Featured A new avenue of collecting: China!

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Pellinore, Oct 20, 2019.

  1. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    At the auction of the Oriental Numismatic Society (yesterday), a new avenue opened up for me. I had my attention fixed on several nice and attractive coins (Sasanian and Arab-Sasanian, Artuqid, Mongol and such), but there was a section on old Chinese coins too, and attractive Chinese cash coins of 2000 years old were going for only $15 or $20. The very first, an impressive thick piece from 7-23 AD, I bought for 14$, the price of a few beers! In fact I don't know about prices. But the coins look so attractive for so little money...

    I restrained myself in the past because I’m not at all knowledgeable, while there are many fakes around. But the O.N.S. (old-fashioned website) is a serious society counting many renowned experts under its members, several of whom looked at the coins with their own eyes, and on the website (Zeno). I've been a member for ages. So I think I’m as safe as may be hoped for in this. In all I bought eight Chinese coins (not counting a 1909 Kiautschou coin - because of its historical interest, which was a mistake by overenthusiasm).

    Here are the first that I incorporated in my system today. It maybe was the word ‘biscuit’ in the description that first attracted my interest (two minutes before the actual auction) and then I decided on the spot that I was going to buy a few Chinese cash coins.

    8001 China co.jpg

    China. Xin Dynasty, heavy Huo Quan coin, AD 7-23. Xin Dynasty, A very thick (併 bing) and heavy Huo Quan coin (13.23 g.). Obv.: 貨 泉 Huo Quan. Rev. Rims only. 26 mm. 13.28 gr. Zeno 213674. Hartill 9.60. The background of these "biscuit" Huo Quans is unknown.
    It doesn't look like a biscuit though, wrong color and all. But it's quite thick.
    This one is more like a classical Chinese cash coin:

    8002 Wang Mang interregnum co.jpg

    China, Xin Dynasty, Wang Mang's interregnum, 新AD 9-14, Da Quan Wu Shi (6.11 g.), value 50. Rev. Rims only. 27.5 mm, 6.14 g. Zeno 221539. Hartill 9.1.
    And isn't this a beauty, from the middle of the emperor Lingdi's reign (and Commodus's, for your perspective):

    8004 ons 48 co.jpg

    China. Eastern Han Dynasty. Emperor Lingdi (AD 186). Si Chu (four corners) Wu Zhu with four lines on the reverse. 25 mm, 4.04 gr. Zeno 228589. Hartill 10.3; FD 512.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
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  3. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    Very cool! I have a few Chinese cash coins but none are nearly as old as yours.
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  4. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Fun, @Pellinore ! Great examples.

    I have several, they are all interesting, but I regret my shallow knowledge of Chinese coins.

    I know this was one of the first cash-type coins, by the Emperor who was recognized as uniting and founding China after the Warring States era.


    China Qin 220-180 BC AE 12 Zhu Ban Liang Blank H7.7


    China Wang Mang 7-23 CE Hsin AE Cash Xiao Quan Zhi Yi H 9.14
  5. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Unfortunately, a lot of collectors avoid Chinese coins because of the "sameness" of the coins, but there is plenty of fascinating history, and the calligraphy is actually an extremely respected art form in China. Here's a few Chinese pieces I own:
    A selection of Wang Mang coins (7-23 AD) (his history is fascinating and tragic, look him up if you don't already know):
    Wang Mang.jpg
    A spade coin, Warring States period, State of Liang, c. 350-250 BC:
    Spade money.jpg
    And my earliest round Chinese coin, from the city of Yuan in the State of Liang (c. 350-220 BC):
  6. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks for your pictures, Alegandron and Parthicus! I always tried to leave some areas out of my sight, just to protect myself against a 'too much'. Assorted areas like China, Japan, South-East Asia, Spain, Russia and the Levant. Or coins from the 14th century until now (except some exceptions). But I'm happy China managed to permeate my protection. Coins like the spade and the early round coin are now on my list. But collecting also means studying, and that consumes time, which is a rare commodity.
  7. dadams

    dadams Supporter! Supporter

    I'm far from knowing much about ancient Chinese coins and such but I do enjoy them - they are all quite interesting, fun to learn about, and for the most part inexpensive.

    I've been picking them up here and there when the opportunity arises:

    Western Han Dynasty, Emperor Xuan Di, 74 - 49 BC Æ 5 Zhu
    Xin (Hsin) Dynasty, Emperor Wang Mang, 7 - 23 AD Æ Five Zhu
    Southern Tang Kingdom, Emperor Li Yu, 961 - 978 AD Æ Cash

    Northern Song Dynasty, Emperor Zhe Zong, 1086-1100, AE 2-Cash

    Some other fun non-round Chinese things to consider that wont break the bank:
    Zhou Dynasty, 1,046 - 771 BC Æ 'Fish Money'
    Later Zhou Dynasty, ca 300 BC "ming" type knife money
    Xin (Hsin) Dynasty, Emperor Wang Mang, 7 - 23 AD Æ Huo Bu
  8. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    True, but the research is often the most fun part! There are a lot of resources out there on Chinese coins, and many of them are good, but if I had to recommend just one place to start I would suggest David Hartill's "Cast Chinese Coins", which unlike the standard books for many specialties (*cough*Sellwood*cough*) is still in print and available at reasonable cost.
    Pellinore likes this.
  9. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    Exciting that you were able to attend the auction. The North American branch does not have an auction.

    For those who haven't seen the kind of stuff in an ONS auction, check out the catalog at https://www.zeno.ru/showgallery.php?cat=17142 . There were three Yarkand Pul (teardrop shaped coins of the 1700s). I have only seen one such coin in person!
    Pellinore, dadams and AnYangMan like this.
  10. AnYangMan

    AnYangMan Well-Known Member

    It was very nice meeting you here, @Pellinore ! We had a lovely talk during lunch and it was a pleasure conversing with you. I was surprised to see you bid on these Chinese coins during the auction, but I am glad you did! It is a very rewarding area, even though at first glance it indeed might seem somewhat repetitive. Especially that biscuit is quite a beauty. @TypeCoin971793 has an even thicker example to show. But the rest of the coins from the auction, also the ones you have not shown yet, are all great and, not unimportantly, genuine coins. You outbid me on that Da Yuan coin (don’t worry, I already have an example of the type ;)), but besides that I got the feeling that the two of us were the only ones bidding on the Chinese coins; some true bargains could be had! But do be careful with those Chinese washers. Once you start, it becomes addictive quite quickly!

    And to keep this legal; a couple of my Chinese wins from the ONS auction. I made some bids while simultaneously handing out the other coins to the winning bidders. Quite chaotic! Haven’t had the time yet to properly photograph them, so I am using the pictures of the ONS.


    State of Zhao, Pingyang 平 陽, Square foot spade (350-221 BC). Don’t you just love that crisp light green patina, especially with those azure and salmon-red highlights? I for one sure do! Kind of surprised I got this for under the (already extremely low) estimate.



    Two Tang dynasty coins. While Tang is far from my speciality within Chinese cast coinage, I absolutely adore the story behind these coins. They were cast in Qiuci (modern day Xinjiang, the most westward area Tang China expanded in) by the local governor after being cut of from the rest of Tang China because of the Tibetan invasion. Traditional Tang coinage consisted mostly of the Kai Yuan Tong Bao coinage, without the current reign-title (Nianhao) on the coin. These do, perhaps as a manner of setting them apart from the regular Kai Yuan coinage in the administration, show the reign title! The first is a Da Li Tong Bao 大曆元寶 (766-779 AD), the second a Jian Zhong Tong Bao 建中通寶 (780-783 AD). And to my great surprise, these went uncontested on auction, so I got them ridiculously cheap! And just for fun, my favourite Chinese coins ever (didn’t get these from an ONS auction I am afraid):


    While we’re at it: I also want to thank @altaycoins for the fantastic lecture at the beginning of the morning! A great pleasure finally seeing you face-to-face! Any other members here that I forgot?
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2019
  11. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random nobody...

    Very nice pickups! You can never go wrong with cheap, genuine ancient Chinese cash!

    Based on style and nature alone, these were almost certainly cast in the 15 years between the fall of Wang Mang and the reinstatement of the Wu Zhu by the Han Dynasty. There was no government oversight in the production of coins, so it was up to private citizens to add to the money supply. The coins made during this time were Huo Quans of varying quality.

    These resulted in crude, small, illicitly-cast Huo Quans (0.5-1.5g) as well as these giant “biscuit” Huo Quans. Wang Mang had a tight government monopoly on the coinage, so crude private issues would not have been regularly made. This dates them to post-Wang Mang. The smallest ones (<1g) are likely funerary issues and buried with the dead, where as 1-1.5g coins circulated (from hoard evidence). The existence of the biscuit ho quans (5-30g) is puzzling, but the wide variance in weights suggests that they traded in weight as bullion, and the common inscription marked them as acceptable tender. This would make some sense because the denomination “Huo Quan” was in no way related the metallic content of the coins, and the Chinese people were just liberated from a tyrannical rule where all forms of “based” currency (like Wu Zhus) were outlawed. The Chinese economy at this point was effectively trashed, so a barter system based on unofficial bullion slugs is plausible.

    The Chinese call these “cake” coins, possibly because they are roughly the shape of rice cakes (which tend to be rather small, on the order of these coins).

    Here is my nicest “biscuit”, weighing in at a hefty 24.1g! Relatively very few get larger than this.


    And here is a picture of various Huo Quans from my collection (taken ca December 2016). I might have have gotten a couple hundred more since then.

    Top left are official issues from the reign of Wang Mang. The top right 3 are ~5g biscuits. The second row is a mixture of official (left 4) and illicit (right 3) coins. The third row are all illicit coins with some of the smallest ones being funerary pieces. The bottom right coin is another huge biscuit, but the inscription is almost invisible. There are also two errors where there is no inscription.


    Really nice example! These were a victim of a gradual weight regression as their value in the economy decreased. The bottom right 5 are all funerary issues.


    Very pretty! You will find that there are many different varieties for very cheap.

  12. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks for your extensive contribution, @AnYangMan . Yes, we talked, not only about Chinese coins, I think the internet-based recognition research (don't know the name of this) promises to be rewarding.
    I was not the only one touched by the Chinese fire, however, for my neighbor (a collector of medieval Arabic coinage - like me) also bought some of these - for him it was as new as for me. He likes deciphering scripts, whereas I'm taken by attractive calligraphy. A different approach of the same object.

    Chinese coinage is not totally alien to my main area of collecting, 'Central Asia from the Greeks to Abu Sa'id'. I'm interested in the Chinese Far West, the border with the Sogdian lands. That was also the reason for me to buy that most attractive Yarkand coin (thanks @Ed Snible !).
    Terribly late for me, but so calligraphically interesting. And as thick and tear-shaped as history itself...

    Yarkand e.jpg

    Y side.jpg Very thick coin, 5 mm!

    China. Xinjiang, Yarkand (Zhungaria, just south of Altai), AE pul issued by the Zhungar Khan Cewan Rabdan (= Tsewang Arabtab) 1700-1727. Obv.: Zarb Yarkand. Rev.: Cewan. 16 mm, 8.57 gr. In 1700 the Zhungar khan Cewan Rabdan revolted against the Qing government and conquered the Yarkand Khanate. He ordered the subjugated people to cast puls with his name, for the payment of tribute. Zeno 228613 = 194994a. Hartill p. 310.

    The Da Yuan coin likewise is from the border between China and Central Asia. Several influences come together into this coin from a Chinese emperor who also was the seventh Great Khan of the Mongols. It's the largest coin of them all:

    8006 Yuan ons 55 co.jpg

    China, Yuan, Zhi-da, AD 1308-1311. Also Külüg Khan, seventh Great Khan of the Mongol Empire. Da-yuan tong-bao, phags-pa 10 wen. 37.5 mm, 15.08 gr. Zeno 228596 = 221657. Hartill 19.46.

    'Phags-pa' is an artificial Tibetan-Mongolian script devised by Phagpa, a Tibetan monk, who was also an important servant of the Great Khan Hulagu, founder of the Yuan dynasty. It was used between about 1270 and 1360. A beautiful script with square forms, written from top down!

    I have several coins that are somehow 'in-between' China and Central Asia, for instance this broad fals of the city of Kashgar (the gate to the Karakorum road from China to what is now Pakistan) in a squarish Arabic script.

    6930 Kashgar co.jpg

    AE broad fals, Kashgar. Mas’ud (Masud, 1240-1269) as governor of Karakorum under Qaidu. 30 mm, 5.22 gr. Nyamaa 32.

    And then there's the other cash type, with Sogdian lettering instead of Chinese. I have a few of these, this one is from the great city of Samarkand, dating from about 650-700 AD. It was issued by a ruler with the beautiful name of Urk Wartamuk.

    5692 Urk co.jpg
    AE Samarkand Soghd cash, Urk Wartamuk. Two tamghas on the reverse. 27 mm, 3.28 gr. Smirnova 657.
  13. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    And also thanks to you, @TypeCoin971793, for your help. You know how to bestow enthusiasm. Thanks for the biscuit clarification.

    Springfield, NZ.jpg

    This is the other Wang Mang coin I won at the ONS:

    8003 Wang Mang ons 46 co.jpg

    China, Xin Dynasty, AD 14-23. Value 1 wu zhu. Wang Mang's interregnum, Huo Quan. Obv. 2 characters. Rev. Rims and one dot. 22.5 mm, 2.53 g. Zeno 228587 (= 221541). Hartill 9.46.

    This one is quite beautiful, too:

    8005 ons lot 48 co.jpg

    China, Northern Qi, Chang Ping Wu Zhu (AD 553). Obv. 4 characters. Rev. Rims only. 24.5 mm, 4.15 gr. Hartill 13.27.

    This is the last, I bought it because of its Mongolian script. It was issued shortly before the accession of the Qing dynasty in the days of Khan Nurhaqi (also known as Nurhaci, you know).

    8007 Nurhaqi.jpg

    China, Later Jin 後金, 1616-1636 (Pre-Qing), AE 1 wen. Manchu script abkai fulingga han jiha (Khan Nurhaqi, 1616-1626). 29 mm, 6.37 gr. Zeno 228603. Hartill 22.1; KM. 228.
  14. Loong Siew

    Loong Siew Well-Known Member

    It is indeed a very interesting area of focus. Chinese or East Asian coins are appreciated more for their historical associations and calligraphy as opposed to artististry. Being an avid collector of east asian coins (Chinese, Japanese and SILK road), it is very encouraging to see non Asian collectors looking into this field of numismatics
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