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The Numismatic History of Chinese Coins
The rich numismatic history of China spans nearly four millennia and encompasses much more than just coins. Some of the earliest mediums of exchange included cowrie shells and bone or bronze imitations thereof during the Shang Dynasty (ca. 1766-1154 B.C.). These were highly regarded and valuable objects. Other means of currency included cast ingots called Sycee from a multitude of localities in various shapes, sizes and metals. Other cast monies came in a plethora of shapes and sizes from cash coinage to spades to knives primarily in bronze, but some made from iron as well. The earliest collectable banknote of the world also hails from China. Produced during the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644) these were made from mulched mulberry bark in multiple denominations, though the only readily available denomination is the 1 Kuan or 1,000 cash (the largest denomination from this series).
It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that the manufacturing of coins began to change, with modern minting equipment being installed at the Hong Kong mint while under British administration and the adoption of the decimal system. The Hong Kong mint produced its own coinage from 1866 to 1868 and operated at a loss, after which it was shut down and the minting equipment sold off. Near the close of the 19th century provincial mints began producing coinage of a somewhat standardized design based on the weight of a Tael and its derivatives.
The obverse motif depicts a stylized Chinese dragon among clouds with English legends of the province name above and denomination below. The reverse consists of Manchu and Chinese characters stating the era, province and denomination. Each mint made its coinage distinct. At the time the Kwangtung mint was opened and in full production, it was one of the largest mints in the world. After the revolution of 1911 coinage moved away from the provincial mints and toward one central mint at Tientsin, Hupeh Province. Throughout the 20th century improvements and declines in the political and economic sphere, are reflected in the coinage. Issues depicting the self-proclaimed Emperor Yuan Shih-kai and national hero Dr. Sun Yat-sen (among other national and political figures) can be seen on numerous different types and denominations struck in gold, silver and copper alloys.
In the 36 years before the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War (known as World War II in the west), there were two major political parties, the Kuomintang and the Communists. Both issued coinage while fighting against each other, but set their differences aside after the Japanese invaded the Manchurian Provinces in northern China and installed a puppet government. During this time the national capital moved from Beijing to Chongqing, then still part of Sichuan Province. After the war, fighting between the Kuomintang and Communists continued resulting in the Kuomintang fleeing to Taiwan where they set up a provisional government. Before the Communists gained total control they established the People’s Bank of China on December 1, 1948, which began issuing a unified currency, the Yuan (the precursor of the Renminbi). Prior to Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, national coinage began production in 1955 and is still issued to the present day.
The last decades of the 20th century to the present saw the production of coinage not intended for circulation though retaining legal tender status. Special Mint and Proof coinage was issued as singles and in sets. The quantity of Modern commemoratives and other special issues is staggering and these are very heavily collected. The more recognizable issues of this series depict iconic Panda’s (1982-present), Lunar Zodiac animals (1981-present) and mythical Chinese Unicorns (1994-1997). These are struck in Gold, Silver, Platinum, Palladium and Copper alloys in various weights and denominations.
The vast field of Chinese numismatics encompasses many different methods and technologies of manufacture. Recognizing this helps to understand the complexity of the different series, from cast Sycee ingots to modern commemoratives. Collectors of Chinese numismatics items tend to specialize in their fields of interest, though some branch out and collect related areas. Whether you have one item or an entire collection, if you would like to learn more about the value and history of what you possess, contact one of our Foreign Numismatic Specialists.
Copper Alloy Coin of Emperor Julian - History
King for a day? How about emperor for two months? Between A.D. 260 and 274, a succession of generals ruled over the Gallic Empire, a breakaway state from the Roman Empire that included the provinces of Germania, Gaul, Britannia, and, briefly, Hispania. In the spring of A.D. 269, having fended off a Germanic invasion, the military commander Ulpius Cornelius Laelianus declared himself Gallic emperor at Moguntiacum (modern Mainz), the capital of the province of Germania Superior. His reign would not survive the season.
Save for a mention in the Historia Augusta, a collection of biographies of the Roman emperors written hundreds of years after his reign, Laelianus is largely lost to history. The ill-fated ruler—who appears to have been assassinated by his own troops—is known primarily through the coins he managed to mint despite his brief reign. Thus, the recent discovery of a Laelianus coin during excavations at a small Roman farmstead on the outskirts of Cambridge adds a very short chapter to the enigmatic emperor’s tale. On the front of the coin, Laelianus wears a crown and is surrounded by a phrase identifying him as emperor. The reverse shows a personification of Victory holding a palm frond and wreath meant to proclaim Laelianus’ military prowess. “Many rulers, including Roman emperors, have struck coins to proclaim their position as head of state,” says Julian Bowsher, numismatist at MOLA Headland, which conducted the excavation. “It’s probable that a usurper like Laelianus did so in part to establish his credibility in contrast to his predecessors.”
Although Gallic coins were quite common in Britannia, having been brought over in bulk when the province was part of the Gallic Empire, coins struck by Laelianus are very rare, explains Bowsher. Only about 50 such coins have been found on the island. Equally rare are coins struck by one of Laelianus’ slightly more fortunate successors, a former blacksmith named Marcus Aurelius Marius, who lasted a full three months before he, too, was assassinated.
When most of the countries in the European Union agreed to replace their currencies with the Euro, about 350,000 tonnes of old coins were taken out of circulation and recycled. The launch of the Euro required 27,500 tonnes of metal, of which 50% was copper.
Gold has been associated with high value coins for centuries and the 10, 20 and 50 Eurocent coins are made from a copper alloy called ‘Nordic Gold’, which consists of 89% copper, 5% aluminium, 5% zinc and 1% tin. No gold is present, but the alloy is durable and has an attractive gold colour which does not tarnish with time.
The 1 Euro and 2 Euro coins are bimetallic and have respectively outer and inner sections made from a nickel brass (75% copper, 20% nickel, 5% zinc) which also has an attractive yellow colour which does not tarnish. The silver-coloured parts of these coins are copper-nickel (cupronickel), as shown in the picture.
The 1, 2, and 5 cent coins are steel with a copper coating which gives good corrosion resistance.
The good electrical conductivities of copper and its alloys mean that coins are easily identified in vending and cash machines. The alloys have other useful properties such as:
- Tarnish and wear resistant
- Formable, easy to mint new coins
- Infinitely recyclable – a sustainable material
Copper’s superior malleability allows clear images and distinct edging on all the coins. The latter is especially important for the visually impaired. Each coin denomination has a separate edge design to facilitate recognition.
The copper alloy coins above are all recyclable. Another benefit of copper alloys is that they are hygienic, making them safer to handle.
What is Billion?
Gold or silver in bulk before coining, or valued by weight.Yes, the silver content is sometimes so low that when mixed with the other
metals the resulting coin does not look like it has any silver in it.
That is one I have, and only when I looked it up on here I saw that there was some silver in it.
The issuing of billon coins also presented an opportunity for the government to make some extra money. At least it was the case in Scotland, it wouldn't surprise me if other countries did it too. Scottish billon was often overvalued, allowing the monarch to make an easy profit.
Here are a few of my Scottish billon pieces.
Just because you can't see it . doesn't mean it isn't there - Anon.
Coin catalogue referee for Celtic Britain, England, United Kingdom, New Zealand & pre-Union South Africa
Banknote catalogue referee for England, United Kingdom
Copper Alloy Coin of Emperor Julian - History
There is a record that copper ore was mined in Sinai Peninsula by King Snefru around 3800 B.C. and crucibles of the time were also discovered. They constitute evidence that the people then already had the technology to refine copper ore. There is also the fact that copper was used to make water supply tubes at the Abusir Temple in Egypt, which was constructed around 2750 B.C.. To make the tubes, copper was beaten out thin and then rolled.
Recently, the fact that "Fuhonsen" ancient coins, which was discovered at the Asukaike site built in the latter half of seventh century, was discovered to have been cast over 700 years before. In addition to coins, excavation of a large quantity of melted copper from the site shows that copper production volume of the latter half of seventh century had already reached a significant level.
Since then, various ores were successively discovered throughout the country. From the Nara era to the Heian era, a lot of bronze Buddhist statue, Buddhist articles and handicrafts were made, and in 749 (Tenpyo 21), through the construction of the Todaiji Buddha statue, which was made at the request of the emperor of Shomu, the technology for copper refining and casting was greatly improved.
After Japan entered the Muromachi era, import and export trade with China, Spain, Portugal and Holland began and demand for weapons, coins and household goods flourished in Japan and abroad. Especially in Kanbun, Genroku, during the Edo era, copper replaced gold and silver as the main trade commodity in Nagasaki.
Silver yen Edit
100 yen coinage was first authorized in 1951 with the specification that the coins be made of a silver alloy.  The first coins were minted for circulation in 1957 which featured a phoenix on the reverse. The alloy decided upon consisted of 60% silver, 30% copper, and 10% zinc and came at a time when banknotes of the same denomination were already in circulation.  The "100 yen" bill hence became a substitute to the coin as the two were allowed to co-circulate.  The design of the coin was changed in 1959 which removed Latin script ("Yen"), and changed the reverse side to show a sheaf of rice. To commemorate the summer 1964 Olympics in Tokyo 16 million ounces of silver was used to strike the 80,000,000 coins produced. None of these coins were recorded as ever going into circulation as they were grabbed and stored away as collectors items.  The usage of silver worldwide for coinage was about to take a turn though, as the price of the bullion increased dramatically. The Japanese government had planned on producing 800 million silver coins over a 10 year span [a] , but the amount of silver held was insufficient.  Silver was dropped from the coinage in 1967, which led to coin hoarding and silver smuggling outside of the country for melting. 
Cupronickel yen Edit
The new and current design of the 100 yen coin debuted in 1967, and features sakura blossoms and the denomination in Japanese. A new alloy of 75% copper and 25% nickel (cupronickel) was decided upon to replace the former silver alloy. It was reported that by 1969 the monetary value in the old silver coins was $3 (USD) an ounce, prompting a "coin retirement" plan by the government.  On August 1, 1974 one hundred yen notes were withdrawn from circulation, but post World War II dated notes were allowed to retain their legal tender status.  The amount of coins produced then decreased from the mid to late 1970s as a possible attempt to control economic inflation.  The issuance of the new 100 yen coin has also been cited as a factor in the rapid spread of vending machines during this decade.  By the late 1970s into the early 1980s a myth was established that tied the amount of coins produced with the growing popularity of the arcade game industry. While there were reports of Japanese cities briefly running out of 100 yen coins, arcade operators would have emptied out their machines and taken the money back to the bank which kept the coins circulating.  
Production of the 100 yen coin dropped going into the mid 1980s due to various proposed reasoning. Japan at the time had been in economic decline caused in part by trade tensions with other countries that were competing with Japanese exports.  The Japanese government was trying to deflate the yen, and achieve more imports and less exports. Another explanation put forward is the introduction of the 500 yen coin in 1982. The Japanese mint at the time stated that a higher value coin was needed for use in vending machines.  In any case mintage figures recovered towards the very end of Emperor Shōwa's reign. No coins were minted in 1989 (year 64) as molds needed to make coins for Akihito had already begun.  Denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 500 yen were given priority over 50 and 100 yen coins.  By the mid 1990s 100-yen shops were expanding into retail chains, these "shops" are akin to American dollar stores. Coin production remained unhindered during the early years of Akihito's reign until the millennium, when 500 yen coins were turned out in record numbers. The offset caused low mintage numbers which included only 8,024,000 pieces struck in 2001, a record low for the series.  The '100 yen" coin continues to be produced to the present day as the second-highest denomination of yen coinage.
Hoard of 22,000 Roman coins is among largest collections found in Britain
An amateur treasure hunter has unearthed one of the largest and best preserved collections of Roman coins ever found in Britain. The hoard of 22,000 copper-alloy coins, which date back around 1700 years, was found on land near Seaton in East Devon, England. They are believed to have been intentionally buried for safe keeping, but were never recovered.
According to a report in the Western Gazette , the discovery was made by Laurence Egerton, a builder and metal detector enthusiast, who was operating under license on private land near the previously excavated site of a Roman villa.
“I had a signal on the metal detector which means that there is probably iron involved,” said Mr Egerton. “Most detectors are set up to ignore iron but I decided to dig the earth at that spot and immediately reached some iron ingots which were laid directly on top of the coins. The next shovel was full of coins - they just spilled out over the field,” he added.
The hoard was found by builder Laurence Egerton. Image source: Western Morning News
Archaeologists were called in and began carefully extracting the coins, eventually pulling out more than 22,000 coins, which are believed to have originally been held in a fabric or leather bag which has not survived.
According to Devon County Archaeologist Bill Horner, the Roman copper-alloy coins date back to between AD 260 and AD 348 and bear the images of Emperor Constantine, his family, co-Emperors and immediate predecessors and successors. Experts estimate that the quantity of coins, would amount of a two-year salary of a soldier at the time.
The story behind how the coins came to be buried in a pit in Devon is a mystery, but Mr Horner suspects they were buried by an individual for safe-keeping, perhaps during a time of instability.
“There were no banks, so a good, deep hole in the ground was as secure a place as any to hide your savings in times of trouble, or if you were going away on a long journey,” said Mr Horner. “But whoever made this particular deposit never came back to retrieve it.”
Although other larger hoards have been found – 22,703 coins in Nether Crompton (1989) and 52,503 coins in Frome (2010) – the latest discovery, which has been named the “Seaton Down Hoard”, is considered the best preserved 4 th century collections to have ever been found in Britain.
One of the 22,000 coins of the Seaton Down hoard. Image source: Western Morning News . The coins are exceptionally well-preserved and are considered the best preserved 4 th century collections ever found in Britain.
The hoard has been declared a Treasure under the Treasure’s Act, meaning that it is now eligible for acquisition by a museum, and the finder and landowner will be entitled to a reward equal to the market value of the hoard. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter, is hoping to acquire the collections and has already launched a fund-raising campaign to raise the necessary funds.
Exeter City Councillor Rosie Denham said: “This extraordinary hoard will add greatly to our picture of life in Roman Devon. It would be a wonderful addition to RAMM’s collection of local Romano-British objects. Adding it to RAMM’s world-class collections will let the people of Devon share in one of the most significant archaeological finds to have been made in Britain for many years.”
Featured image: The Seaton Down Hoard. Source: Western Morning News
Roman Coin of Philip the Arab
This Roman coin is a copper alloy sesterius minted during the reign of Philip the Arab who was the Roman Emperor from AD 244 - 249. One face of the coin bears the youthful bust of the emperor, he is shown bare headed with drapery over his shoulder and facing to the right. The inscription reads M IVL PHILIPPVS CAES (Marcus Iulius Philippus Caesar). The reverse shows the emperor standing in military dress and facing to the left &ndash he is holding a globe in one hand and either a staff or spear in the other. The inscription reads &ldquoPRINCIPI IVVENT S-C&rdquo which translates as &ldquoin honour of the Prince of Youth&rdquo S-C (senatus consultum) was a decree of the Roman senate. The coin is quite worn with a green patina on both sides. It has a fairly thick edge which is unusual and might therefore indicate that it is possibly a Victorian replica or a contemporary fake. Victorian copies of Roman coins are common and often difficult to distinguish from genuine ones.
The coin was acquired by the museum in 2001 after being found at Cork Airport in Lehenagh More, County Cork. It was not found with any other objects or in the vicinity of any monuments and therefore it is not possible to determine when the coin arrived in Ireland. It may indeed have arrived in Roman times but it is also possible that it was brought to Ireland much later by a collector and subsequently lost. Another possibility is that soil from elsewhere may have been brought to the area during construction of the airport. The coin is a poor quality example of this type (RIC 256a) and does not appear to have been minted in Rome or any other major official centre. The museum file suggests it may have come from Roman Britain and a there is a similar example from Wiltshire in the British Museum.
Who was Philip the Arab?
The two Philips, son and father, seized power after Gordian had been killed, brought the army back safely and set out for Italy from Sicily. During their reign the thousandth anniversary of the city of Rome was celebrated with games and shows of great magnificence. Both were then killed by the army. Eutropius Breviarium IX.3
Marcus Iulius Phillipus was born in south-west Syria circa AD 204 in a village called Shabha, which he later renamed Philippoplis. He rose through the ranks of the Roman army and was appointed praetorian prefect under the Roman emperor Gordian III while on campaign in Persia in AD 243. The Romans were defeated in Assyria and Gordian III perished, either killed in battle or murdered by his own men. Philip benefited from Gordian&rsquos downfall and was proclaimed emperor in early AD 244 he was later suspected of having orchestrated the death of Gordian. Philip negotiated peace with the Persian king Shapur and returned to Rome. The treaty had cost 500,000 gold denarii and the acceptance that Armenia lay under Persian influence.
Philip attempted to portray himself as the founder of a new dynasty. He left his brother in command of the eastern provinces and had his son proclaimed Caesar upon his accession even though the boy was only five or six years old. He began a lavish new building programme in his home town of Shabha as well as adding the hexagonal forecourt to the Temple of Jupiter at Baalbek. A spectacular series of games was also held in AD 248 to celebrate the 1000 th anniversary of the founding of the city of Rome.
Official propaganda at this time emphasised peace and order but revolts broke out in Syria and Alexandria due to heavy taxation. Religious rioting in Alexandria may also have disrupted the wheat supply to Rome. However, it was the provinces of Moesia and Pannonia on the Danube that caused the most trouble. Germanic tribes rebelled and the first direct incursion of the Goths into the Roman Empire occurred at this time when Philip stopped paying subsidies for their goodwill. The respected senator Quintus Decius Valerinus was given command of the Danube legions and sent to restore peace. Decius defeated the Goths and was proclaimed Emperor by his army. He then marched on Rome where the increasingly unpopular Philip met him at Beroea in Macedonia (although some sources cite Verona as the location of this battle). Philip was defeated and killed as soon as news reached Rome of his defeat his son was murdered.
Was Philip the Arab a Christian?
Later Christian writers alleged that Philip was a Christian but this does not appear to be true as the emperor organised traditional pagan games, including gladiator fights, to celebrate the founding of Rome and also had his father deified. It seems more likely that Philip was tolerant of different religious groups including Christians, especially in contrast to his successor Decius who persecuted Christians from AD 249 -51.
This coin is part of the museum&rsquos reserve collection and is not currently on display. However, other items from the Documentation Discoveries series are currently on display in the National Museum of Ireland &ndash Archaeology, including a small Roman figurine.
Bowman, A., Cameron, A. and Garnsey, P. (2005). The Cambridge Ancient History: Volume 12, The Crisis of Empire, AD 193-337. Cambridge University Press.
Kemezis, A. M. (2009). Philip the Arab in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece & Rome. Oxford University Press.
Scarre, C. (2004). Chronicle of the Roman Emperors. London. Thames & Hudson.
Roman Coin of Philip the Arab is located at:
In addition to the links and information about rare pennies that I’ve included above, here are some other resources to help you learn more about your old pennies that might be rare and valuable:
I like to help people find unique ways to do things in order to save time & money — so I write about “outside the box” ideas that most wouldn’t think of. As a lifelong dog owner, I often share my best tips for living with and training dogs. I worked in Higher Ed over 10 years before switching gears to pursue activities that I’m truly passionate about. I’ve worked at a vet, in a photo lab, and at a zoo — to name a few. I enjoy the outdoors via bicycle, motorcycle, Jeep, or RV. You can always find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun & helpful websites).