World Coins

Chinese cash coin identified

This Chinese coin dates to the time frame of 1662 to 1683, during the early reign of Emperor Sheng Zu, and was struck in Beijing, according to Scott Semans, a dealer specializing in world coins.

Images courtesy of George Kissinger.

I have a coin that was left to me by my great uncle.

He was a veteran of the Spanish American War and what today is referred to as the Philippine Incursion.

He came back from his Army service in the western Pacific with many things, including this coin.

I believe it is a Chinese coin and apparently made prior to 1898. The metal is somewhat yellow and, I believe, is brass or some other close copper alloy.

I have no idea what the writing/inscriptions say, so I am asking Coin World if you might offer some knowledge about this interesting and, to me, historic coin. Any assistance you might offer is greatly appreciated.

George Kissinger

via email

The coin you discuss is indeed a Chinese coin, and specifically one known as a cash.

The cash coin was a mainstay of China’s coinage, circulating for more than 12 centuries. Cash coins, usually made of brass, bronze or copper, are noted for a square hole in their center. They were generally of low value and struck in high mintages. Though many multiple-weight denominations exist, and many were smaller or larger, the average cash coin weighs 4 grams and measures 25 millimeters in diameter.

Dealer Scott Semans, who operates Scott Semans World Coins (, reviewed images of this piece and identified this example as brass and dating from the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty, under the Emperor Sheng Zu.

Chinese cash coins have four characters on the obverse, identifying the reign and translating to “current money.” The reverses were generally blank until the 12th century, after which time they often carried the Mint mark and the year of production. This example was struck in Beijing, Semans said.

Weight and diameter provide clues as to the date range for cash coins, Semans said, and given the wide rims on this piece it is likely 1662 to 1683, early in the emperor’s reign. Cash coins were slightly lighter and smaller after about 1735.

Semans said small variations within the characters are used to encode the date, and although some date assignments are controversial, the exact year can theoretically be worked out by use of the charts in Ch’ing Cash Until 1735 by Werner Burger.

This variety is cataloged as Hartill-22.85 in Cast Chinese Coins by David Hartill, the standard Western reference on Chinese cash. Published in 2005, it is still available from some hobby sources, including Semans.

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