This is a very interesting da quan wu shi (大泉五十) coin.
If you look carefully at the Chinese character shi (十),
"ten" (10) to the left of the square hole, you will
notice that it has not one but three horizontal
lines. The Chinese character shi (十)
for "ten" only has one horizontal
line. The additional horizontal lines seems to
mean that the coin is not worth 5 x 10 = 50
coins, but rather 5 x 30 = 150 coins!
Another characteristic of this coin is that the
inscription is repeated on the reverse side thus
making it a "double obverse" coin.
There seems to be some disagreement as to whether this
specimen is actually a coin or a charm but I am
treating it here as a charm.
The charm has a diameter of 25 mm and a weight of
Northern Zhou Dynasty
At the left is a Northern Zhou Dynasty coin cast in
the year 574 AD during the reign of
The inscription is wu
xing da bu (五行大布) which translates as "large
coin of the five elements".
The five elements consist of metal, wood, water, fire
For a discussion of the five elements please see Charm Symbols: Star,
Moon, Cloud and Dragon.
The reverse side of the coin is blank.
The coin has a diameter of 26 mm and weight of 3.7
This is a charm written in the same seal script and
with the same inscription or legend (wu xing da bu 五
行大布) as the coin above.
The reverse side displays the same four symbols,
namely the snake,
tortoise, sword and the Big
Dipper constellation, as on the Wang Mang da quan wu shi (大
泉五十) charm discussed above.
On this charm, however, the sword is on the right and
the seven star Big Dipper constellation is on the
Above the square hole is the snake which is coiled
with its head facing to the left.
The tortoise is below the square hole with its head
also facing to the left.
The charm has a diameter of 24.5 mm and a weight of
This obverse side of this large charm is based on the
same Northern Zhou Dynasty coin and uses the same seal
If you observe closely, though, the character at the
bottom is written differently. Most experts
still consider this character to be the same character
行 (xing) as on the Northern Zhou coin
Others, however, believe that the character is
actually 两 (liang)
which was a unit of weight. The liang was the
same unit of weight used, for example, on the Qin
Dynasty (221-207 BC) and Western Han Dynasty (206 BC -
220 AD) banliang (半两)
"half tael" coins.
The reverse side has the same four symbols in
the same location as the smaller charm above.
The difference is that the snake is coiled differently
and its head at the top facing right.
Also, the tortoise with its head on the right is now
looking back towards the left.
The diameter of this charm is 32.5 mm and the weight
is 7.3 grams.
(951 - 960)
Following the fall
of the great Tang Dynasty in 907, China
experienced another period of turmoil and disunity
known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms which
lasted 907 - 960 AD.
Emperor Shi Zong of the Later Zhou issued his
coinage patterned on that of the kai yuan tong bao
(开元通宝) which had become the standard coin of the
Emperor Shi Zong's coin is displayed to the
left. The inscription reads zhou yuan tong bao
(周 元通宝) which translates as
the "Zhou First Currency" and was cast during the
years 951-960 AD.
The zhou yuan
tong bao very quickly became a popular
inscription used on Chinese charms.
The reason is because, beginning in the
year 956, Emperor Shi Zong ordered that the bronze
Buddha statues in the Buddhist
temples, as well as the bronze items owned
by the people, be turned in to the government so
that they could be melted down and used to cast
coins. As a result, coins with this
inscription are considered especially auspicious
because they contain metal from Buddhist
This belief has carried over to the charms and
amulets cast during the following centuries which
display the same inscription.
The reverse side of the coin shows a "moon"
between the square hole an the rim at the seven
o'clock position. For a discussion of the
"moon" symbol please visit Charm Symbols:
Star, Moon, Cloud and Dragon.
The coin has a diameter of 24 mm and a weight of
The obverse side of this charm closely resembles that
of the coin above
and the inscription, zhou yuan tong bao
(周元通宝), is the same.
Although this charm is from a later period, charms
with this Chinese coin inscription are very popular.
Because the actual coins with this inscription were
cast using bronze from Buddhist statues, the Chinese
believed that this was also true for charms and
amulets with the same inscription even though they may
have been cast in the following centuries.
The reverse side of this old charm has a dragon on the
left and a phoenix
on the right.
The two are facing each other with their heads at the
bottom of the charm.
Charms with a dragon and phoenix are considered
auspicious marriage charms.
For additional information on this theme, please visit
Chinese Marriage Charms.
The diameter of the charm is 22.5 mm and the weight
is 5.6 grams.
Like the charm above, the obverse side of this charm
has the auspicious Chinese coin inscription zhou yuan tong bao
This is the reverse side of the charm revealing
that it is another phoenix and dragon marriage charm.
In this example, however, the phoenix is on the left
and the dragon is on the right. The two are
facing each other with their heads at the top of the
It is a little difficult to see but the wings of the
phoenix are just to the left of the square hole.
The head is at the eleven o'clock position and the
tail feathers are at the seven o'clock position.
The dragon is on the right with the tip of its mouth
at the twelve o'clock position and a dot representing
its left eye at the one o'clock position. Its
left front claw is just above the square hole.
The dragon's body curves down the right side of the
charm and its left rear claw is just below the central
hole. Its tail is almost touching the upper tail
feather of the phoenix.
The reverse side displays an interesting set of
The charm has a diameter of 25 mm and a weight
of 6.6 grams.
This is the obverse side of another ancient charm
based on the zhou
yuan tong bao (周元通 宝) coin
of the Later Zhou Dynasty.
Similar to the example above, the dragon is on the
right and the phoenix is on the left.
The two mythical animals are sculpted in high
relief and are facing each other with their heads
at the top of the charm.
This charm has a diameter of 23.5 mm and a weight
of 6.8 grams.
The coin displayed at the left is an
example of coins with the inscription tai ping tong
bao (太 平通宝)
cast during the years 976-989 of the reign
Tai Zong (976-997) of the Northern
This was the first Song Dynasty coin
inscribed with an imperial or reign title.
The reign title tai ping
This same inscription, tai ping tong
bao (太 平通宝),
was also used on coins cast during the
years 1854-1855 by the Shanghai Small
Sword Society (xiao dao hui 小刀会) during
coin has a diameter of 24.8 mm and weighs
This is a charm based on the tai ping tong
平通宝) coin of the Song Dynasty.
Tai ping, meaning
always been a strong desire of a people and it
is, therefore, an appropriate inscription for
This is an unusually well-made charm as
evidenced by the fine crosshatch pattern seen
in the character field.
The charm appears to be made of tin with,
possibly, a silver wash.
reverse side of the charm displays a number of
auspicious symbols, some of which are
difficult to identify.
At the top is a pair of
interlocking diamond-shaped lozenges
known as fang
sheng (方胜). The origin of this
symbol is still unclear but it may represent
the form of an ancient musical
instrument. Or, it may have been a head
ornament worn in ancient times which
symbolized victory. There is also a
legend that the Queen
Mother of the West wore such as object
to exorcise evil spirits.
Moving clockwise, the next symbol appears to
be books tied with a ribbon
or fillet possibly expressing the wish
for sons to be successful in the imperial
exams and obtaining an official
The next symbol is a gourd
also tied with a ribbon. The
gourd is popular symbol to ward off evil
spirits and disease because its first
character (hulu 葫芦)
has the same pronunciation as to "protect"
or "guard" (hu
护), and also for "blessing" (hu 祜). (Please see Gourd Charms.)
Unfortunately, corrosion obscures the
symbols at the bottom and left of the
square hole and these symbols remain
Just to the left of the lozenges is a flaming
pearl which represents riches and
This charm has a diameter of 26 mm and a
weight of 3.3 grams.
At the left is a fairly rare coin charm from the Liao
According to historical records, Emperor Tai Zong
(太宗) in the year 938 established the capital at Shang Jing
(上京) and honored the event by casting
commemorative coins with the auspicious
qiu wan sui (千秋万岁), which literally
translates as a "thousand autumns and ten thousand
years", expressing the hope that the emperor and
the dynasty would endure forever.
Most of these commemorative coins were presented
as gifts or awards. Some of the coins have
also been found in the foundations of Liao Dynasty
pagodas where they were presented as offerings by
religious believers during the dedication of the
At the very top is a figure of a person kneeling with
his right and left arms stretched out.
To the left of the square hole, and below the above
figure's right arm, is a person, perhaps a newborn
child, bent forward and standing.
To the right of the hole, and below the top figure's
left arm, is a dragon.
This Liao Dynasty coin has a diameter of slightly
greater than 25 mm and a weight of 6.8 grams.
During the late Northern Song Dynasty, the Nuzhen
(Jurchen, Jurched) (女真) nationality conquered most
of north China and established their rule as the Jin Dynasty.
At first, they used coins of the Song and Liao
dynasties but began to cast their own coinage in
The coin at the left, with the beautiful seal
script calligraphy, has the inscription tai he zhong bao
The coin was cast during the years 1204-1209 of
the reign of Emperor
Zhang Zong (1190-1209) of the Jin Dynasty.
The diameter of
the coin is 44.5 mm and the weight is 12.6 grams.
This is actually a charm based on the Jin Dynasty tai he zhong bao
coin shown above.
Because tai he
(泰和) can be variously translated as "peace
and harmony" or "prosperity and harmony", the coin
became popular as a theme upon which to base charms
can also refer to tai
shan (泰 山), or Mt. T'ai, which is
a famous and sacred mountain worshipped as a god.
The reverse side of
the charm depicts two magpies with
their long tail feathers. The magpie above the
square hole is actually upside down. Its head is
looking down and back to the right.
The magpie at the bottom has its head at the four
o'clock position and is looking up and to left.
The two magpies are therefore looking directly at each
The magpie (xi que 喜 鹊)
symbolizes "happiness" because the first
character xi is the same as the word "happy" (xi 喜).
Two magpies facing each other therefore represents
"double happiness" (shuang
xi 喜喜) and is a symbol of a happy marriage.
The reference to a happy marriage is based on
the legend of two heavenly lovers, the Cowherd
(Oxherd) and the Weaver Girl (Maiden), who are
permitted to meet each other only once a year on the
seventh day of the seventh month (known as qixi 七夕, the
Double Seven, or Sisters Festival) by crossing a
celestial river (the Milky Way) on a bridge made of
Also, a magpie shown upside down, as is the case here,
means that happiness has "arrived" because the Chinese
words for "upside down" (倒) and "arrived" (到) are both
Located between the two magpies are plum
branches. In Chinese, one can say
"there is a happy bird (magpie) on the tip of the plum
branch" as xi shang
mei shao (喜上梅稍). This sounds exactly
the same as saying xi
shang mei shao (喜上眉稍),
meaning "happiness up to one's eyebrows", which is a
Chinese expression for "very happy".
This charm has a diameter of 41 mm and a weight of
This is the obverse side of another charm based on the
he zhong bao (泰和重宝) coin of the Jin Dynasty.
The reverse side of the charm has four lines radiating
outward from the corners of the square hole and
extending to the rim.
The Chinese refer to this characteristic as
(四) means "four" and
means "going out".
The implied meaning is that peace, prosperity and
harmony should radiate in all directions.
The charm has a diameter of 41 mm and a weight of 22.3
This coin was
cast during the reign of the first emperor of the Ming
The inscription is hong
wu tong bao (洪武通宝) and was cast during the
Hong Wu reign of Emperor
Tai Zu (1368-1398).
You will notice that the hole is not in the usual
shape of a four-sided square. This particular
specimen has an auspicious eight-sided hole known as a
"flower" or "rosette" hole.
"Flower hole" coins were fairly common during the
Northern Song and early Southern Song Dynasties but
became very rare by the time of the Ming Dynasty.
A detailed discussion of these types of coins
including many examples can be seen at Chinese Coins with Flower
This is a Chinese charm, modeled after the above Ming
Dynasty coin, with the same inscription hong wu tong bao
reverse side of the charm shows a boy riding an ox or
In this case, the "boy" is actually Emperor Tai Zu.
Emperor Tai Zu had a very humble early life and for a
time was a shepherd boy.
You will notice that the boy is playing a flute which
has the connotation of a care free life.
The flute is an old Daoist (Taoist) symbol which is
associated with the Daoist
Immortal Lan Caihe
The flute is also an ancient Buddhist symbol used in
meditation and is displayed on this charm to allude to
the time when Emperor Tai Zu lived in a Buddhist
This type of charm became popular with the Chinese
people because it represented the hope that a person
could become successful despite being born into a
Another hong wu
tong bao charm which displays a number of
symbols referring to Emperor Tai Zu's life is
discussed in detail at Buddhist
This charm has a diameter of 43 mm and a weight of
The inscription (legend) on this charm is zheng de tong bao
Zheng De was
the reign title (1505 - 1521 AD) of the Ming Dynasty Emperor Wu Zong.
While some claim that the government did cast a very
small number of coins with this inscription, it is
generally believed that no coins meant for circulation
were ever cast by the government using the reign title
Even though no legal tender coins were cast during
this period, a fairly large number of charms with this
inscription exist. The reason is that zheng de has the
auspicious meaning in Chinese of "correct virtue", so
the inscription translates as "currency of correct
Many Chinese of the time also believed that Emperor Wu
Zong was the reincarnation of a real dragon.
Ancient Chinese folklore says that zheng de was a
"swimming" dragon. The belief is that wearing a
charm when you cross a river or sea will protect you
from the danger of large waves.
The Chinese also love to gamble and there is an old
Chinese superstition that says carrying a zheng de charm
will bring you good luck at gambling.
It was believed that if a pregnant woman carried a zheng de charm in
her hand both she and her child would be protected.
charms were also given to children as a form of good
luck money (yasuiqian
压岁钱) during the lunar New Year.
The zheng de
charms were considered so lucky that there was this
It is a common theme with zheng de charms to have a dragon and
(jia you zheng de
qian fu gui wan wan nian)
"If a family has a zheng de coin, there will be
riches and honor for ten thousand years"
The reverse side of this charm shows a wide-eyed
dragon on the right with its head at the five o'clock
position. A lovely phoenix is on the left of the
square hole with its head at the six o'clock position.
The dragon and phoenix paired together
represent the ultimate union of a man and a
woman. Additional information on this subject
can be found at Chinese
The charm has a diameter of 45 mm and weighs 14.5
The reverse side reveals that it is actually a
charm with the inscription read top to bottom and
right to left as ding
cai gui shou (丁财贵寿).
This is another example of a very well-made zheng de tong bao
(正德通宝) that would typically have been used as a
The reverse side of the charm displays a very
ornate and finely detailed dragon on the right
with its head at the two o'clock position.
An equally detailed phoenix is at the left of the
center hole with its head at the eight o'clock
This is a large and heavy charm.
The diameter is 54 mm and the weight is 42.3
This is another example of a charm with the
Chinese coin inscription zheng de tong bao (正
The very broad outer rim displays a dragon on the
left and a phoenix on the right.
The circular objects at the 12 o'clock and 6
o'clock positions are pearls.
The reverse side also has a very broad outer rim
with the single Chinese character wen (文) above
the square hole.
is the measure word used for counting
Chinese cash coins.
It is interesting that this same character wen (文)
can also mean the obverse side
of a coin even though here it is displayed on the
The diameter of this charm is 31.3 mm and
the weight is 8.3 grams.
Coins were cast with the reign title Wan
Li (万历) of Emperor Shen Zong
during the years 1573-1620 of the Ming Dynasty.
At the left is a coin with the inscription wan li tong bao
What is unusual about this coin is that there are
four dots, with one dot between each of the
Experts seem to be divided as to whether this is
an official coin or a charm.
The character wan
(万) means "ten thousand" and the
(历) means "era" or "calendar". The
four dots are generally believed to represent
星) or suns (ri
日). The implied meaning is, therefore, light
and brightness forever.
The reverse side of this coin or charm is blank
although it has the same broad outer rim as that
on the obverse.
The coin has a diameter of 24 mm and a weight of
Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty
This coin is a qian long tong bao (乾隆通宝)
presumably cast during the 60 year reign
(1736-1795) of Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty Emperor
The coin is very large and heavy. In fact,
it is much larger and heavier than any other qian long tong bao variety
of coin with which I am familiar.
Also, the characters, such as the bottom portion
of the bao (宝) and
radical portion of the tong (通), are
written in a slightly different style from that of
the other coins of this emperor.
The coin, however, is clearly old.
Because of its size, calligraphy and age, I have
concluded that this "coin" is most probably a
The reverse side reveals another interesting
The Manchu characters indicate that the piece was
cast at the Board of Revenue in Peking (Beijing).
However, the characters are rotated 90 degrees
clockwise and the characters themselves are very
The intention may have been political but the
meaning remains unclear.
The charm has a diameter of almost 56 mm and a
thickness of just over 3 mm.
In 1861, a few
specimen coins for the reign title Qixiang were
cast with the inscription qi xiang zhong bao
The coin at the left is either one of these
authentic pieces or an excellent copy. If it
is indeed a copy, then it is clearly a very old
Besides its rarity, coins or charms with the
xiang are considered auspicious because qi xiang (祺
祥) means "lucky" or "of good omen".
The top and bottom characters on the reverse side
of this coin/charm are dang shi (当十) which translates
as "Value Ten" and means that this coin was worth
the equivalent of 10 cash coins.
The Manchu characters to the right and left of the
square hole indicate that the coin was cast at the
Board of Works in Peking (Beijing).
This coin/charm has a diameter of 35 mm and weight
of 13.6 grams.
The charm to the left is quite small and shows
The inscription is guang xu tong bao
(光绪通宝) and the obverse side looks exactly like a
typical Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty coin of Emperor
Zong (1875 - 1908 AD).
The translation is "May you acquire wealth, honor
(high rank) and longevity".
The charm is only 19.5 mm in diameter and weighs 4.7
If you have a further
interest in the close relationship of Chinese coins
and Chinese charms, please also visit Chinese Coins with Charm
Return to Ancient Chinese Charms