When the Madras Coin Society recently held its annual exhibition, sorely missed was young Raja Seetharaman. The indefatigable livewire, who with his enthusiasm made a success of several coin, stamp and heritage exhibitions, ensuring crowds at all of them in recent years and much amateur participation, died in mysterious circumstances a few months ago, his body being found by the rail tracks with not a mark on it after he had left a wedding hall. It was in the fitness of things that Seetharaman was remembered on the recent occasion by many a speaker, and his mother received the honours that were due.
This year’s exhibition was marked by dealers being much more prominent than in the past, with the amateur collector taking a backseat. It is something I hope will change at exhibitions in the future. But then, I suppose exhibitions such as Coinex 2009 cannot be held without sponsorship. And sponsorship this year came from a Bombay dealer who conducted, for the first time at a Madras coin exhibition, an auction.
Lots offered at the auction included, ancient coins, Hindu coins of medieval India, Sultanates, Mughals, independent kingdoms, princely states, Indo-French, Indo-Portuguese, East India Company, British India, Republic of India, foreign coins, tokens, medals and paper money. Top estimate of above Rs. 80,000 was for a George V 100 Rupees note issued by the Cawnpore Circle (picture), and described as “extremely rare”. I could not spot a date on it, but George V reigned from 1910 to 1936. Among coins, top estimates for around Rs. 55,000 was for a set of four silver rupees of Shah Alam II minted in Murshidabad and a gold ‘Arkat Mohur’ of Alamgir II minted in Arcot (picture), both described as “rare”. The Arcot coin was the prize of the Madras Presidency collection, with an 1835 William IV silver rupee set of 59 coins a close challenger. Ancient coins included sets of Pandya, Pallava, Satavahana and Vijayanagara coins whose estimates ranged from Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 9,000 a set
Surprising the auctioneers, the ‘Arkat Mohur’ went for Rs. 78,000, the highest bid in the auction. Matching it was the price at which the Cawnpore Circle l00 Rupees note changed hands. With unexpectedly enthusiastic Madras bidders participating, sales were a record, something the auctioneers had not expected; “it was even better than Bombay”, they said.
One of the speakers at the inauguration, rather overwhelmed by the prices and the coins on display, stated that it was ironical that the city where the exhibition was taking place grew from a three-square-mile uninhabited sandy strip that was acquired without any coins changing hands. What was given to Naik Venkatadri for the land initially was a horse from Persia, then, after the grant was signed, two more horses, “sugar and Cloves” and finally a promise to help him purchase more horses from Persia and “Hawks, Apes and Parratts and such like bables” in the “Bay Bengalla”, presumably from Java and Sumatra. Money came into the picture long afterwards; the understanding with the Company being: “… hee gives us the whole benefite of (the) town…for two years which towne may bee at present worth about 2000 pagodas per annum (about £ 1000 at the time); but after two years the proceede of that towne to be Equally divided betweene him and us.” Among the benefits the East India Company got in return was “to Enjoye the priviledge of mintage, without paying any duties.”S. MUTHIAH