Ancient Chinese Coins Buying Guide

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Ancient Chinese Coins Buying Guide
China was the producer of the first metal coins in the world, with a history stretching back over two thousand years. With a wide variety of coins available at hugely competitive prices, eBay is the perfect place to start an ancient Chinese coin collection or continue at growing one. This guide will assist you, the buyer, in finding the perfect coin in terms of price, period, type and condition.

Buying Ancient Chinese Coins

When looking for ancient Chinese coins, buyers should keep in mind the various aspects that will affect their final choice, such as:

  • Price – prices will vary from item to item, though ancient Chinese coins tend to be far less costly than their European counterparts due to the large amounts available.
  • Period – each era and dynasty of coin-producing China has slightly different coins in terms of look and design, choosing the ideal period is an easy way to guide the search.
  • Type – very early Chinese coins look like small metal tablets, however by around 250 B.C. the familiar round coins with square holes started to emerge. Choosing the type of coin, whether early or later designs will help narrow search results.
  • Condition – the condition of coins will vary wildly, with condition being affected by age as well as the environment they were stored in. Coins in particularly good condition will cost more than coins that a worn or showing signs of verdigrises’

Ancient Chinese Coins

It is important for buyers of coins, particularly valuable ancient ones, to be certain in the authenticity of what they are buying and be able to identify the items advertised. Though, often experts are the only ones who can be certain, these points will help non-expert buyers make basic checks into the coins that catch their interest.

  • Materials – ancient Chinese coins, like most around the world, contain varying amounts of copper often in a bronze alloy. These coins will look dark brown and may display signs of copper corrosion (green spots and areas that have worn through). Checking the colour and look of the coins is a good way to make sure that they are made correctly.
  • Period – with the many Chinese eras and dynasties that have existed throughout the history of coins, a good way to search is by period. Song and Qing dynasty coins are quite common, and therefore the buyer is less likely to encounter copies due to their abundance and affordable cost. Dynasties can cover huge amounts of time – e.g. The Qing dynasty reigned from 1644 to 1912 – so the buyers can expect designs to change even within periods.
  • Design – the main design associated with Chinese coins is the round disc with the square hole in middle, and this design persisted over most of the history of Chinese coinage though the size of the square hole may vary in size in different periods – the Han period in particular had the largest square holes of any coin previously or since. The square tablet shape is unique to very early periods.
  • Obverse and Reverse – the proper names for the heads and tails on coins, the patterns on these parts of coins vary, with older coins usually only having two Chinese characters on the obverse with a plain reverse. Later coins usually show four characters, indicating ruler and year, with perhaps a design on the reverse.
  • Writing – looking at the writing on Chinese coins is a good way to tell their age, as Chinese characters change over time. Early writing was more rounded and basic than the square and neat characters familiar today – take for example the difference between Ban Liang coins (a name for the earliest type of coin) and Ming coins. If a coin has been copied then the writing will be faded and indistinct despite the good condition of the rest of the coin.
  • Condition – the condition of the coin is a good indication of age and authenticity, with the coin likely a brown colour due to being highly circulated, and obscured faded characters are also an indication of age and use.
  • Verdigris – that is, the proper name for the green marks that develop on copper items. Verdigris on coins should be dull and crusty, as some forged items have a very bright green shade that shows recent or artificially induced damage.
  • Price – prices for ancient coins are variable because of rarity, condition and period. With most Chinese coins, the costs tend to be low because of the huge amount of coins various dynasties produced. Only very rare or unusual coins are extremely valuable, and buyers may wish to stick to more affordable coins until they are certain in their ability to judge rare and costly ancient coins.

When looking at ancient coins, buyers should bear all this advice in mind and consider consulting coin collector’s forums for advice on coins and reputable sellers. Buyers should be cautious of sellers who say that they cannot vouch for an item’s authenticity, as this is against eBay policy.

Buyers should also be aware of the various ways Chinese is transcribed into English, for example ‘Qing’ and ‘Song’ are also written as ‘Ch’ing’ and ‘Sung’. If their searches produce no results buyers should attempt searching for the dynasty under a different transcription of its name.

Caring For Ancient Chinese Coins

Ancient coins are particularly fragile, and need some care for the buyer to preserve them as they are and to protect them from future damage. To preserve coins, the buyer should:

  • Avoid Handling Coins, as the natural oils on human skin can cause damage.
  • Avoid Cleaning – if possible, as this will probably do more harm than good, as this will strip the coin of its natural oxidisation (‘toning’) and lower its valuable and even leave it open for further damage if it is corroded.
  • Check for Acid-Free Material – this may be present in paper, and as the paper breaks down, the chemicals will cause spotting and discolouration in the coins.
  • Store in a Dry Place – any moisture in the place where the coin is being kept will cause or advance any verdigris – the green discolouration caused by the oxidation of the copper in the coin.
  • Avoid PVC – PVC is found in pliable plastics such as flips (foldable plastic pockets), and the plastic in contact with the metal can cause an acidic reaction that can cause a green slime-like substance to spread over the coin that will irreparably damage it. It is better to avoid plastic pockets or use ones made of Mylar.

Keeping coins in a good, dry and non-acidic environment will extend the lifespan of the coin and ensures that the buyer and others in the future will be able to appreciate ancient coins.

Buying Ancient Chinese Coins on eBay

eBay has a fantastic range of ancient Chinese coins on offer for highly competitive prices that would not be found in a brick and mortar coin dealer or collector’s shop. Searches on eBay can be narrowed down by:

  • Metal
  • Cleaned/Uncleaned
  • Collections/Bulk Lots
  • Replica Coins

These preferences can bring up the ideal search items far more quickly than scrolling through the complete Ancient Chinese Coins section, though if the buyer is just looking for something that will catch their eye that may be their ideal way to shop. When searching for the ideal coin, buyers should consider:

  • Price – prices will vary, and the buyer can narrow down search results by entering their upper and lower price range in the search preferences bar. Purchasing coins can be done through either Auction or Buy it Now, there is a huge range for both allowing flexibility in buying.
  • Period/Dynasty – coins will usually be listed under the dynasty they were produced in, rather than any set date. If looking for a particular era of coin, the buyer can enter the name into the search bar.
  • Condition – condition will vary greatly, and coins can be bought both cleaned and uncleaned depending on which the buyer will prefer. A better condition of coin will make the coin more expensive, however.
  • Local Sellers – local sellers are a great way to keep shipping costs down, and are particularly good for delicate items such as coins that must be securely packaged.

For more advice on searching eBay for coins, buyers should check the Search Tips page provided, which will give further guidance on improving searches to find the ideal item. If buyers have any questions about coin listings they should make sure to Ask the Seller for further details.


Buying ancient Chinese coins is an experience in history, as buyers can see how coins evolve from the Qin dynasty through to the Qing dynasty, the last imperial dynasty of China. This guide will aid buyers in identifying the various coins stretching back two thousand years, as well as finding the perfect coin for the ideal price on eBay.

When searching eBay, buyers should be aware of the benefits of buying using PayPal, eBay’s preferred way to purchase with added security benefits for the buyer as well as eBay Buyer Protection.