CHENNAI: The coin is rough and has intricate writing. Unlike the round ones we have today, this one is jagged, cut using older technology. This is a coin from the Chola Era, which can be dated to Raja Raja Cholan based on the figure etched on one side.
This is but one of the many rare coins at C Swamidurai’s store in Vadapalani. Though he started Selva Vinayaga Coins and Antiques in 2009, the 38-year-old has been interested in numismatics ever since he was 13 years old.
Coins and culture
Swamidurai says that business has been consistent for the last few years. “We get around four to ten customers every day. Most of them come in for certain coins to add to their collection. Business peaks during school vacations, because a lot of children come to buy coins,” he says.
According to D Hemachandra Rao, who has been collecting coins from 1970, it is important for collectors to have a clear understanding of the history behind the coins they collect. “Many people have, say, coins from the Chola period. But it is important for them to understand the lippy on the coin, if not the true value of the coin is lost,” he says. Rao’s collection with ships and lighthouses on coins are all carefully documented, with detailed descriptions of the coin’s origin and markings on them.
“Currency and coins offer an immediate understanding of another country’s economy. Over the years, I have learned to tell the country’s economy by looking at the coins. For example, the denomination on this note from Zimbabwe is $10 billion. This shows that the country is not doing so well, economically,” he says. Additionally, some of his coins, such as a `1 coin which dates back to 1807, has inscriptions in Tamil, inspired by the Telugu script.
Coins and curators
According to R Vaidyanathan, former president of Madras Coin Society, numismatics also poses the opportunity for economic gain for collectors. “There are monthly auctions held in Mumbai every year. The average turnover there can be anywhere from Rs 3 to Rs 4 crore. The supply in this industry is stagnant, so it depends on the consumer demand,” he says. Rare coins are therefore valuable investments for collectors in the city. But Rao says many face redundancy as they are not curating their collections properly.
Coins and Chennai
Vaidyanathan says that the numismatic community in Chennai has grown substantially over the last 20 years. When he began collecting coins in 1983, there were only four or five dedicated collectors in the city. Now, however, placing a number on the collectors in the city would be impossible.“It is difficult to place Chennai’s numismatic community against the rest of India, as each area is different. For example, Mumbai will have an ample amount of coins from the Bombay Presidency, and Chennai will have many coins from the Madras Presidency. The other regions will not have much of the other, and so, we cannot say,” he says. However, he explains that there is great scope for the community in the city to grow.
Rao feels that Chennai lacks the kind of professional antique coin dealers as Mumbai does. Fewer dealers make it very difficult for niche collectors like himself to source and procure coins for their collection.
To this effect, Swamidurai conducts programmes in schools and colleges where he displays his coin collection to raise awareness on the history and culture behind the coins. The Chennai Coin Society was also established to offer numismatists a platform to share and discuss new coins.