Your Guide to Identifying Chinese Coins

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Your Guide to Identifying Chinese Coins

Coin collecting is an expansive and engrossing hobby as it provides something for everyone. Those who dedicate time to the interest will collect coins of all types and variations. Many will class Chinese coins as the most valuable in a collection.

Currency has been used in Chinese culture for almost 3,000 years, meaning that certain coins carry great historical value. Throughout history Chinese coins have been made using molds instead the popular westernised technique of struck metal.

Identifying legitimate Chinese coins can be a challenging task but this guide is here to help shoppers navigate the market with ease. The guide will look at the history of Chinese coins and the types that are currently available for purchase. Using eBay and the following advice will make finding coins to either complete or add to a collection a simple process.

History of Chinese Coins

In the western world, currency can be considered antique, but in China it can be classed as ancient. Under the Shang Dynasty cowrie shells were used in exchange for goods and services. In most instances these shells were shaped from bone. Bronzed shells would eventually replace the aforementioned in 900 B.C and become the very first metal coin in the country’s history. From then on different dynasties and emperors would bring alterations to the pre-established currency:

  • Zhou Dynasty – They helped bronze based currency enter circulation countrywide. This would be furthered as the currency sustained during the Warring States period, although various bronze objects became acceptable replacements for currency to many vendors.  This is the first era in which coins became categorised; there were three types according to shape. Those shapes were knife, spade and ant nose.
  • Qin Shi Huang – At the conclusion of 200 years of war and inner-turmoil within China Qin Shi Huang was finally able to unify the country. He would go down in history as China’s very first emperor. Huang chose to eradicate all previous forms of currency and installed a new system. Copper coins were introduced and came in standard sizes and shapes, all of which were rounded with a hole in the middle. These coins remained in use up until the introduction of the Western Han Dynasty.
  • Emperor Wu – Emperor Wu changed the country’s currency from the already established “ban liang” to a new type of coin christened the “wu zhu”. It weighs approximately 500 grains of millet yet carried a similar style to its predecessor. It would become one of the long-standing currencies in China’s history, as it would stay in production for almost 700 years.
  • Gao Zu – The Tang Dynasty would be next to introduce a new coin. Named the “kai yuan tong bao”, it was the first coin not to use a name based on its weight. These coins would remain in use until the arrival of the Xinhai Republic in the early 20th century.

As the 20th century progressed, paper currency was introduced. Silver coins also became commonplace during this time period. When the silver dollar was introduced it became the dominant currency (even though certain regions still maintained their own individual variations). The price of silver rose dramatically in the 1920s so many coins were sold to overseas markets, this put the Chinese economy on the brink of collapse. In order to stabilise the country China introduced coins that were made from aluminum as a replacement.

Chinese Coin Collecting

The online auction environment showcases a whole variety of Chinese coins from different eras in the country’s illustrious history. The five types of coins that can be found via such means are:

  • Shell-shaped
  • Knife
  • Spade
  • Ant Nose
  • Round

There are also several collectable coins that are much harder to find. For example, the panda coin has been reissued in limited amounts every year since 1983. In some instances they were produced in solid gold and are considered the ultimate find and addition to a coin collection. Buyers should also keep an eye out for commemorative coins that were produced for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Since they were released they have increased in value tenfold due to being made from solid 24-carat gold.

How to Identify Chinese Coins

Identifying types of Chinese coins is a simple process. When looking at an eBay listing check the material used, shape, characters and mint markings. Taking such things into consideration will help buyers purchase legitimate Chinese coins.

  • Material – The majority of coins are made from copper or bronze. The rarest coins on the market are constructed out of bone, iron, silver or gold.
  • Shape – Ancient Chinese coins take on a variety of forms including spade, shell, knife and ant nose. The most common are round coins with square holes although round coins with round holes are not uncommon either.
  • Characters – Characters have played a role in Chinese currency history dating all the way back to its fledgling years. Most coins contain four characters whilst older coins will contain two. In order to test the legitimacy of a coin the characters should read from top to bottom and from right to left. Be aware that coins that contain more than four markings aren’t coins at all they are Chinese charms.
  • Mint Markings – Later Chinese coins will have mint markings; this is especially relevant on coins from the Ming and Ch’ing Dynasty. Mint markings provide information regarding the city and province that the coin was produced in.

The information required to identify a Chinese coin is all featured in this guide but it pays to do some personal research as well. Some buyers will specialise in select coins so placing focus on a singular area may help some more than others. eBay has an army of trusted sellers who are knowledgeable in the field and will be more than happy to offer advice on such a subject.

Condition and Cleaning

Cleaning plays a pivotal role in maintaining a coin collections value. Owners should ensure than a collection is stored in a cool and dry area that is free from humidity. The following accessories will help keep a Chinese coin collection looking pristine:

  • Coin Folder
  • Currency Album
  • Airtight Box
  • Mylar Binders

Keeping coins in their best condition doesn’t seem like a complex thing to do but few understand that metals are extremely susceptible to damage. Regular handling will take the shine off a coin so keeping them separated will help preserve their condition. When cleaning a coin be sure to avoid water and chemical laced products. Try using a natural bees-wax based polish in order to get the best results.

How to Buy Chinese Coins on eBay

The influx of Chinese coins in the antique market means that many shops and dealers have taken to eBay as means to sell their goods. Sites such as eBay offer a wide range of Chinese coins but always be sure to check and confirm their authenticity. Purchasing such items is a simple process, after arriving on eBay’s homepage shoppers can use their detailed navigational tools to find what they’re looking for. Start by clicking on antiques, then Asian/oriental antiques, followed by other Chinese and finally coins. This will bring up all live auctions. If you have a particular coin in mind it would be worth using the search function found at the top of the page.

eBay Stores

eBay stores are also worth visiting if a shopper is just openly browsing. In these places dealers will list all their stock and it provides a great opportunity to find rare coins. In order to find eBay shops all buyers have to do is select the eBay shops option at the bottom of the page and start exploring,

Making a Purchase

To buy an item, when on a listing you will need to select one of the following options:

  • Place a Bid
  • Make a Best Offer
  • Buy it Now

When completing a checkout do so through PayPal, this will mean that the buyer protection program covers the transaction. In such instances were an item is lost or arrives not as described the buyer will be covered during the refund process.


Collecting Chinese coins is a popular and educational hobby. China as a country has a rich and vast history and coins do a great job of detailing that. Nearly 3000 years worth of history are engrained in the currency they have chosen to use and make fascinating additions to a coin collection.

From a collection standpoint such coins have obvious aesthetic qualities but their future value also carries great intrigue. Over time such coins are either removed from circulation or lost meaning that those that remain increase in value. These value increases tend to occur every few years. If buyers feel like adding a touch of the Far East to their coin collections they can’t go far wrong with Chinese coins.

This buying guide along with eBay’s array of trusted sellers will help shoppers identify coins. From there, the realm of coin collecting opens up and buyers will be sure to find the perfect additions to their collections.

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