Ancient China Introduction


Click on the thumbnail to see an enlarged scan. The thumbnail is usually NOT made from the actual coin being sold. The enlarged scan is the actual coin offered unless text or photo says SAMPLES. If you get an ERROR PAGE, it means I have made a coding mistake, the coin is not sold. Please report any missing scans. Images are made on a flatbed scanner, so the result is not exactly the same as photography.

SAMPLES are shown for inexpensive coins where we have many specimens. We show the worst coins in the grade range offered. You will receive one of the coins shown, or a better one. If you ask for a particular coin shown, you are asking me to send you one of the worst in stock. But if there is some feature that you do, or do not, want please let me know and I will try to accommodate this. Grades depend on wear and quality of casting; minor scratches, lumpy adhesions, or rough surfaces will "demote" a coin into a lower grade range. Some collectors prefer a more worn or poorly cast coin over a sharper coin with crust or light scratches, others just the opposite.


MAIN REFERENCE NUMBERS are from David Hartill's Cast Chinese Coins (H), plus my own upper-case letter prefixes for unlisted types, and lower-case suffixes for varieties. A straight H# means my coin matches Hartill's rubbing exactly, as far as I can tell. A "b" or "c" suffix means it is different, and higher letters mean I know of many varieties. These varieties are usually no rarer than the one shown in H, although in some cases the author has chosen a rare variety to illustrate a common type.

SECONDARY REFERENCES are important for series not well covered in H, such as early conservative types, and dynasties with many varieties such as Song and Ming. Also, some western collectors still use the now-obsolete Schjöth, or versions of Ding Fubao's "catalog," a long time favorite among Chinese collectors.

S = Chinese Currency by Frederick Schjöth (1929).
FD = Fisher's Ding." George Fisher's 1990 photocopy of Ding Fubao's 1940 Li Dai Gu Qian Tu Shuo with numbers, translations and (obsolete) valuations added to the plates. His numbers mainly match those in a 1992 Chinese reprint.
HG = Zhongguo Guqian Daji by Hua Guangpu (1998, 3 vol), although the current(?) 2004 4-vol version uses different numbers.
GKD = Northern Song Dynaasty Cash Variety Guide (Kosen Daizen), v. 2-7, by Norman Gorny. This is a very useful rearrangement and partial translation, with commentary, of Kosen Daizen (1899) by Imai Teikichi. While I have not given exact cross references in most cases, study of the plates and Gorny's comments on differentiating factors is extremely valuable in learning to sort this complex series.
B = Ch'ing Cash Until 1735 by Werner Burger (1976) referencing Chart/row/coin for exact year attribution of early reign Qing coins.
L = Hua-xia gu-quan jia-ge tu-lu by Liu Fei Yan (2010, 2012) using page # / coin position. A rubbing catalog of types and popular varieties with prices derived from auctions and private transactions in China, it is regarded as an honest pricing guide.

We have most of these books for sale. Please note that minimum U.S. postal shipping charge for a book outside the USA is $25.


Since the Tang dynasty, with its dots and crescents, and variable writings of the four characters, Chinese officials have coded important information about the coin's origin or purpose - the reason usually given is to keep feudal mint-masters from debasing the coinage too much. Secret at the time, the keys to such codings remain lost to this day. For some series varieties can be placed in meaningful sequences, and some particular issues were written about by contemporary historians. Hoard finds or the occasional discovery of mint records allow new connections to be made, but such information is rarely published in Western languages, and is often controversial. Even a pigeon-hole collection can be educational and deeply satisfying to build. The key is learning Chinese calligraphy and developing a sharp eye for comparing small details. A good start is learning these basic varieties as found in Burger's Ch'ing Cash Until 1735.

My variety descriptions often refer to elements mentioned in Hartill, though sometimes I have started fresh with details which seem more obvious to me, or more easily described. Some types have no variations, or only trivial ones - others quite the opposite! A cataloguer's choice of design element to describe, however, should not be confused with the significance or level of the variation. When differentiating very different writings of a given character, I may refer only to one small element which is easily compared and described, or is a traditional source of variation. For collectors deciding which varieties to ignore as minor, I suggest comparing photos of the pieces offered, or from a well-illustrated catalog such as Gorny's work on Song, and look for additional sources of variation.

I have used abbreviations to keep my own variety descriptions as brief as possible: R = Right; L = Left; Compass directions such as N, NE, E, SE, or clock face positions should be obvious; hopefully elements such as "cap" (hat) and "feet" of Bao are also clear, as "head" of Tong. IR = Inner Rim, OR = Outer Rim. [Description in brackets] is a feature common to a sequence of varieties, so the element described beyond the brackets is what distinguishes it from the previous variety. Radicals are portions of characters; bei is a box-like radical, as found in Bao and other characters. Positions of characters relative to the rims are important: "Pao cap =, feet > IR" means the cap is even with the top edge of the inner rim while the feet are below the bottom edge. "Fields" are the blank areas between rims and characters, while shallow means the rims rise only slightly above the fields. Rim widths, both obv. and rev., are important, though I have used this factor sparingly.


Compare my assigned grade to various photos to understand my standards. Minor defects are incorporated into the basic grade, but mentioned defects - such as "scratch" or "crack" do not affect the basic grade assigned. My grading standards for cast coins.

CLEANED COINS: Many coins from collections, as opposed to hoards, have been cleaned to some degree. Some collectors prefer "brown" coins which either have never been buried, or have been properly cleaned and treated. Others prefer "green" with light, even coverage, while few prefer "crusty" with green or whitish adhesions. With the individually photographed coins you see what you are getting, but for inexpensive types with NO PHOTO or only samples shown, feel free to let me know your preference. As a variety collector myself, I prefer coins acid cleaned, neutralized, and retoned, which is the only way enough detail can be seen, but for "type" coins my aesthetic is for those light-but-even greenies.


I worked up my cast coins without thinking of including provenance (collector origin) in the data displayed with the offering - then I did include this with the machine struck coins. Feel free to ask when ordering, and if I can tell from the envelope or my notes, I will pass on this information. Many are from the "New Jersey" collection, a large general Chinese cash collection with an unusual number of rarities. It was put together 1998-2002 through purchases from myself, Frank Robinson, and Calgary Coin Gallery, with most of the high value items coming from Gilbert Tan of Singapore and John Liang of Hong Kong, all generally reliable sources. The collection has been seen by two top experts in authentication, though not every coin scrutinized in detail. Others are from Dan Ching of Los Angeles, collected c. 1970 to early 80s - or Joe DeMarco or Orlando, FL, active from the 1980s through 1993. Both bought widely from mainly U.S. sources and received bulk shipments of cash coins from dealers who did not know how to attribute them. Keen variety collectors, they saw quite a bit of what emerged in the U.S. during the years mainland China was closed to outside commerce, and kept as many different pieces as they could find.

Many coins were acquired from the 1970s-90s from other dealers, collection purchases, and overseas contacts. There are still a few coins, for example, from Steve Album's original cash collection formed in the 1960s before he began dealing widely. Usually coins from collectors are kept in their original envelopes, but often I will not recognize who they came from. Coins referred to as "hoard" came from China, HongKong, Indonesia, etc. usually in the 1980s - early 90s, and are usually crusty from burial, but high grade. In the early 80s, before the existence of the Chinese factories was widely known, I had to buy back over $5000 worth of very good fake pre-Tang coins sold to me by a Singapore dealer who probably did not know better. At that point I stopped buying anything from Asia unless well worn, cheap, or obviously hoard material, and looked for old collections to buy.

This offering is only a small portion of my stock. As I add new listings, they will be identified by symbols keyed to dates, so you can tell quickly what is new. Whenever I make significant additions, I will send emails to all who received the original notification email to this page.


Photos do not always show the whole truth of a coin - you must see it to know if you love it! I have tried to look closely for cracks. Please feel free to return any item you buy from me. I hope you will tell me the problem, so I can consider changing the photo or description, or paying your return postage if I have made a mistake. If you need more than one week after receiving to study or get opinions from others, please let me know and it will be OK.


Collectible Chinese coins have been forged since early times by a variety of methods, and since the mid 1980s entire factories in China have been devoted to "replica" Chinese coins and antiquities of all periods. The factory products are very sophisticated and even experts have trouble with them. I am knowledgeable from having handled thousands of coins but not expert. I do rely on experts both to authenticate valuable or suspect coins, and to teach me how to distinguish them.

As noted above, most coins offered here were outside of China before the mid-late 1980s when the most dangerous factory forgeries began to emerge. PLEASE tell me if you doubt any coin shown at my site, and I will withdraw it for sale pending further research. There is no time limit for return of any provably counterfeit coin purchased from me. See full Authenticity Guarantee. I especially appreciate when Chinese-speaking collectors will see discussion of my items in online forums, and let me know. I may be able to contribute useful information.

Ebay bidders: You likely know already that there are many forgeries found here. Collector Lars Bo has created a web page identifying some of them. Every coin we own will outlive us, and the fakes will haunt future collectors unless you mark the ones you are sure about. Having a steel COPY die made is an investment in the future of our hobby. Place brittle cast coins on wood before punching them with a die.

Contemporary (circulating) forgeries are a part of Chinese monetary history and quite collectable. I do not stamp them COPY but identify as circulating forgeries when offering. I will have a special offering of these interesting pieces in future.


For more valuable items I have consulted auctions, mainly the two prominent Beijing firms, Teutoburger, Album, Stacks-Bowers-Ponterio, and Baldwin-Ma, plus the Liu book, 2010 edition. More ordinary items are priced by eBay results and Frank Robinson's lists, though I do not attempt to match pre-2012 prices as the supply of cheap coins he was drawing from in China has dried up. My own past experience and actual costs factor in as well. Generally items over $500 will go to one of these auctions, but I have listed a few items even above $1000-$2000 at about what I would expect from auction, saving buyers the 15-20% fees.

Pricing realistically means that some items will be too cheap and will sell quickly. This is why I am not motivated to offer discounts until the popular coins have sold off. Within a few months of posting this offer I will offer discounts, at least on the inexpensive items. If you got an email about this offering, you will get another when discounts are offered, no need to ask.