades, but the SCWC could only come up with a rubbing for an illustration. 5
miscal silver coins are around. My impression is that their availability was about a fifth
of their Imperial counterparts back when the hoards were fresh. Now they're pretty hard
The Uighur 10 cash have been around in the last 3-5 years in typical low eye appeal
condition. Uighur 20 cash are very rare.
Urumchi taels were the most common Sinkiang crowns for a while, which, again, isn't
saying much. All I've had were flatly struck, VF for wear and aF for looks. Haven't seen
them around recently.
JAPANESE PUPPET STATES
The Chi Tung Bank coins as a whole are rather scarce. Average grade would be VF-XF.
Commonest denomination is the chiao. The Meng Chiang 5 chiao seems to be turning up
more recently than it had been. I'd still call it elusive in VF, rare in Unc. Hua Hsing
Bank 10 fen are common by virtue of one hoard, as yet not completely dispersed, which
surfaced about a decade ago. The companion fen is hardly ever offered. All of the
Federal Reserve Bank aluminum coins are available except the 1943 1 fen. They
occasionally turn up in junk boxes. They're often found in scruffy XF, which is to say
with lustrous fields and rough treatment on the high points. Nice Unc coins are scarce.
A small hoard of Manchukuo bronze 1 fen coins came out maybe ten years ago,
comprising all dates in F-VF. One occasionally finds lone singles in AU or Unc. In
contrast, the bronze 5 li coins are all scarce to rare. The medium sized aluminum 1 fen
of 1939-43 are also represented by a hoard of F-VF coins, with Unc examples being
scarce. The small aluminum coins of 1943-44 are scarcer than the 1945 red fiber
version, of which there was a hoard. Regarding different colored fiber, I had a "brown"
one once which was really a red one soaked in oil. The fiber coins get mildewed too, and
conceivably might be lacquered for any posterity which might chance to care.
5 fen coins are generally scarce, the red fiber piece of 1944 probably the commonest in
actuality, and the 1943-44 aluminum versions again being scarcest.
Of the copper nickel chiaos the 1933 is scarcest, 1934-39 most common. I think I've
found more of the 1940 copper-nickel in Unc than any other Manchukuo coin, though it's
actually not as common as the earlier ones. The aluminum chiaos, except for the 1943
"rice" type, are common enough, but as usual are rare in nice Unc. They frequently come
with some corrosion.
Some of the gold bullion taels of 1932 have been appearing fairly regularly in Asian
auctions. With such a simple design and so few examples extant one would naturally
want to tend towards caution in contemplating purchase of one of these.
High priced Soviet dollars keep showing up in auctions. These pieces are nicer looking
all the time, well struck with clear die work in nice grade. Szechuan-Shensi pieces are
most "common" dollars, then probably the Lenin portrait right types which might or
might not be fantasies. The countermarked fat man dollar is also a recurring auction
item. In the recent Spink-Taisei auction in Singapore is an unlisted "Bank of
Agriculture" dollar of 1931, a very nice looking piece. I don't know what to say about
these dollars. I guess I'd counsel placing esthetic appreciation over unquestionable
authenticity in purchasing these. What am I saying? Oh, nothing.
Available Soviet minors are the restrike 1 and 5 cents of the Soviet Republic. The restriking
was done with new dies, in the '60s I think. They are scarce. Originals are very scarce.
A hoard of 20 cents came out in the '80s, probably not more than a hundred or so.
Szechuan-Shensi 200 cash are occasionally seen, both originals in low grade and the
restrike. All other Soviet coins are rare, rare, rare.
I have a friend who fled China during the Cultural Revolution, crossing Hong Kong Bay
with a friend on inflated truck inner tubes. He was just back to visit his family in
Guangzhou. He says that only the aluminum 1, 2, and 5 fen coins circulate in the south.
The rest of the minor coins are just for mint sets, and everything else is paper money.
This being the case we might as well talk about mint sets as coins for the jiaos and yuans,
but let's look at the date situation of the aluminum for a bit.
Common date 1 fen are 1963, '64, '71, '74, especially '75, '77, '78, especially '79, '80, '82,
and '84. Common 2 fen are 1956, '59, '63, '64, 'especially '75, '77, '79, especially '82, and
'84. Common 5 fen are 1956, '57, '74, '76, '82, and '84. All other dates are, in my
experience, elusive. Dates later than 1985 do not seem to have been placed in circulation
in large numbers if at all.
So let's talk about mint sets. The 1980 set in the blue soft plastic wallet was most heavily
exported, followed by 1982 and '83. 1981 was passed up by the wholesalers when they
found themselves overstocked with '80s and is relatively scarce. 1982 and '83 are
reasonably available. Later dates are progressively harder to find.
Now we have to deal with that mess of collector coins. The entire series is made for
foreign consumption of course, but distribution of some earlier issues was not up to
standard and they are hard to get. Heavy speculation has been a feature of the precious
metal coins. All of them are available.
The most common base metal yuan is still the 1982 brass soccer coin. All the specimens
I've seen had somewhat frosty devices and mirror fields. I don't know whether they're
Unc or Proof, but I've only seen one type. 1980 Winter Olympics coins are also common.
The ancient athletics theme coins are harder to find, especially the small copper archery
coin. All of these Olympic coins exist as piedforts which are occasionally available in
the $15-20 range. The later copper-nickel commemorative yuans have only been
available in small numbers. Wholesalers get a few when they come out, then they're
gone. 1985 Sinkiang is probably the most common.
The brass sports jiaos of 1987 were probably only issued as sets. There are plenty of sets
Regarding silver, there are firms which maintain complete inventories and stocks are
available, so just a few stories. Year of the Cock 30 yuan of 1981 is priced outlandishly
high. This has driven many out of collections and into the market, where they stick. You
can usually get one for under $500.. Of the two 35 yuan coins, the 1979 children piece is
probably the most common PRC silver, and the 1981 Sun Yat-sen coin is probably the
scarcest. The SCWC price for the 1988 volleyball 5 ounce 50 yuan must be incorrect,
eh? I seem to have seen a lot of 1988 12 ounce silver dragons around.
Probably the most common gold coins are the thirtieth anniversary pieces of 1978, but all
can be found. I don't know about the platinum, and assume it's available too.
I think it's fair to say in the case of China that there is no clear distinction between
"commemorative" and "bullion" coins, except that the former are official legal tender
items which no one would ever dream of spending in the paper economy of the People's
Republic. The silver bullion coins trade at a hefty premium. The first gold "panda" of
1982 has gone through a couple of bubbles and is currently pegged quite high. As for
availability, how many do you want? 1983 and '84 are no slouches in the appreciation
sweepstakes either. Later issues are a bit more reasonable but still trade at well over their
bullion value as collector items. The special San Francisco Expo panda of 1987 was
counterfeited just for you, the collector, so be careful. The gold fractions are popular too,
but you know about these. They're all over the place. I can't say anything about the gold
hockey pucks and frisbees, except that I've seen them in dealer's cases at shows.
REPUBLICAN REMNANT IN TAIWAN
You will not find all dates of this ostensibly common series. The big rarities are
the silver yuan of 1961 and the 1965 gold coins. They are all findable. What you
probably won't find are 10 cents 1971-74, 50 cents 1972, '73, '80, and large size '81, yuans of
1977-80, and most dates of 5 yuan between 1975 and 1981. The 1965 mint sets are
somewhat available and popular. Several coin size medals in silver and gold exist. Most
of the silvers are findable.
These coins are pure colonial issues, just like those of Hong Kong and Macau.
Both coins are more available now then they have ever been before. Normally
encountered grade is VF-XF. They exist in AU. True Uncs are rare at best. I've often
seen them with traces of fine corrosion, usually limited to a few tiny pits here and there.
Use a glass when examining these. You'll see them too.
And that, fellow coin lovers, is all I have to say about China at this time.