Here we will only talk about round coins. There are other shaped coins, notably spade shaped and knife shaped, but we will deal with these in a later update of this web site. This is not a history of Chinese coins, only a guide on how to identify them. We will add a brief history later.
I am writing this as I am learning about Chinese coins so nothing here is guaranteed to be entirely accurate. These are the problems I have come across in learning how to identify coins and my answers for solving them.
1) There are very few books available about Chines coins so you will probably have a great deal of trouble getting one. That's why this web site is here, too give you some information - for free.
2) All those Chinese characters (writing on the coins)
look confusing. Don't let this worry you. There aren't actually all that
many different characters used. Once you have identified a few of your coins
you will start recognising the common characters. This just takes time and
experience. We will have a list of characters and their meanings finished
at a later date.
3) Coin or Charm? If the item you are trying to identify has pictures of animals, people etc, or has more that four characters then it is probably a charm. You might find it in the Charms section of this web site.
4) The number one rule in reading a Chinese coin is to
read the top character first, followed by the bottom character then the
right and finally the left (T,B,R,L) (see
picture). However, in a some cases coins are read in the Clockwise direction
(T,R,B,L). These items can be identified if they have the bottom characters:
Unfortunately there are even exceptions to this rule, notably with Annamese coins. If your coin has only two characters then read the coin from right to left (R,L) (see picture).
5) What do the characters mean?