India’s dense history — of invasion, destruction, reconstruction, colonisation, re-colonisation — is immortalised in its coins. This occurred to us one chilly Sunday morning at Daryaganj’s book bazaar, as we stopped by Vijay Kumar, an antique coin seller.
Spread out on a plastic sheet covering a portion of the pavement, there were coins ranging from the Mughal to the British era, to the more recent post-independent times. Kings and tyrants, ministers and scamsters, all were marked with their own worth (George VI, R1; Nehru, 50 paise). Prettier were the paisas minted by extinct principalities —Gwalior, Mewar, Bundi and Hyderabad.
Kumar has a collection not only from India, but also from China, Egypt, South Africa, France, Russia... I saw a bronze coin with the last Tsar’s face etched on it. Alas, it was a Soviet, not Russian, Kopeck. Lenin, not Nicholas II. Of course, one can always search for a specific paisa but with around thousand coins, Kumar’s customers face a difficult treasure hunt.
“The czarist coins must be lying somewhere. Look, please look,” Kumar said. But his little piles are too tempting for a single-focus quest. In the course of a few minutes, I travelled from East India’s India to George Washington’s America. For most of the other coins, I failed to figure out faces or the script.
But how does one gets them in such large quantities? Kumar, whose chief source of income is this 6-year-old coin business, makes it sound unbelievably simple. “People from old families sell them to me and I sell it to collectors,” he says. The easily available ones could be bought for anything between R5—50. The rarer the coin, the pricier it is. Kumar said if we managed to trace the Czarist coin, we would have to shell out R200. In bargain we trust!
Where: Adjacent to Moti Mahal Restaurant, Daryaganj
When: 10am to 7pm (only on Sundays)