Photographer: Rana Chakraborty
“Bombay, 1770, 15 Rup.s”
— inscribed on the coin comprising the Mumbai Coin Society logo.
—the approximate antique value of that coin today.
Money often costs too much
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson’s judgment stands transcended. Rs 15, in Bombay, 1770, bought a mansion. Rs 15,00,000, in Mumbai, 2007, can’t afford a flat. Still, Sunderbhai Hall fills with onlookers, and buyers. Fifty stalls on the periphery deal in coins, notes and medals marking historical periods, from ancient to modern. Mumbai’s best currency collections are displayed in glass cases at the centre, their proud owners eager to answer questions, or thank appreciative sighs. Experts, about to deliver lectures, discuss numismatic distinction, pausing only to deliver sub-lectures to impromptu crowds around them.
The Mumbai Coin Society, formed in 2003, and registered some weeks ago, purportedly celebrates with the exhibition, 60 years of India’s independence, and 150 years since the nation’s first war for the same. It also celebrates unwittingly a personal freedom. After endless attempts to collaborate with other numismatic societies — some as inactive as disinterested — the founders of this one went at it alone. Many an annual exhibition, monthly meeting and educative lecture later, the society numbered 120. This exhibition has added 100 more (and counting) to that number of currency dealers, collectors and scholars. “The demand for old coins, notes and medals has soared since three years,” says society secretary Abul Razak Shaikh, who, inheriting a dealership in such from his father, made it his sole business to reach great heights.
Currency collection requires time (to procure and to maintain) and in-depth knowledge (to avoid being cheated). Why would those in Mumbai’s fast lane pause for so long? We spoke to the society committee members. Among them Ganesh Nene, whose Maratha coin collection was inspired by a few bequeathed by his grandfather; Dinesh Agrawal, whose interest rose from George VI coins his wife received as wedding gifts — he’s now sending antique notes bearing figures like 4 and 16 to a London auction; and Dinesh Hegde, who watered an expensive hobby with cautious curiosity, is today boasting 1/12 Anna British coins (1942), never issued because the government decided to melt their copper, to fund the second world war. “Investment,” answer all. With yearly returns up to 100 per cent, and price fluctuation much stable than the sensex, currency collection today enables middle and upper class buyers to create what Nene calls his “pension fund”. It also provides an investment subject agreeably more fascinating than balance sheets: the collectors, following separate numismatic specialisations, study histories of separate eras. These reasons, coupled with greater Indian spending power and awareness are causing a boom in this “sector”. So much, that committee members are actually considering petitioning the government to allow trade in such currencies (heritage coin trading is highly restricted) under a regularised body such as the SEBI for securities exchange. This would, along with providing investors an alternate portfolio option, preserve the country’s heritage, preventing these coins from going to foreign buyers. But another channel encouraging ‘saving’ (where money stays as reserve, like in gold) as opposed to ‘investment’ (where money is used productively, like in mutual funds or stocks and shares) might not be recommended today, when, 60 years into her independence, India is poised to utilise every rupee. Yet even to regulate the body effectively, the committee request is much needed.
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/xjox