Insight into a fascinating world of coins

Visitors looking at coins at a numismatic exhibition organised by the Madras Coin Society at the Kamalammal marriage hall, Arumbakkam. — Photo: S. Thanthoni

Visitors looking at coins at a numismatic exhibition organised by the Madras Coin Society at the Kamalammal marriage hall, Arumbakkam. — Photo: S. Thanthoni  

CHENNAI, AUG. 14. Did you know that `fish' and `boar' once symbolised conquest of a new territory for expansionist kings, that money before coins came in the form of elephant tail and camel bone or that the phrase `throw the widow's mite' originated in the Bible?

`Coinex 2004', a numismatic exhibition organised by the Madras Coin Society, at the Kamalammal marriage hall in Arumbakkam, offers visitors a depth of insight into the fascinating world of coins embossed with images of mythical lions and bulls, Goddesses and monarchs.

There are coins that set you back by centuries like the 15th century copper exhibit from erstwhile Vijayanagara kingdom and the gold-minted Lord of the Rings piece signifying the contemporary. The coin collections are set apart by theme.

The emblems on the copper coins of the Vijayanagara empire range from Godess Lakshmi seated on a pedestal holding flowers in both raised hands to mythical lions, elephants, conch, dagger and discus.

The lightest piece with the image of Hanuman weighs just 0.98 gm while the heavyweight in the section comes to just 2.6 gms.

The Gwalior lineage still shines on the coins belonging to the period of the Scindias, the rulers of Gwalior, who were descendents of the Maratha chief Ranoji Scindia.

The coins of the Chola dynasty represent a rich collection. The Cholas are credited with several numismatic innovations such as the introduction of the human figure on the coins. The monarch, Parantaka (907-955) is said to have launched a series of such coins. Coins of copper and brass struck in different weights and sizes as well as commemorative coins were a hallmark of those times. For the Cholas, wars and political annexations signified occasions to issue commemorative coins. If `Fish' marked conquest of the Pandya region (Madurai), `Vishnu pada' stood for Thiruvadirajya (Kerala region) and `boar' represented Chalukya territory (Karnataka).

Cash coupons

A section is devoted to the erstwhile princely State of Jaisalmer where an acute shortage of coins during World War II produced substitutes in the form of card coins and cash coupons.

Japan's invasions during World War II launched the Japanese dollar in Malaya (Malaysia-Singapore), Roepiah and Gulden in Netherlands Indies (Indonesia) and Pesos in Philippines-- what numismatists call `Japanese Invasion Money' or `JIM'.

The line of Governors of the Reserve Bank of India which dates back to the issue of the first currency notes in 1938 by James Braid forms a category of its own.

The collectibles on display include Indian commemorative coins on Indira Gandhi in 1984 to International Youth Year 1985 and Asian Games in 1982 to Ambedkar in 1990 and `proof' coins (which are issued by the Union Government for collectors and not for circulation) in denominations of Rs. 10 to Rs. 100. It is not what you collect but how you do so that is important, says S. B. Raja Seetharaman, member of the Madras Coin Society. What he implies is that you are respected as a numismatist if you collect by theme than if you merely accumulate coins. "Bi-metal coins which involve a special technique of minting is a new trend," says Tirumalai, a numismatist for the past seven years, who expands his collection through the Internet. The show features around 35 exhibits. It closes on Sunday.

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