88. The six recipes of Zhou: a new perspective on Jin (金) and Xi (锡)

Article in The Guardian, 10 Aug 2022:

Sasha Pare, “Researchers decode metal-making recipes in ancient Chinese text. Study identifies mystery elements in Kaogong ji, shedding light on how early bronzes were produced” in The Guardian, 10 Aug 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/aug/10/metal-making-recipes-ancient-chinese-text-kaogong-ji


87. Archaeometallurgical research on Song dynasty coins from the Nanhai no.1 shipwreck


Ding MA, Dian CHEN, Naisheng LI, Yue CHEN, Jing DU, and Wugan LUO, “Archaeometallurgical research on the bronze coins of Song Dynasty (960–1279AD) from Nanhai No. Ⅰ shipwreck, the south China sea”, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 45, October 2022.


86. Article: Chemical Studies of Ming and Qing (1368–1911 CE) coinage and the later history of brass in China


A.M. Pollard and Ruiliang Liu, “Chemical Studies of Ming and Qing (1368–1911 CE) coinage and the later history of brass in China”, Journal of Archaeological Science 142, June 2022. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2022.105597


85. Book: Silver in the history of Chinese currency

Shanghai Museum (ed.), Yiyi qian nian: Zhongguo huobi shi zhong de baiyin. Shanghai: Shanghai Museum, 2019. ISBN ISBN 978-7-5479-1987-3. 187 pp.

上海博物馆 编:《熠熠千年:中国货币史中的白银》 / Silver in the History of Chinese Currency. 上海: 上海博物馆, 2019 年。

This is the catalogue of the exhibition at the Shanghai Museum, in 2019. Curated by Wu Danmin, the exhibition centred on the Shanghai Museum’s excellent collection, with loans from China’s Finance and Taxation Museum 中国财税博物馆, the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeological Research Institute 四川省文物考古研究院副院长, the National Center of Underwater Cultural Heritage 国家文物局水下文化遗产保护中心, and Guangdong Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology 广东省文物考古研究所 . The index (in Chinese and English) gives the captions to the 130 objects illustrated in the catalogue.

There are four forewords (in Chinese and English):

YANG Zhigang 杨志刚, Director, Shanghai Museum (pp. 6-7)

XU Xiang 徐向, China’s Finance and Taxation Museum (pp. 8-9)

TANG Fei 唐飞, Vice Dean, Sichuan Archaeology Research Institute (pp. 10-11)

SUN Jian 孙键, National Center of Underwater Cultural Heritage (pp. 12-13)

These are followed by four essays (in Chinese, with an English abstract):

WU Danmin 吴旦敏 — Zhongguo huobi shi zhong de baiyin 中国货币史中的白银 // The Silver in the History of Chinese Currency (pp. 14-20)

Abstract: The natural attributes of gold and silver give them the advantage over other metals to function as a form of payment. In Europe the history of silver working as currency and as vessels or adornments had virtually overlapped while it was not the same in China. Silver had been valued as precious metal as well as long-distance exchange media in the history of Chinese currency until by the end of sixteenth century that it became a standard currency in the monetary system. The Age of Exploration in the fifteenth century speeded up the global circulation of silver and saw its enormous influx into China which fueled the metallic currency market. To some extent, the maritime trade stimulated China’s commerce and industry, and urged a more advanced currency system to match its development. Silver eventually acted as a significant role on the stage and backed all of China’s economy.

CHEN Yang 陈阳 — Baiyin huobi beihou de caizheng tuishou – Tangdai zhi Mingdai yinding zhong suojian baiyin yu caizheng de guanxi 白银货币背后的财政推手 – 唐代至明代银锭中所见白银与财政的关系 // Pushing Hands Behind: The Relationship between the Silver Ingots and the Finance from the Tang to the Ming Dynasties (pp. 20-27)

Abstract: The thesis attempts to reveal the relationship between silver ingots and government’s income and expenditure on the analysis of the inscriptions and text material based on various forms of silver currency from the Tang to the Ming dynasties. It aims to investigate how the national’s finance and taxation system worked out to set up a silver standard monetary system through the functions of silver currency transferred from a method of large-scale payment in common commodity to considerable tax generated from goods in great volume of trade.

LIU Zhiyan 刘志岩 — Zheji chensha yin wei xiao: Jiangkou chen yin yizhi fajue ji 折戟沉沙银未销:江口沉银遗址发掘记 // The Underwater Archaeological Finding of Silver from the Jiangkou Site (pp. 28-32)

Abstract: This paper is aimed to tell the inside stories of the underwater archaeological finding of a sunken silver hoard in Jiangkou from the perspective of the archaeologist on-site, with some unrevealed details of how the site was discovered and excavated as well as the spiritual journey that the author experienced in the whole process. The article focuses on recording the archaeologists’ efforts in this first underwater practice in Sichuan province and so far the largest scaled underwater archaeological excavation of rivers in China. This tremendous discovery proved the legend of Zhang Xianzhong hiding a large silver treasure underwater at Jiangkou a real story and once again, the significance of archaeological evidence in the study of Chinese history.

YE Daoyang 叶道阳 — ‘Nanhai yihao’ chutu de yi pi jinshu huobi ‘南海一号’出土的一批金属货币 // Metal Coins Excavated from the Nanhai I Shipwreck (pp. 33-35).

Abstract: The Nanhai I shipwreck was originally located in the border area between Taishan City and Yangjiang City of Guangdong Province. It was discovered in the late 1980s. Afterward, the wreck was entirely unwatered and shifted to the Maritime Silk Road Museum of Guangdong in 2007. It has been conducted with excavation since 2014. It is a very important discovery so far in the history of China’s underwater archaeology. It is also very important relics along the Maritime Silk Road. // The Nanhai I shipwreck was basically preserved under sea mud. It is loaded with cargo of trade goods of the Southern Song Dynasty. The wreck is 22 meters long and 9.9 meters wide, with a sharp bow, square stern and multiple plates on both sides. Its structure is suitable for seagoing voyage, known as ‘Fu Chuan’, or literally Fortune Ship. // The Song dynasty was a prosperous period for China’s coinage industry. Silver began to circulate as an important part of the financial system. The development of overseas trade led to an increasing importance of the precious metals such as gold and silver of high value, light weight and convenient for long distance transportation. The Song people normally call it ‘light assets’ for both the silk and precious metals. // In the wreck, 290 kg of silver ingots have been excavated. It has also yielded a lot of gold leaves, as well as a large quantity of gold, silver and copper coins. The silver ingots displayed in this exhibition were intended to be carried abroad for use, so that the audience can also imagine the scenery of prosperous foreign trade in the Song Dynasty.

These are followed by the catalogue in three sections:

Chuantong yinliang 传统银两 // The Traditional Silver Ingots (pp. 36-95)

Baiyin dongzhe 白银东浙 // Silver Travelling to the East (pp. 96-127)

Yin yu zhichao 银与纸钞 // Silver and Paper Money (pp. 128-181)

Suoyin 索引 // Index (pp. 182-186)

84. Book: Money and Empire

“Money and Empire: coin influence and change from a world perspective

WANG Chunfa 王春法:Huobi yu wangchao: guoji shiyexia qianbi de yingxiang yu gaibian 《货币与王朝:国际视野下钱币的影响与改变》. Beijing 北京:Beijng shidai huawen shuju 北京时代华文书局, 2020年. ISBN 978-5699-3724-4. [WANG Chunfa (ed.-in-chief). Money and Empire: coin influence and change from a world perspective. Beijing: Beijing Shidai Huawen shuju, 2020. 325 pp. In Chinese]

This volume is the proceedings of the international conference held at the National Museum of China, 13-14 November 2019. It contains the 32 papers listed below (my translations are approximate) and foreword by the Director of the National Museum of China. A total of 42 papers were presented at the conference and are listed at the back of the book.

  • WANG Chunfa (Director, National Museum of China) – Foreword // 王春法 (中国历史博物馆):序言 (p.3)
  • HUANG Xiquan (Zhengzhou University) – On a newly seen Fancao spade-money weight and Banquan, site of the war between Yandi and Huangdi // 黄锡全 (郑州大学): 谈谈新见布权 “反苷” 与炎黄争战之地 “阪泉” (p.1)
  • HE Ping (China Renmin University) – The principles of coin casting and circulation in ancient China, and the hierarchical structure of money, as see in in King Jing of Zhou’s “casting large coins” // 何平 (中国人民大学财政金融学院): 从周景王 “铸大钱“ 看古代中国铜铸币流通原则与货币层次结构 (p.7)
  • DI Shengli (National Museum of China) – Inscriptions on the large knife-money of Qi // 翟胜利 (中国历史博物馆): 齐国大刀币铭文疏议 (p.13)
  • ZHU Anxiang (Hebei Normal University) – Currency circulation in the Wei, Jin and Northern and Southern Dynasties // 朱安祥 (中山大学历史系): 魏晋南北朝时期的货币流通方式 (p.27)
  • GAO Cui (National Museum of China) – Popular customs relating to paper money in the Tang dynasty // 高翠 (中国历史博物馆): 唐代民间纸钱风俗考述 (p.40)
  • JIANG Shunyuan (National Museum of China) – Wen Tianxiang’s “Shang Hong Zhai Tie” reveals a paper money crisis in the late Song dynasty // 姜舜源 (中国历史博物馆): 文天祥《上宏斋贴》揭南宋后期纸币危机 (p.46)
  • ZHOU Xiang (Shanghai Museum) – The Dachao tongbao and associated questions // 周祥 (上海博物馆): 大朝通宝及其相关问题 (p.52)
  • LIU Shunqian (Palace Museum Department of Scientific Research)  – “Tian qi xing qian” and the unification of the national currency in Yunnan in the Ming dynasty // 刘舜强 (故宫博物院科研处):  “天启行钱“于明代云南地区的国家货币一体化 (p.59)
  • TONG Chunyan (National Museum of China) – “Amituofu” charms // 佟春燕 (中国历史博物馆): “阿弥陀佛“ 压胜钱 (p.68)
  • YE Daoyang (Guangdong Maritime Silk Road Museum) – On the currency objects excavated from the Nanhai No. 1 Shipwreck // 叶道阳 (广东海上丝绸之路博物馆): “南海一号“出土货币辨析 (p.75)
  • WANG Liyan (National Museum of China) – Gold in China’s ancient monetary system // 王俪阎(中国历史博物馆): 中国古代货币体系中的黄金铸币 (p.82)
  • ZHAO Xiaoming (Xi’an Numismatic Museum) – Gold money in China – historical predicament and sources // 赵晓明 (西安钱币博物馆): 中国黄金货币的历史困境及根源 (p.93)
  • WANG Xianguo (Capital Museum) – The use of silver in early China and the development of the silver liang system // 王显国 (首都博物馆): 中国早期白银货币的使用及银两制的形成 (p.106)
  • WANG Jijie (China Numismatic Museum) – The “nan liang gai zhi” 50-ounce ingot of Tianqi 1 (1621) and associated questions // 王纪洁 (中国钱币博物馆): 天启元年 “南粮改折“ 五十两银锭及相关问题考证 (p.114)
  • WU Danmin (Shanghai Museum) – On silver currency in the Ming dynasty // 吴旦敏 (上海博物馆): 明代白银货币问题再探 (p.121)
  • LI Jinxiu (Institute of Historical Research, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) – On the Sasanian silver coins in the Shuozhou Museum, Shanxi // 李锦绣 (中国社科学院古代史研究所): 山西朔州博物馆藏萨珊银币考释
  • YANG Fuxue (Dunhuang Academy) and YUAN Wei (Guizhou Provincial Museum) – The evolution of inscriptions on Central Asian Hellenistic coins // 杨富学 (敦煌研究院),袁炜 (贵州省博物馆): 中亚希腊化钱币铭文的嬗变
  • GUO Yunyan (Hebei University) – A catalogue of the Byzantine gold coins and gold pieces found in China // 郭云艳 (河北大学历史学院): 中国发现的拜占庭金币和金片的目录与概况 (p.146)
  • LI Xiaojia (Zhongshan University) – An exploration of the changes in headwear on the obverse of Sasanian coins before the 5th century // 李晓嘉 (中山大学历史系): 试探讨五世纪前萨珊银币正面王冠之变化
  • Agshun Aliyev (Beijing Foreign Languages University) – Ancient coins unearthed in Azerbaijan and their value on the Silk Road // 阿格申.阿利耶夫 (北京外国语言大学亚洲学院阿塞拜疆语教研室): 阿塞拜疆出土古钱发展轨迹与丝绸之路上的价值 (p.177)
  • QI Xiaoyan (Changzhi Institute) – On Sogdian imitations of Chinese ‘Kaiyuan tongbao’ coins // 齐小艳 (长治学院历史文化与旅游管理系): 苏特仿中国 “开元通宝“ 钱币研究 (p.188)
  • ZHENG Yue (Yinchuan Branch, People’s Bank of China) –The cultural characteristics of world coins from the dual perspective of coins made in East and West // 郑悦 (中国人民银行银川中支): 从中西钱币方式的二元视角看世界货币的文化特征 (p.190)
  • ZHOU Weirong (China Numismatic Museum) – The Influence of the Silk Road on China’s silver money // 周卫荣 (中国钱币博物馆): 论丝绸之路对中国白银货币化的影响 (p.198)
  • LAN Rixu (China Central Finance University) – The evolution and characteristics of Silk Road Money // 兰日旭 (中央财经大学惊喜学院): 丝绸之路上的货币演进及其特征 (p.208)
  • DAI Jianbing (Hebei Normal University) – Trade between ancient India and China and the exchange of coin culture // 戴建兵 (河北师范大学): 古代印度和中国的贸易及货币文化交流 (p.216)
  • CAO Guangsheng (Jiu Da Cultural Media Co.) – Han-to-Tang East-West cultural exchange and fusion as seen in the coins of the Zhaowu Nine Tribes // 曹光胜 (九大文化传播公司): 从昭武九姓钱币看汉唐时期东西方文化的交流与交融 (p.224)
  • Jonathan JARRETT (University of Leeds), tr. ZHANG Yue – Market exchange in the Byzantine empire and the Reform of Emperor Anastasius I // 乔纳森.加莱特 (英国利兹大学), 张月译: 拜占庭帝国的市场交易与阿纳斯塔修斯一世的货币改革 (p.266)
  • ZHOU Jianming (Institute of Culture, History and Tourism Management, Guangxi University, and Guilin Numismatic Society – A world view of coins circulation and influence – from the perspective of silver dollars of Annam circulating in China’s southwestern border areas // 周建明 (广西师范大学历史文化与旅游学院,桂林钱币学会): 国际视野下的钱币流通与影响 (p.277)
  • YUAN Lin (Xi’an Branch, People’s Bank of China) – The large influx of Japanese and Vietnamese cash into China in the 18th and 19th centuries and how the Qing government responded to it // 袁林 (中国人民银行西安分行): 十八,十九世纪日本,越南等国铜钱大量流入中国以清政府的应对 (p.285)
  • Georges DEPEYROT (École Normale Supérieure, Paris), tr. ZHANG Yue – The relationship between metal and coins in Europe // 乔治.德佩罗 (法国巴黎高等师范学院), 张月译: 欧洲的金属与货币关系 (p.296)
  • Helen WANG (British Museum), tr. ZHANG Yue – Displays of coins and medals at the British Museum, 1759-2019 // 汪海岚 (大英博物馆), 张月译: 钱币的展览展示—以大英博物馆钱币和奖章展览 (1759-2019) 形成为例 (p.307)
  • The Papers Presented at the Conference // 研讨活动读论文目录 (p.324)

83. Chinese New Year print featuring a tiger and coins

February 1st 2022 marked the start of the lunar new year. This year being the Year of the Tiger, images of tigers flooded social media. Several people sent me this image of a tiger covered in coins, but none could tell me the source of this image. Here, Alex Chengyu Fang, an expert on Chinese coin-shaped charms (a very portable medium of Chinese folk-art), offers his thoughts.

The tiger print circulated on social media around 1 February 2022

Alex writes:

This is a New Year print 年畫, the kind that is traditionally produced and posted about the house especially for the celebration of the Spring Festival marking the beginning of a lunar year. This time, it is the year of the tiger. The picture appropriately features a tiger holding a sword between its jaws. There is a lizard near the hilt of the sword, a centipede near the front paw of the tiger and a snake under its belly. A spider can be seen hanging down from the tail. The five therefore form a reference to the Five Poisons 五毒, that is, Tiger, Snake, Centipede, Lizard and Spider. The five poisons were originally meant to be suppressed, traditionally on the fifth day of the fifth month, which is celebrated as the Duanwu Festival 端午節 or the Double Wu Festival, when the sun is believed in its highest position, and thus at its most powerful, an ideal moment to rid the household of unwanted pests. The Five Poisons therefore also came to represent a lucky sign, often featured on Chinese coin-like charms. The five creatures can vary, as in the coin-like charm below, which features a tiger, snake, spider, toad and lizard.

Chinese coin to drive away evil, including the Five Poisons (image from www.artron.net)

On this printed image, the theme of luck and fortune is reinforced by the many coins covering the tiger. Reading the inscriptions on the coins, we find those issued during various reigns of the Ming and the Qing, including Hongwu 洪武, Yongle 永樂, Chenghua 成化, Jiajing 嘉靖, Shunzhi 順治, Kangxi 康熙, Qianlong 乾隆, Jiaqing 嘉慶, Daoguang 道光, Xianfeng 咸豐, Tongzhi 同治, and Guangxu 光緒, etc. The latest coin featured reads Guangxu 光緒 (1875-1908) just below the tiger’s tail.

Guangxu coin (just below the tiger’s tail)
Coins with garbled Manchu script (just behind the tiger’s head)

In the coin inscriptions, it’s noticeable that the head of the tong 通 varies in appearance, that bao 寳 is always given in the simplified form 宝, and that the Manchu script on the back of Qing coins is often garbled.

Japanese and Vietnamese coins

Rather unusually for a Chinese print, we also see some foreign coins such as Kan’ei tsuho 寬永通寶 and Meiji tsuho 明治通寶 issued in Japan and Cảnh Hưng 景興通寶 issued in Vietnam.

The charm inscribed Fu gui chang ming 富貴長命

In the middle of the tiger, we find a coin-like charm inscribed Fu gui chang ming 富貴長命, meaning fortune, honour and long life:

Great Luck in the Year of the Tiger, Fan Hua

The four characters in red read Hu nian da ji 虎年大吉, or Great luck in the Year of the Tiger, and the two-character signature reads Fan Hua 范華.

The collector’s seal at lower right

This print was once in a private collection, as it has a seal impression in the lower right corner. The seal reads  “Studied and collected in the studio of xxx” (xxx 攷藏印). The studio name cannot be identified due to the missing part of the seal. The print was probably later in the collection of a museum, as suggested by a very vague trace of a museum stamp in the top right corner.

New Year prints such as this were produced across China in older times. This particular print was believed to have been produced in Taohuawu 桃花塢, located in Suzhou, one of the five best known places for the production of New Year prints. The other four places include Yangliuqing 楊柳青 in Tianjin, Zhuxianzhen 朱仙鎮 in Henan, Yangjiabu 楊家埠 in Shandong and Mianzhu 綿竹 in Sichuan. Pictures produced in Taohuawu are noted for their vibrant colours and fine woodcut skills. The following is an identical print but in colour, retrieved from an article focussing on tigers in New Year prints (link here).


So, we know where the print was produced and it appears to be, or to have been, in at least one collection. Were the characters in red added later? By Photoshop? Was the print produced for the lunar new year, or for the Duanwu Festival, or for general use throughout the year? So many questions – if you have any answers, please leave a comment!

Many thanks to Alex, who has produced two books on Chinese charms, and last year wrote the introduction to François Thierry’s new book on this subject:

Alex Chengyu Fang, Chinese Charms: Art, Religion, and Folk Belief (Beijing: The Commercial Press, 2008)  方称宇著:《中国花钱与传统文化》 (北京:商业印书馆, 2008. ISBN 978-7-100-05832-2.

Alex Chengyu Fang and François Thierry (eds),  The Language and Iconography of Chinese Charms: Deciphering a past belief system, pp. 149-161 (Springer, 2016). ISBN 978-981-10-1791-9.

Francois Thierry, Amulettes et talismans de la Chine ancienne (Paris: CNRS, 2021), ISBN 978-227-113-9023.

82. Werner Burger (1936-2021)

Werner Burger, known for his research on Qing dynasty coins and his extensive collection of coins and library, died in Hong Kong on 15 November, aged 85.

Werner Burger (photo source: j.012east.com)

Werner Burger (Chinese: 布威纳 Bu Weina) was born in Munich in 1936. He studied Chinese at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU), graduating in 1962, with a thesis on Chinese money. According to an announcement by the Chinese Numismatic Museum in Beijing, Burger took 16 years to complete his PhD (instead of the usual 3-4 years), and 30 years to complete his volume Ch’ing Cash (2016) (link here).

In 1963 he went to China to teach German in Shanghai. When the school he was teaching at closed down, he was sent to be a sheep farmer. He moved to Hong Kong in 1965.

Burger was also a member of the major research project Monies, Markets and Finance in China and East Asia, 1600-1900: Local, Regional, National and International Dimensions led by Hans Ulrich Vogel in Tübingen. For this project, he was looking in particular at “Qing Coinage, 1850-1911: Mint Statistics, Numismatic Evidence, and Monetary Policy”.

Burger’s publications include the following titles:

  • “Manchu Inscriptions on Chinese Cash Coins”, in American Numismatic Society Museum Notes XI (1964)
  • “Um Amuleto em Manchu”, in Boletim do Instituto Luís de Camµes (1969)
  • “Minting during the Qianlong Period: Comparing the Actual Coins with the Mint Reports”, in Christine Moll-Murata, Song Jianze and Hans Ulrich Vogel (eds.), Chinese Handicraft Regulations of the Qing Dynasty (2005)
  • Chinese section of Coins of the World 1750-1850, by W.D. Craig (1976)
  • Ch’ing cash until 1735, Mei Ya Publications, Taipei, 1976
  • Ch’ing Cash, University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong, 2016.

Further information

Memorial Event

81. Coins on snuff-bottles

Ricarda Beatrix, assistant curator at the V&A recently tweeted about her work on the more than 500 Chinese snuff-bottles at the V&A (see V&A collection online). There are a further 451 Chinese snuff-bottles on the British Museum’s Collection Online. That makes almost 1000 in just two collections. I did a quick internet search for snuff-bottles and found a few examples with coin designs, which I’ll post below in three groups: foreign coins (usually silver dollars) on snuff-bottles, Chinese coins on snuff-bottles, and Liu Hai and the three-legged toad on snuff-bottles. There are probably a lot more out there. The images are not to size.

Foreign coins on snuff-bottles

  • BM: 1886,0306.11 — Snuff-bottle featuring a Spanish 8-reales coin, 1788-1850, Franks Gift (The inscription is a garbled version of Carolus III. Dei Gratia. 1788 // Hispan et Ind Rex. M. 8R)
  1. Christie’s 2006, Live Auction 1759 J&J Collection of Snuff Bottles Part III (lot 68) – Snuff-bottle featuring Carolus IIII coin (link)

  • Doyle, 16 Sept 2013, Lot 337 — Snuff-bottle featuring Spanish 8-reales coin of Carolus IIII, 19th century (link) [copied from Doyle: This bottle belongs to a series of intriguing ‘coin’ bottles carved with the two sides of the Spanish silver dollar which, along with a gold counterpart, were standard international currency in trading during the 19th century. The present example, based on a 1765 Maria Theresa thaler, is rare within the group. More commonly such ‘coin’ bottles feature the portrait of Charles III, based on a 1781 coin. Jade ‘coin’ bottles are also unusual within this group; bottles of this type are usually rock crystal, but examples have been found in other types of quartz and, very rarely, in glass. For a discussion of this ‘coin’ group, see Moss, Graham, Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, the Mary and George Bloch Collection, Vol. 2, Hong Kong, 1998, pp. 154-157, no. 238.]
  • 8tiger Oriental Art, # tiger1022 — Snuff-bottle feauring 18th-century coin (link)
Christie’s, 15 March 2017
  • Christie’s, 15 March 2017 — Snuff-bottle featuring a Maria Theresa thaler, and coat of arms, 1766-1840 (link)

Chinese coins on snuff-bottles

  • Museum of Modern Art, NY: 21.175.265a, b — Snuff-bottle featuring four coins (banliang, wuzhu, huoquan, Kaiyuan tongbao), 19th century, Converse Bequest
  • Christie’s, 14 May 2019 — Snuff-bottle with Guangxu tongbao coin, Hung Chong, Guangzhou or Shanghai, 1890-1920 (link)
  • Crow’s Auction Gallery Ltd, 1 July 2020 (Lot 210) — Snuff-bottle with dollar/5-yuan coins (link)

Liu Hai and the three-legged toad, with a string of coins (visible or implied) on snuff-bottles

  • V&A: C.1750&A-1910 — Snuff-bottle, featuring Liu Hai and the three-legged toad, with a string of coins, 1795-1820. Salting Bequest
  • V&A: C.1796&A-1910 — Snuff-bottle, featuring the three-legged toad, 1813-61. Salting Bequest
  • V&A: C.1778-1910 — Snuff-bottle, featuring the three-legged toad, 1750-1895. Salting Bequest
  • V&A: C.1888&A-1910 – Snuff-bottle, featuring the three-legged toad, 1750-1895. Salting Bequest
  • V&A: C.1803&A-1910 — Snuff-bottle, featuring Liu Hai and the three-legged toad, 1813-61. Salting Bequest

  • BM: 1936,0413.73 — Snuff-bottle featuring Liu Hai and the three-legged toad, 1880-1910, Cory Bequest
  • BM: 1936,0413.72 — Snuff-bottle featuring Liu Hai and the three-legged toad, 1800-99. Cory Bequest
  • BM: Franks.661.+ — Snuff-bottle featuring Liu Hai and the three-legged toad,1800-30. Neligan Bequest
  • BM: Franks.557.+ — Snuff-bottle featuring Liu Hai and the three-legged toad, 1820-90, Franks Gift
  • BM: 1877,0116.56 — Snuff-bottle, featuring Liu Hai and three-legged toad, 1700-1899, Franks Gift
  • BM: 1945,1017.345 — Snuff-bottle, with Liu Hai’s toe on the ivory stopper, 1850-99. Raphael Bequest
  • BM: 2018,3005.359 — Snuff-bottle, featuring Liu with coins around his neck, 20th century, (Japanese?) Victor Sassoon Chinese Ivories Trust

80. A Chinese coin-sword in Durham

Guest post by Anna N. Crowther

The Durham University Archaeology Laboratory Collection houses a wide variety of objects obtained over many years for teaching and learning purposes, many with unknown histories. One such object is a coin sword (Figure 1). Coin swords, also known as cash swords, evil-warding swords, exorcising swords, and magic swords, are generally believed to have been used within Chinese households to ward off evil spirits. In Chinese, they are known as 辟邪剑 bixiejian (evil-averting sword), 钱剑 qianjian (coin-sword), 古钱剑 guqianjian (old coin sword), and 铜钱剑 tongqianjian (copper coin sword).

Figure 1: Coin sword, China. Leaded brass, cord and iron, 56.1 x 7.0 cm. Durham University Archaeology Laboratory Collections

The precise history of this sword is unknown. The only documentation it possesses is a small label tied to the hilt, which gives the date of ‘5 Jan 77’, but is otherwise mostly illegible (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Label attached to the hilt of the coin sword

The sword is composed of 66 coins in total: 42 on the blade, 16 on the guard and 8 on the pommel. The coins are fastened by red and yellow cords onto an iron rod which extends throughout the full length of the sword (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Red and yellow cords tying the coins onto the iron rod

The sword is not unique and various other similar comparative pieces are in museums and private collections worldwide. Coin swords can be found in the collections of the British Museum, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of Scotland, Horniman Museum and Gardens, the Science Museum in London and many other places. Despite the apparent prevalence of coin swords, little information is available about their use and their place within Chinese material culture. However, suggestions have been made of their connection to Taoist rituals and deities, Feng Shui and Chinese numismatic charms. For example, Doré (1914, p. 507) suggests that coin swords were made to represent the exorcising sword of the Daoist magician Zhong Kui.

If you have any knowledge or guidance on how they were used, who made and used them, or their connections to Chinese religion and culture, please contact Anna Crowther at anna.n.crowther@durham.ac.uk

Many thanks to Helen Wang, Emily Williams and Helen Armstrong for their help and assistance with this artefact research so far.


  • DeGroot, J.J.M. (1910) The religious system of China: Its ancient forms, evolution, history and present aspect, manners, customs and social institutions connected therewith Vol. VI. Leyden: E.J. Brill.
  • Doolittle, J. (1868) Social life of the Chinese. A daguerrotype of daily life in China, (Paxton Hood ed.) London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston.
  • Doré, H. (1914) Researches into Chinese superstitions Vol. V (Recherches sur les superstitions chinois), translated by M. Kennelly et al. Shanghai: T’usewei Printing Press.