Chinese Coins: Buy the Book and the Coin

Posted on 6/9/2015

Reference books are an essential part of building a collection of modern Chinese coins. A real collection is the result of educated choices, but a pile of unidentified coins is little more than a hoard.

I was at a luncheon recently. An older gentleman at my table asked my profession. When I explained that I am a numismatic researcher, he immediately told me that he had a large “collection” of coins. As he continued it became obvious that his collection was really an accumulation of unidentified older coins. He didn’t know much about them except that they are silver. The conversation reminded me of the old saying, “Buy the book before the coin.” A bunch of coins without knowledge is just a hoard. It may be valuable, or not. A real collection is the result of intelligent, often educated choices. Books are an indispensable part of this process.

On that theme, here are a few books that I think will contribute to the education of anyone interested in modern Chinese coins. Some are only published in Chinese, but the numbers are in the familiar Arabic format so much of the meaning is not too difficult to glean.

Perhaps the most widely used reference in the field is Zhao Li Cheng’s Illustrated Catalog of Modern Chinese Gold and Silver Commemorative Coins. The cover of this book is red. The trademark for Red Book, however, belongs to an American publisher, so the book cannot be advertised with that term. In everyday use among Chinese coin collectors, though, you can guess what it is called. The book is updated annually.

This work probably has the most comprehensive illustrated listing of modern precious metal Chinese coins and medals in print. It is organized by year, so the chapters are easy to navigate. The first coins of each year/chapter are always Pandas followed by the Lunar series. After that it becomes more difficult to know the series name if you don’t read Chinese, but all the photos and mintages are there.

Another reference work that receives annual updates is Mr. Ge Zukang’s Modern Chinese Gold/Silver Coins & Medals. Mr. Ge is a well-known Chinese numismatic researcher and scholar. His excellent book is published in two parts. The first section features a good set of coin photos. Mintages, where known, are below the pictures. For some coins there is also a star rating system for rarity. These ratings are based on Mr. Ge’s research and are easily worth the modest price of the book.

The second volume that Mr. Ge publishes each year is a price guide. This may be less comprehensible to English readers, but it is usually sold together with the first volume so readers can peruse it.

From left to right: Modern Chinese Gold/Silver Coins & Medals, Modern Chinese Coins in Circulation,
Gold and Silver Panda Coin Buyer’s Guide, Illustrated Catalog of Modern Chinese Gold
and Silver Commemorative Coins.
Click images to enlarge.

Besides gold and silver commemoratives, China also issues copper-nickel, brass and aluminum coins for circulation. These are used in everyday commerce. Some of them are rare while some are struck in Proof condition and are highly collectible. They have a large and enthusiastic collector base within the People’s Republic. The most widely used reference book for circulating coins is Modern Chinese Coins in Circulation by Mr. Sun Keqin. I’ve heard talk that an English translation of this book is on its way, but for now it is available only in Chinese.

Last, but hopefully not least, is the Gold and Silver Panda Coin Buyer’s Guide by Peter Anthony. The English language version is a wide-ranging look at the very popular Panda series of coins and medals. It includes mintage numbers, population estimates, catalog numbers and photos for more than 600 Panda coins and medals. There are also stories to entertain and place the coins within their original cultural setting. A bonus chapter on Unicorn coins is included in the latest edition. The 256-page book, now in its second edition, is widely considered to be the standard reference for the Panda series.

For anyone who wants to find value where others miss it, who wants to collect and not just hoard, who wants the fun and friendships and satisfaction that numismatics offers, books are essential. So go ahead, buy the book and the coin.

Peter Anthony is an expert on Chinese modern coins with a particular focus on Panda coins. He is an analyst for the NGC Chinese Modern Coin Price Guide as well as a consultant on Chinese modern coins.

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