East Asian Cash Coins

This page is just for fun. It links one of my hobbies, collecting Asian (primarily Japanese) cash coins and charms, with a historical perspective. I will introduce here aspects of how the coins were made, circulated, and what they can tell us about the societies that made them. I will be building the site slowly over the next few years. (9/26/01) (last updated 10/24/03)


An old Collector's Guide from Kyoto in the year 1842: Shinsen zeni kagami

Another yet older collectors guide from Nagoya in the year 1799 Kosen nedantsuki


Japanese coins

Chinese coins

Korean coins

Vietnam (Annam) Cash

Vietnam (Annam) Privately Minted Cash

Indonesian "Naive" Coins

Strange private cash


Luke Roberts Home Page

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What are East Asian

Cash Coins?kaiyuan tungpao

Cash coins were the "pennies" of East Asia, the most common daily currency. Typically, Asian cash coins are round copper alloy coins with a square hole in the center and writing with four Chinese characters on the front. They are cast in molds rather than stamped with dies and so are unlike the coins of the West Asian and European tradition. Round copper alloy coins with a hole in the center were first created by the Zhou dynasty in present day China in the 6th century B.C. Initially the inscriptions stated the value of the coin. The T'ang began a new tradition in 621 by making the inscription read Kai Yuan Tong Bao (image above, twice normal size) which was a reference to the beginning of the dynasty rather than to the value of the coin itself. After this most coins had dynastic or calendric era name inscriptions on the front.

This basic design was adopted by many dynasties and countries throughout East Asia, which existed within the boundaries of present day Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, and of course China. The design was standard over the region, as was the value--one wen in Chinese (mon in Japanese. Sometimes this value is described in English as one cash.)-- and these coins circulated relatively freely within the East Asian international economy. Officially, a thousand wen made up a guan (kan in Japanese), although local variations of this rate existed.

The hole in the middle of the coin had a practical use. Money was often carried on strings rather than in purses. Frequently these strings were tied in units of 100, 300, or a thousand (the latter equalling one guan) like a roll of coins, to make counting easy.

The reverse of the coins are usually blank, although many have inscriptions or ciphers identifying such things as the mint of manufacture, the year of manufacture, or--on larger sized coins-- the denomination. Coins with values of 2, 3, 4, 5, 10 and even on up to 100 or 200 wen exist.

A thousand thanks to people who have already made suggestions to improve these pages. Most especially I would like to thank a coin mailing list in Japan filled with friendly people who have helped correct some errors. If you can read Japanese and your computer has Japanese fonts, the superb coin page of one of their members, Adachi Noboru, is http://park12.wakwak.com/~kosenkan/. This page is the completest and best organized page for cash coins which I have found. One of the best English language pages I know of is Vladimir Belyaev's page at http://www.charm.ru/, and he has many good links on it. Also, if you can read Japanese, the web page with the best list of links to all kinds of coin pages in Japanese and all languages is Iida Kazuo's at http://www.aa.aeonnet.ne.jp/~k.iida/kazuo/coin/coinlink.html

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