India’s history minted in coin collection

Dubai resident explains his fascination with coins and the story behind his collection

Dubai: For Dubai resident Mitresh Singh, collecting coins is more than just a hobby.

The independent consultant from India has collected around 2,000 coins representing every time period, dynasty, and empire documented and alluded to in his country’s history from 600BC to the present date.

Describing his relationship with coins as an “emotional connection”, Singh, 51, explained that through his coin collection he was better able to understand the various economic, monetary, political, social, religious and cultural aspects of Indian culture and history through past centuries.

“These coins tell you so much — they tell you about history, archaeology, sculptures, anthropology, sociology, religion, and even down to details like what people were wearing back then, their religious beliefs, and the prevalent weapons of war used in those times,” said Singh.

Singh told Gulf News his fascination with coins began at the age of seven.

“I was a small kid, knee high, when I saw a foreign looking couple while on holiday in the summer capital of Shimla. I hid behind my mother and requested her to ask them for a coin from their home country but she told me I had a better chance if I approached the British couple myself,” said Singh.

Tapping a stranger’s knee and asking for a coin, young Singh was delighted when he was handed a gold-coloured nickel-brass three penny coin that was heavier and shinier than the aluminium coins he was used to buying groceries with for his mother.

That golden coin, which he has managed to treasure, was the trigger for a new passion he would soon come to learn of and love. It was only after that day he found himself attracted to not only the varieties, shapes, patterns and textures of coins, but also the stories behind them. Having toyed with the idea of collecting a few coins throughout his teenage years, Singh’s focus on Indian coins began in his schools years, with a serious interest to start a collection in his late 30s.

Singh recalled the days he visited the old palaces and forts in Delhi, and would come across street vendors standing behind a piece of cloth carrying a pile of old coins.

“Something always made me stop when I saw coins. Every time I held one in my hand, I felt an emotional connection because it is something that has been used by my ancestors. I would often start developing a story in my mind, and ask questions like who used this money? What was the family like? What could they have bought with it?” he said.

Favourite coins

Now, Singh is the owner of a large collection of coins, which includes several series that range back from the ancient kingdoms “Janapadas” in 600BC, and the Mauryan Empire in 300BC, to the coins used by the Greeks following Alexander the Great’s invasion of India in 326BC.

He pointed out that it is believed, coinage evolved independently in Lydia (modern Turkey), China and India between 800BC and 600BC. However, the varieties in shape, thickness, patterns and metal used continued to evolve throughout every era.

“I would say my three favourite series would be the Punch Mark Coins (PMC), where a technique of punching individual symbols such as the sun, moon, flora, fauna, and others is used on the coins, the gold coins used by the Gupta empire, and the gold coins used by the Mughal empire,” said Singh.

He pointed out that most of these coins are mentioned in published literature, which highlights their physical appearance, approximate weight range, and the time period they were used in through the images of rulers.

Throughout his 10 years in the UAE, Singh has managed to collect series of coins through international and national public auctions, as well as online live auctions, and through social media channels.

“Coinage relates to many branches of history. I wasn’t this connected to all parts and states of my country before starting my collection. I have now learnt much about my country and I will continue collecting for as long as I can,” said Singh.

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