Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s amazing Terracotta Army was discovered fifty years ago, and MDM celebrates in silver

We’re kicking off our coverage of MDM’s new release batch for the 2023 Beijing Coin Expo with, appropriately enough, an icon of China – the famous Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. It was fifty years ago, in 1974, in Xi’an, that the source of myriad amounts of terracotta fragments found in the area over many decades, was finally unearthed, and it stunned the world. The legions of life-sized clay figures are well known today, and for the first coin, MDM have chosen one of the many kneeling archers as inspiration.

These are amongst the best preserved of them all, and the squat nature also makes them a better choice for a coin. The warrior has a chignon (hair bun), the distinctive armour plating of the period, even textured soles on his shoes, all from the original figures, and all over both faces of the coin. The unusual hand positions are because the original would have held a crossbow, since removed, or rotted away. It’s a superb reproduction, and while some of the original figures still had colour on them, thankfully, MDM have resisted the temptation to add that to the coin, choosing to remains with a well-chosen antiqued finish.

The coin weighs in at two ounces, and hits a respectable 63 mm in height. It will come boxed with a Certificate of Authenticity, although we’ve yet to see images of those yet, and the mintage of 1,974 reflects the year the tomb was finally discovered. A super release, steeped in history, and well executed. It’s available to order now, and should ship in February.


The Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang (literally the “First Emperor of Qin”) was discovered on 29 March 1974 about 1.5 km east of his tomb mound at Mount Li. Fragments of the terracotta figures, along with pieces of the necropolis structures, had been found in the area for years, which led to Chinese archaeologists investigating. They found the largest pottery figurine group yet unearthed, and it just snowballed from there.

The construction of the tomb was described by historian Sima Qian (145–90 BCE) in his most noted work, Shiji, written a century after the mausoleum’s completion. Work on the mausoleum began in 246 BCE soon after Emperor Qin (then aged 13) ascended the throne, and the project eventually involved 700,000 workers until its completion in 206 BCE. The scale of the tomb complex is quite staggering. The layout of the mausoleum is modelled on the Qin capital Xianyang, divided into inner and outer cities. The circumference of the inner city is 2.5 km and the outer is 6.3 km. The Chinese have used ground-penetrating radar and core sampling and have determined the complex covers an incredible 98 square kilometres.

An earthen mound holds the Emperor’s tomb itself, but sensibly, the Chinese have decided not to excavate until they can be assured that no damage will occur to the contents. When the Terracotta Army was uncovered, the figures were covered in paint, which you will notice now only by its absence. The lacquer covering the paint can curl in as little as fifteen seconds, and flake off completely in just four minutes!

The Terracotta Army itself is believed to hold more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses. Only a fraction of them have been uncovered to date, and much work remains to be done. The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. It isn’t just military figures joining the Emperor in the afterlife. Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.

The second coin is a little more light-hearted, and takes the Super-Deformed (SD) style of Japanese art, much like the New Zealand Mints Chibi series, and applies it to the warriors. Again, this eschews colour, but has a proof finish. As you’d expect from the format, the art style is simplified. It looks like the figure chosen is one of the Generals, marked out by the headgear, neckwear, and pose, although there are so many individual combinations, we can’t be certain.

The packaging reflects the coin’s more casual approach, with a neat gatefold package holding the coin, and incorporating the Certificate of Authenticity, having information on the discovery inside it. This one has a mintage of 5,000 pieces, and will be considerably more affordable with its ten-gram weight. Also available to order now, it should start to ship next month.

$1 FJD (Fiji) 62.2 g of 0.999 silver 63 x 28 mm Antique, shaped 1,974
$0.5 FJD (Fiji) 10.0 g of 0.999 silver 55 x 27 mm Proof, shaped 5,000