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Exhibition of rare coins, paper currency, stamps and paintings

A unique exhibition of old coins, paper currency, stamps, paintings and other artifacts is nothing short of a great history lesson

art and culture Updated: Nov 20, 2017 08:29 IST
Manik Sharma
From discovery to collecting and pricing, almost everything in the world of numismatics works to the market-decides format.
From discovery to collecting and pricing, almost everything in the world of numismatics works to the market-decides format.(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)

For anyone interested in history, the natural starting point of the learning curve would be books. But for some people, that process alone doesn’t do it. Meet the numismatics experts, people who believe in the evidence of objects and in particular currency as a way of tracing history. Coin collectors, as they are known in laymen’s terms, are usually seen as hobbyists, even fanatics. They collect all sorts of objects from stamps to coins, jewellery, diaries, even tokens sold in canteens. But there is an entire world operating on history, heritage and intrigue.

AIFACS is hosting a three-day exhibition displaying Indian coins and currency dating back to more than 2,500 years. Close to 50 stalls and 25 collections will offer a mixed bag of coins, paper currency, stamps, paintings and other objects that are not just artifacts but historical rarities.

Left: Gold mohur from Mughal emperor Akbar’s reign; Right: Delhi Sultanate, gold dinar issued in the name of Mohammad bin Tughlaq. (Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO.)

Delhi-based collector and dealer Mukesh Verma, who helped set up the Royal Numismatic Society as late as December last year, is participating in the exhibition. “There are probably 50 other societies in India with smaller, regional chapters. Ours is perhaps the only pan-India society today,” he says. Eight years ago, Verma gave up his diamonds business to enter the world of heritage collection. “Calling it stamps and coins dumbs it down. People think we are fanatics or madmen. This is the business of heritage. We save and savour heritage,” he says.

Verma, who both collects and sells, says that every collector has either a specialised area or a niche interest. “Someone might only be interested in Mughal currency. Someone else may look at the Gupta period. I have always focused on British India currencies. I have everything from metallic coins to paper money, issued between 1835 and 1947,” he says.

Banaras Hindu University (BHU), which also has one of the oldest numismatic societies currently active (est 1910), offers a course in numismatics, but usually the field falls under the broad spectrum of history. However, hardly any of the people actively involved in collecting and trading old currency or stamps have come to it through academia.

Bangalore based 51-year-old Rajender Maru, who runs his own auction house Marudhar Arts, specialises in the currency of ancient India until the Mughal era. His collection amounts to around 10,000 items and that is in coins alone.

Left: Bengal Sultanate, coin issued in the period of Jalal-ud-din Mohammad Shah; Right: Gold coin from Samudragupta’s reign, issued around 335 AD. (Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO.)

“My grandfather who also served in the Second World War started collecting after he retired from service. Ever since the age of 12 I was surrounded by these things. But it really grew on me with age. I now know more about Indian history through my collection than I gather from books,” he says.

There is reason why Maru thinks the way he does. Currency has always been a sound identifier of region, reign and prosperity, among other things. And at times it is not just evidence, it is history itself.

Maru says coins from the Mughal and Gupta period are the most sought after in India. To the extent that at a recent auction held by the auction site Todywalla auctions, a Mughal coin went under the hammer for 1 crore 50 lakh rupees. That said, there are all sorts of reasons for which a certain object can rise so drastically in value. “I probably have the only currency note that was signed by Mahatma Gandhi at this ashram in Sabarmati. I have travelled to auctions within India and abroad but I am yet to come across a note bearing his signature in ink,” Maru says.

Then there are notes from 1978, the last time Indian currency was demonetised, that sell for thousands in the collectors’ market. “Sher Shah Suri once stamped a coin on a leather belt to commemorate the one-day reign of a common man he himself chose. That is just one coin. You will find at least seven or eight people in India who claim to have it. But it is impossible to tell,” Verma says.

Left: A five- rupee currency note used during the British rule; Right: A twenty- rupee note that was in currency in Goa when it was a Portuguese colony; Below: Currency notes like this one, printed in India, were used in Pakistan soon after Partition.

From discovery to collecting and pricing, almost everything in the world of numismatics works to the market-decides format. But that doesn’t mean that it is easy or can be operated without know-how. Verma has the entire literature of years between 1835 and 1947, and says he reads when he is not doing anything else. There are of course other motivations too. Dealing in old currency and other collectibles is highly lucrative.

There are, according to Verma, at least five lakh people in the business of collecting and selling old currency within India. “Some people have collections that are worth 600-700 crores. They may have a coin or a note or a stamp that is extremely rare, but they won’t take it out today. They will wait until years go by, the object becomes rarer and the price goes up. It is like any other business at the end of the day,” he says.

Why do they hold regular exhibitions and spread the word on something they would want to keep limited? “We want people to understand the importance of these things. Sometimes you throw them away or give them to the kabaadi. But they are of huge historical importance. You might not know why. So the more people understand that, the better this field will grow.”

WHAT: Paintings, coins, currency and stamps fair 2017

WHEN: 10:30 am - 6:30 pm, till November 23

WHERE: All India Fine Arts & Craft Society, 1 Rafi Marg

Nearest Metro Station: Central Secretariat