The most common ones were minted from about 1875 to 1908 but some earlier pieces can sometimes be found in quantity also. The coins were often strung together through the central hole. It was a denomination that existed for a long period of time in the Chinese Empire. Cash coins were stored on squared wooden sticks that had a hinged wood piece at each end, ergo the reason for the square hole in the coin. Ch’ien were minted in denominations of 1, 2, 5 and 10 Cash with the latter two denomination similar in size to a U. An ounce of silver or tael was worth anywhere from 700 to 2,000 cash depending on the local market price of silver. Theoretically one string of cash contained 100 ch’ien but sometimes only contained 95 cash. Ten strings of cash were called a “tiao” but couldn’t include more than two titsz for the tiao to be considered complete. Though cash was used for a great deal of commerce, just like in the western world, silver and gold were considered the “real” money.
Today's cheap plastic holders, that are so prone to wear, and edge view insert make photography so much more challenging, especially for halves and dollar sized coins.
The other two characters (usually the right and left) on the coin have the general meaning of "currency" and do not really need to be translated.
However, if you wish to be very literal in your translation, these two "currency" characters can be translated as follows: 通寶 "universal currency" or "circulating currency" (pronounced As mentioned above, the inscriptions on a few coins are read clockwise beginning with the top character.
Once the correct sequence of characters has been determined, a comprehensive listing of charm inscriptions with English translation is provided to give you the meaning of the inscription or legend.
If you already know how to read Chinese coins and charms and are only looking for a translation, please refer to Most Chinese coins are round with a square hole and have four Chinese characters on their obverse side.