Ilana sent us this picture of a coin from her Grandmother's collection. It brings us to the fascinating world of Ancient Chinese Amulets and Charms. These are not really coins since they are not used in commerce, but they look like old China cash coins you can see at this CoinQuest link.
In ancient China coins took several forms, including knives, spades, and round coins.
We are not experts in this area, and at first we believed Ilana's Grandma had an old Wu Zhu amulet dated somewhere between 100 BC and 600 AD. It turns out, however, that this piece is actually a low-value novelty item produced in relatively modern times. Value estimates run from $10 to $50 US dollars depending on actual age and overall condition.
It is times like this that we must turn to the *real experts* in this area. There is a fascinating web site on the subject of ancient coins from China. It is called PrimalTrek.com and it has oodles of pictures and explanations of all sorts of these intriquing items.
Gary Ashkenazy, an obvious PrimalTrek expert, answered our inquiry about Ilana's coin and here is what Gary wrote.
As you have noted, it is a Chinese charm based on the wu zhu cash coin that first appeared early in the Han Dynasty (118 BC) and then continued to be cast for about 700 years.
If you were to see it in person, you would also realize that it could never be mistaken for a real wu zhu coin. Most examples of this charm are about 6 cm (2.4 inches) in diameter which would make it considerably bigger than a typical wu zhu cash coin of about 2.5 cm (1 inch).
The inscription on the obverse side (left image) consists of two ancient Chinese characters, one to the right and one to the left, of the square hole. The inscription is read from right to left as wu zhu and looks exactly like that of a real wu zhu coin. (Meaning of wu zhu is explained here.)
The very ancient Asian swastika (different from that used by the Nazis) above the square hole represents the Chinese character for 'ten-thousand' and is pronounced wan. Interestingly enough, the swastika did actually appear on a few real wu zhu coins. These coins are very rare but an example may be seen here.
The character below the square hole is pronounced qian and is written in an old seal script form. It means 'one-thousand'. This beautiful character appeared on a very famous old Chinese coin cast during the years 7-9 AD. The 'coin' was actually shaped like a knife and had some to its inscription in inlaid gold. This 'coin' is very rare but an example can be seen here. If you look at the very bottom character on this 'knife' coin you will see the character (qian) for one-thousand which is the same as the character on the charm. Also, the character just above the qian is wu, meaning 'five', and is the same character as the wu in wu zhu that is on the charm.
The reverse side (right image) of the charm has a four character inscription that is read in a counter-clockwise manner beginning with the top character. The inscription is qian zhong zhi wang and translates as 'King of the cash coins'. Since the obverse side of the charm states that the 'coin' has a value equal to ten-thousand thousand wu zhu coins, this 'coin' really is the king of cash coins!
This charm first appeared during the late Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty (1644-1911) and was produced even into modern times. It would be difficult to date a specific charm as older or newer based just on the images.
Hope you find the above information helpful, Paul, and thanks for writing.