Last month I posted an article about how getting back to the basics and just weighing and ringing coins allowed me to identify a very good quality fake chinese coin. However, this is not a silver bullet. In that particular case, it was important, because Fengtien coins were always minted up to standard – they all weigh 7 maces and 2 candarins, using the 庫平 (Ku Ping) standard.
However, this is not the case for some provinces. For example, coins minted in Sinkiang (新疆) province used the 湘平 (Xiang Ping) standard: a Xiang Ping Tael is equivalent to 36.1 grams (1.16 oz). The Ku Ping Tael weighs 37.3 grams (1.2 oz), over 1 gram more. A collector carefully weighing a recently acquired Sinkiang tael and remembering that chinese taels should weigh about 37 grams would then be surprised to find his coin to be 1 gram “underweight”. It is actually normal, just an artifact of the byzantine currency rules in the late Qing era.
Aside of these competing currency standards, some provincial mints also issued deliberately debased or sloppily minted coins. The Kirin (吉林) provincial mint is a well known offender in that category. Coins with the “7 mace and 2 candarins” denomination following the Ku Ping standard should weigh 26.84 grams (0.86 oz), but some coins minted in Kirin are clearly underweight.
For example, the Kirin dollar above weighs 25.6 grams, but is completely genuine. As a rule of thumb, coins issued by Kwang Tung (广东), Hu Peh (湖北), Sze Chuan (四川), Kiang Nan (江南), Fungtien (奉天), and Pei Yang (北洋) mints as well as imperial issues are close enough to the standard to dismiss underweight coins as forgeries. However, one should still be aware there is some genuine overweight Pei Yang dollars (27 grams) or underweight Kiang Nan coins.
The variations in provincial coinage, added to the complicated currency rules, greatly helped the Yuan Shi Kai dollar to succeed later. It had a consistent weight and value all across China, simplifying greatly inter-provincial transactions.
In conclusion, one should not rely on some simple rules to evaluate if a Chinese coin is genuine or fake. Knowing intimately the intricacies of their design is important, but weight and metal composition should not be neglected. Relying solely on the weight would be an error nonetheless. There is some very well executed forgeries made from the original metal of melted lesser chinese coins circulating on the market. Therefore, always keep in mind this wise chinese saying “不懂不买” when shopping for coins – it simply means: “don’t buy if you don’t know what you’re buying”…