Chinese Inventions & Discoveries Coins

Inventions & Discoveries

This series of coins displays the inventions and discovery by brilliant Chinese scientists through out the history of Ancient China. This coin series was started in 1992 in an attempt to improve the international image of Chinese modern coins after the fall in popularity of the staple Panda Coins in the early 90s due to the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square movement in 1989. The topic of Invention and discovery was chosen to emphasis the achievements and input that the Chinese have on the advancing of society and technology through out China’s 5000 years history. This mentality of “Remember the Good and Forget the Bad” seems to be successful: with the combination of the innovative idea, brilliant design and careful craftsmanship of these coins, the Invention and Discovery series has revived international interests in Chinese coins and has became one of the most sought after series of modern Chinese coins.

With the countless discoveries and inventions by the Chinese over the centuries, one may wonder how the discoveries were chosen to be immortalized on this brilliant coin series. It turns out that the discoveries and inventions included in the series are based on the book “The Genius of China – 3000 Years of Science, Discovery and Invention”, which documented the lifetime research of Dr Robert Temple, a member of Royal Archeology Society of USA, who devoted his life in the research of Chinese history and ancient technology. Since its debut in 1992, the Invention and Discovery Series has recorded 32 great inventions documented in this book, and captured them in a variety of coins, such as piedfort coins, 1/4 oz platinum coins, and the rare and valuable kg gold and silver coins in addition to the standard gold and silver coins. Because of the detailed craftsmanship, leading-edge processing and elegant packaging, the series is well recognized by collectors and designers worldwide, and many sets in the series have won awards over the years. For example, the 1992 Ship-making 22g Silver was judged 5th equal in the “German Coins” Magazine Annual World’s Best Coin Awards, and the entire 1992 set has won the First Class Award for 1992-1993 coins, judged by the Chinese Gold Coin Corporation. The Inventions and Discovery Series is also one of the modern Chinese coin series with the most pattern coins and rare coins. In fact, it is believed that no one in the world had succeeded in collecting the entire series. The Invention and discoveries series is therefore the Mt Everest in the coin-collecting world, being admired by every collector in the world and waiting to be conquered by the best collectors.

Here, we will take a look at the five Gold sets of the series: 1992 1 oz Gold, 1993 1/2 oz Gold, 1994 1/2 oz Gold, 1995 1/2 oz Gold and 1996 1/2 oz Gold. Each of these sets has its own characteristics and charm, and is quite hard to come across even by themselves. A full series of five set is therefore extremely valuable. In fact, the value of the full series has increased exponentially over the years: In 2004, the market price was 70,000 Yuan. This was doubled to 150,000 Yuan in 2006, and almost doubled again in 2007 to 240,000 Yuan. The most recent sale was for a full 1 – 5 set with incomplete authenticity certificate, which was sold for over 1.3 million Yuan in 2011.


1992 marks the issue of the first set of Invention and Discovery series, and therefore the 1992 set often receives special attention from investors and collectors worldwide. The 1992 1 oz Gold set contains 5 coins, presenting five ancient Chinese inventions: Compass (4th century BC), Kite (4th century BC), Bronze-making (16th century BC), Seismoscope (2nd century AD) and Ship-making (2nd century AD). Each coin has on its obverse side the words “People’s republic of China” in Chinese, “1992” at the bottom, and the Great Wall of China. On the reverse side, each coin has the name of the corresponding invention and the time of invention in Chinese, and denomination (which is 100 Yuan), and a design which depicts the invention. For example, the Compass 1 oz Gold has on it the Ancient Chinese “Compass Spoon” and the “Compass Cart” which was used in ancient battlefields, and the Seismoscope 1 oz Gold features the original Seismoscope created by Zhang Heng in 138 AD which indicates an earthquake in one of the eight directions by a metal ball falling from the corresponding dragon’s mouth to the frog’s mouth on the ground.

Initially the 1 oz Gold Invention and Discovery Set was sold both as a set of 5 as well as individual coins. However, many international collectors at the time did not consider a coin set as extra-valued, and so many of the 1 oz Gold Invention and Discovery sets were opened up and the coins were sold separately. As a result, original sets of 1 oz Gold are especially valuable – there are estimated only around 500 left in the whole world. Another interesting thing to note is that there are actually a set of 1 oz Gold Invention and Discovery Pattern Set, which features the PRC national emblem on the obverse instead of the Great Wall of China. Only a few sets were made during the initial phase for evaluating the two designs, and so these 1 oz Gold Pattern sets are extremely rare. One of these sets were sold personally by the Martin Weiss, CEO of Panda America Corporation (the distributor of the 1992 Invention and Discovery set), to a Taiwanese coin collector.


Interestingly, poor demand at the time means that the large variety of the 1992 Invention and Discovery Set, which includes numerous gold, silver and platinum coins, actually became a burden for many distributors. As a result, the size and variety of the 1993 Invention and Discovery set was scaled down dramatically compared to the 1992. In particular, the 1 oz platinum is now 1/4 oz, and the size of the gold coins has been halved to 1/2 oz. The denomination of the ½ oz Gold has also been reduced to 50 Yuan.

The five discoveries that are featured in the 1993 set are: The invention of Yin and Yang (3rd century BC), the invention of zero (4th century BC), umbrella (4th century AC), horse stirrup (3rd century AD) and the Terra Cotta (Han Dynasty). Again, the observe of each coin features the words “People’s Republic of China”, “1992” and the Great wall of China, while the reverse features a design related to the corresponding invention. While most of the designs are pretty self-explanatory, the Invention of Zero 1 oz gold warrants some explanations. In particular, to depict the invention of zero, the designers made use of ancient mathematicians and traders doing calculations on an Ancient Chinese counting board with the use of counting rods. A sample of oracle bone script decimals, which was derived from the counting rods, is shown below the Chinese text on the coin and displays the use of zero through empty spaces. A small abacus can be seen on the top of the coin, displaying how zero was used in this ancient Chinese calculator (the number displayed is 6,390,030,000). In this set of inventions, the Invention of Zero was seen as the most important discovery, and to commemorate, the 1993 ½ oz Gold set comes in a beautifully crafted wooden box with a model abacus made in brass.


The 1994 Invention and Discovery Set was reduced further in variety, but the staple ½ Gold set was left intact. Interestingly, unlike the 1992 Gold set, both the 1993 and 1994 ½ oz gold set have a much smaller actual mintage compared to the planned mintage, with 403 mintage for the 1993 set and 754 mintage for the 1994 set, compared to the planned mintage of 1200 for both sets.

The 1994 set covers another five important inventions and discoveries. First, we have the Comet ½ oz Gold coin, recognizing the first official record of comet observation by the Chinese in the 11th Century BC, although it is generally believed that comets were discovered in China back in 2000 BC. Then we have the Bianzhong ½ oz Gold, for the invention of bianzhongs – ancient musical tuned bells which were first invented during the Chinese Iron age period around 450 BC, and were capable of generating pleasing musical notes of over five octaves. Another invention that was discovered in the same period is silk, which was of course made famous worldwide by Chinese traders spreading Silk goods to the Western world via Silk Road. This is depicted in the third coin of the 1994 set – the Silk ½ oz Gold. The fourth coin in the set features the chain pump, also known as the Dragonbone water lift, which uses mechanical gears and wheel to aid the irrigation of rice fields. Finally, we have the Mast ½ oz Gold, recognizing the invention of the modern mast by the Chinese in the 1400s. Out of the five inventions, bianzhong was chosen to be the representative, and a brass model bianzhong was included in the official sets.

An interesting side note is that while the 1994 ½ oz Gold set was relatively rare, the 1994¼ oz Platinum set is even rarer, with 40 out of the 100 sets minted were melted by the distributor Panda America Corporation. Thus the 1994 ¼ oz Platinum Invention and Discovery set remains to be one of the most precious coin sets in the history of modern China.


The 1995 Invention and Discovery set is further downsized compared to 1994, with the platinum set being totally eliminated. The only coins left are the ½ oz Gold set and the 22g Silver set, plus a 3 Yuan denomination Silver coin, giving a total of eleven coins. The 1995 set features some of the finest and most important inventions by ancient Chinese: Acupuncture (2nd Century BC), Go (8th Century BC), Block Printing (8th – 11th Century AD), Gun Powder (11th Century AD) and Pottery (9th Century AD). In particular, Acupuncture is a great Chinese medical invention that is still in use widely today; Go is so far the only game in which a computer is still no match for the human brain; Both Block Printing and Gun powder are part of the “Four Great Invention” which had significantly changed the world since its birth; and Pottery was (along with Silk) the symbol of the Eastern world, leading to the creation of the word “china” for fine pottery ware. The denomination of these coins were kept at 50 Yuan, same as the 1993 and 1994 sets, and for the packaging, the invention of Pottery was chosen as the representative and a finely crafted china bowl with an adorable Panda drawing was included with the mint set. Similar to the previous sets, the actual mintage is lower than the planned mintage of 1200.


1996 is the last year which the Invention and Discovery Set was issued. That’s because 1997 was hit hard by the financial crisis, and the planned 1997 set never made it out of the Shenyang mint. The 1996 set again follows the 5 Gold 5 Silver format, and features the following inventions: Equestrian Harness (21st century BC), Suspension Bridge (10th century AD), Musical Instruments (11st century BC), Rudder (1st century BC) and Astronomical Clock (11th century AD). Of these, the suspension bridge and musical instruments have obvious a huge impact on our civilization, even for today, while the harness and rudder have contributed to the improvement in transportation, with the rudder evolving into an essential part of aircrafts. The astronomical clock has helped in the advance of astronomy, and is also the ancestor of modern clocks and watches.

The 1996 ½ Gold set comes in a wooden box package with a small music box which can be winded to play a tune.