How to Get Started in Chinese Cash Coins
by Jay Feldman GSNA J-1468

Chinese cash coins, or cast and carved money made in Chinese from 4000 BC to 1911 AD, can be interesting history pieces as well as numismatic objects. It seems that with over 4,000 years of money to collect, this area would be the most popular area in all of numismatics. There's just one problem--it's hard to know how and where to start. There have been many reference books published on Chinese coins, but often they are in Chinese. I can barely count to ten in Chinese, yet I have found ways to learn the most about my coins, detect counterfeits, and learn about Chinese history through experience. And I got that experience by learning where to start.

Having access to good reference books is a fundamental part of collecting Chinese coins.

  • The Standard Catalog of World Coins, although it only goes back to 1600, is one of the most necessary and easy to obtain books on this subject. It is the only book that allows one to identify coins easily; all other books require more experience to use. You can generally find this book at your local library or borrow it from a large numismatic library.
  • Chinese Cash: Identification and Price Guide by David Jen provides quite a bit of history and background knowledge on Chinese numismatics. I would recommend that you buy this book early on, as it is always a valuable reference for general Chinese cash, although the catalog and pricing part is hard to use. A new edition is on its way, although David Jen sadly passed away this autumn. The new edition is said to be almost the “perfect book” and I hope that it will be as good as people say it will be.
  • Chinese Currency: The Currency of the Far East by Frederick Schjöth is accepted as the standard reference for Chinese cash in the US even though it is old and outdated. It is important to have this book when you begin asking dealers about buying coins, because most dealers list their coins by Schjöth (S-) numbers. You can buy photocopies of this book for $20.00 to $35.00, or originals at a much higher cost.
  • Fisher’s Ding by George Fisher is a translation of Ding Fubao’s 1930’s catalog. It is somewhat hard to use, because it was photocopy-published, but it lists some coins not listed in Schjöth. Schjöth’s book and Fisher’s Ding made a great cross-reference, but if you use one on its own, you will have trouble finding coins.
  • You may want to find books on China ’s history, such as China’s Imperial Past, or other works at your local library.
  • There are many more advanced books that can be bought from Chinese cash and numismatic literature dealers. Please email me if you would like information on more advanced and scholarly books.

 

Building a collection can be one of the hardest parts of collecting these coins. While there is no right or wrong way to build a collection, I have some suggestions that will hopefully make it easier. When starting, it is important to stay with cheap coins. That means coins priced 50¢ to $20.00. If you have a large quantity of coins and study them often, you will begin to recognize the ruler’s name, as well as the mintmark on the reverse. After you are familiar with coins from different dynasties, it is time to start looking into counterfeits. Ask coin dealers if they can send you pictures of counterfeit coins for study. Learning to detect counterfeits will be a challenging but rewarding process. So while you are learning about fakes, try buying coins from different dynasties from coin dealers. You can get cowries, which were China ’s earliest money, that date back to 4000 BC, knives and spades that were first cast in 700 BC, and many other types of cash coins. See what type of coins you like the most. There are many different varieties of Chinese money, and there is almost always something that will suit you. Continue building on your collection with the coins you like. Try to study them often, and possibly write articles on them or exhibit them. As you progress, you will begin to enjoy this branch of numismatics even more, and you will decide what you want from your collection.

There are tons of counterfeit cash coins. Almost all Chinese coins were counterfeited, although most were made during the Qing Dynasty. Counterfeits are generally have many defects, such as broken rims, weak castings, obliteration of calligraphy, and won’t have “Shen,” (a genuine feeling). Also, coins were sometimes altered from five, ten, or twenty cash to fifty or more cash. Altered coins are sometimes rare, or at least less common that counterfeits. I would recommend consulting a few coin dealers for information on counterfeits. Try looking through your collection to see if all your coins are genuine. Remember – a counterfeit coin is not necessarily worth less than a genuine.

Grading Chinese coins is much harder than grading machine-struck coins. The grades that I have listed here are only really terms, as there is no grading standard at all.

·        Poor/About good: Although the coin will be extremely worn or damaged, but the coin can be identified by someone who is familiar with Chinese cash.

·        Good: The coin will be heavily worn, with only the slightest detail showing inside the characters.

·        Very Good: Details around the rims and around the characters will be sharp, with at least a quarter of the detail inside the characters showing.

·        Fine: The coin can be easily identified, as three quarters or more of the details inside the characters will be evident.

·        Very Fine: There will be light overall wear, but the casting must be bold and the patina should be green, blue or brown.

·        Extremely Fine: This grade can mean uncirculated in some cases. The coin will have very little or no wear and should have an attractive casting and patina.

In some cases, you will find shiny, yellow, uncirculated coins. These coins, no matter the time period, were probably kept in a hoard of mint-fresh coins. Pricing of coins is generally focused on eye appeal and not completely on the grade. Practice grading your coins, but do not judge them by their grade.

                        It is often hard to tell the difference between Chinese coins and other Oriental coins. Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cash coins have many of the same qualities as Chinese coins. That’s why it is useful to have the Standard Catalog of World Coins to consult with if you are having trouble identifying a coin. If you find a coin that looks zinc and has little or no patination it is probably a Vietnamese coin from the 1600-1800s. Japanese coins have only a few different obverses, so they are easily identified as Japanese. All Korean cash (except privately minted cash) has the same obverse, so they are very easy to distinguish from Chinese cash. After a while, you should be a professional at telling coins apart.

            I hope you find this article a contribution to numismatics. Please remember that when I refer to cash coins, I mean coins that were cast and not struck. Have fun with your collection


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