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Discover the stories behind Indian currency

Through numismatic scholars, hobbyists and traders, a new web series highlights the history of India's physical money

A  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>1000 note issued by the princely state of Hyderabad.
A 1000 note issued by the princely state of Hyderabad. (Mintageworld)

Before Jammu and Kashmir merged with India in 1947, the princely state circulated a special paper note currency, which was used only for paying state treasuries and other government dues. Started in 1877, the printing of the paper currency notes stopped in 1948. Eventually, the state treasury department handed over the notes to the Sri Pratap Museum, Srinagar.

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The presence of this note was known in limited circles till 1990. Working on his iconic catalogue India Paper Currency, businessman and coin and paper note collector Kishore Jhunjhunwala, heard about it and sought more information. During the peak of insurgency, he travelled to Srinagar when a four day curfew was declared. After much effort, he finally managed to get an audience with the museum officials, who shared details and images of the note. The catalogue is still considered a comprehensive guidebook to paper currency of the country from 1770-2012.

A web series, Let’s Talk Mint, brings forth several such anecdotes and other fascinating details chronically the rich history of Indian numismatics. Launched a fortnight ago, the 12 part weekly episodes showcases numismatic experts, hobbyists and traders from India and abroad, who will talk about their experience and knowledge of the field.

For instance, the first episode is with Pukhraj Surana, a jeweller from Mumbai’s Dagina bazaar, who is considered the ‘godfather of Indian currency dealers’. Surana is known for his collection of medieval period South Indian gold coins and coins from India’s princely states.

The next episode features Dinesh Mody, a lawyer, sharetrader and coin collector, who was instrumental in setting up a numismatic museum in Mumbai University’s Kalina campus, and rolling out the first-of-its-kind MA study in Numismatics in the university.

Gold dinars from Samudra Gupta rule between 330 and 380 CE.
Gold dinars from Samudra Gupta rule between 330 and 380 CE. (Mintageworld)

With increased use of internet since early 2000s, the numismatic field is more organized now, believes Girish J Veera, CEO of Oswal Auction, auctioneers of coins, bank notes and medals. He along with Shailendra U Bhandare, member of Royal Mint advisory committee, UK, and senior keeper of coins at Oxford’s The Ashmolean Museum of Arts and Archeology, are the creators and hosts of the series.

While the duo had been toying with the thought of documenting the oral history of numismatics for nearly a decade, the easier access and adoption of technology gave the much needed boost to start the series now. That, and the fact, that most Indian numismatic dealers and collectors were above 60, Veera says they didn’t want to lose any more time. “Although Indian numismatic has been of great academic interest in the West, it’s still languishing in India,” says Bhandare.

Before the advent of internet, dealers and collectors would roam the country to discover coins, books and other details. “Most numismatists are self-taught, learning through following a passion and then disseminating that knowledge through the networks they build and inhabit. Besides, we have collectors with varied experiences as well. For instance, a senior collector who has been a jewelry merchant would surely bring a different set of experiences and understanding, as compared to a lawyer, a museum curator or an entrepreneur,” Bhandare says.

Many dealers also have “inside stories” of how a coin was discovered or who owns it, and can even identify a coin’s provenance based on the colour of the mud. “Even academicians won’t have such details,” says Mumbai-based Veera. Having said that, the series does intend to have some foreign scholars like Paul Stevens, who is an scholar on coins of the East India company, Dutch scholar Jan Lingen who has studies coins issued by the Sindhia rulers, among others.

At a time when cryptocurreny are finding popularity among young investors, the series comes at an apt time to showcase the richness and diversity of the country’s physical currency.

You can watch the web series on the YouTube channel of MintageWorld.

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