The coin shown above is a one ounce gold Chinese unicorn coin in the denomination of 100 yuan. The gold is .999 in fineness. It is one of twelve similar coins released by the People’s Bank of China in 1995. In that year, 1500 of these same coins were produced. This coin is one of twelve such coins minted in 1995. Each of these coins features Western and Chinese unicorns as embellishments. The unicorn coins are all of proof quality, excepting some fractional gold coins and uncirculated coins from 1994, 1996 and 1997. Being of proof quality, each coin is struck multiple times to achieve a mirror-like finish on the surface of the coin, and a matte finish on the raised decorations.
All of the coins in this 1995 series, save the bimetallic coin, show the Qilin, typically referred to as the Chinese unicorn, and the Western unicorn. These two mystical beasts have been often compared and conflated in the Western psyche, due to the creatures’ somewhat similar appearance and meaning. The Qilin does possess the body shape of a horse, and antlers that may refer to drawings of the giraffe (also called “Qilin”) that were popular during the Ming Dynasty in China. Unlike the Western unicorn, the Qilin has textured, scaly skin, a dragon’s maw and fierce eyes, and a lion or bear’s tail. The Qilin is sometimes pictured with small children riding on its back, heralding fertility for longing parents, or the birth of a sage and just emperor. The Qilin is said to be an auspicious talisman to keep in a house. If it is set facing the door, it can enjoy the folk songs and stories shared by the family, while bringing wealth, prosperity and fertility in payment for its entertainment.
The unicorn is also associated with nobility, like the Qilin, but instead of fertility, the unicorn is a symbol of purity of spirit and body. The unicorn, like the Qilin, has a horse shaped body, but has a shining white coat of fur, a white mane, a spiraled white horn, and a white beard. Often associated with the Virgin Mary, the unicorn appears in many religious artworks in the late middle ages and early Renaissance. The substance of the horn, alicorn, was said to cure diseases and provide relief from certain poisons. As such, the unicorn was a highly sought after hunting prize. Hunters would employ young virgins to attract the beasts, who were said to love maidens so that they would immediately fall asleep in their laps.
On the coins, the Qilin appears in its dragon-like form, rearing back intimidatingly on its hind legs and kicking its fore legs through two clouds of smoke. Its mane appears to be set aflame, blown back by the wind. Below the Qilin is written its date of release, 1995. Above the Qilin is written in Chinese characters, “The People’s Republic of China.” To the right of the Qilin are the Chinese characters that mean “Qilin.”
On the reverse, two Western unicorns are shown: a stately mare and her foal, asleep at her feet. The mare bows her head toward the foal, displaying her prominent spiraled horn. The foal appears to hover over a bed of flowers, with its head bowed, as if in rest. The unicorns display their beards, flowing manes, curling tails and horns. On the top edge of the reverse, one can read the Chinese characters that translate to, “Sino-American Unicorn Lucky Mascot.” Next to this is written the English word, “UNICORN.” Directly above the foal is printed the denomination, 100 yuan.