Featured above is a one quarter ounce pure, gold Chinese unicorn coin. It is one of twelve such unicorn coins produced in 1995 by the People’s Bank of China. This gold of this coin is .999 in fineness, and the face value is placed at 25 yuan. In total, 5000 of these 25 yuan, one quarter ounce unicorn coins were authorized for production in 1995. Because of its proof quality, the raised decorations possess a matte finish, standing out from a mirrored golden background.
The obverse of the coin features a Qilin, rearing back on its hind feet. The Qilin’s mane flows from its head and shoulders, as if it has been blown back by the wind. Underneath the Qilin’s front feet are two puffs of smoke. Above the image are inscribed the Chinese characters symbolizing “The People’s Republic of China.” Below the Qilin, one can see the year of mintage, 1995. Directly to the right of the Qilin’s back legs are the characters that signify, “Qilin.”
The reverse of the coin shows a Western unicorn mare and her foal. The mare has her head bent towards the foal. The foal rests peacefully at her feet. Both the mare and foal display their prominent spiraled horns. They are in the form of the traditional horse-like body of the Western unicorn. Each possesses a flowing mane, beard and tail. Above the foal is the denomination of the coin, 25 Yuan, and above the mare are the Chinese letters depicting, “Sino-American Lucky Mascot.” Next to those letters is the English word, “UNICORN.”
As one can see, the Qilin and the Western unicorn differ quite a bit in appearance. The only similarities are the basic shape of the body and the possession of horns ñ the prominent single horn of the unicorn, and the deer-like antlers of the Qilin. The Qilin may have gained some its distinguishing features from its association with the giraffe during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). During this time, the giraffe was imported from Africa. Stylized drawings of the giraffe made their way around China. The giraffe featured patterned fur and stubby antlers, which may have been an inspiration for the other rare and magnificent animal that inspired Chinese imagination, the Qilin. The appearance of the Qilin was purported to signify the birth of a sage or illustrious emperor.
The Western unicorn was also associated with royalty, but also with purity and honesty. The unicorn has its roots in Greek writing. According to Greek naturalists, the animal resided in India and possessed magical powers. The myth of the unicorn evolved so that the people of medieval Europe believed it was a real animal, not just one of the spirit world. The unicorn was sought after for its magical horn, which was said to counteract the damaging effects of certain toxins.