Put your money on the past

A Rs 1 note from 1917 featuring King George V

The limitation of merely reading up on history as a window into the past is that you have to rely on your imagination to conjure images of what things actually looked like in the days gone by. But artefacts fill that gap. Even if it’s a broken vessel from as far back as the Harappan Civilisation, we still get a glimpse of how kitchens must have operated back then. And travelling much further ahead in time, a coin from the British Raj sometimes tells us more about what the feeling of being colonised was like than books about that era.

It is partly with this thought in mind that first-generation entrepreneur Sushilkumar Agrawal started mintageworld.com, an online museum where people can view such ancient coins, currency notes and stamps, and also buy or sell the same. And now, during the lockdown, they have started a free service where anyone can log on to ask for more information about such possessions they might have at home. The Mumbai-based website is asking people to dig into, say, trunks lying in their storage area and fish out old coins and notes that have been gathering dust, and then contact them for information on the same.

A silver coin featuring King George VI from 1939

“People are getting bored of doing the same things to keep themselves occupied, like cooking, watching shows or attending webinars. That is why we want them to use this free time to possibly rediscover their hidden treasures and know more about them. Indian families often have many old coins, notes and stamps that have been preserved across generations. So, we started appealing to hobbyists and the general public to dig into their piggy banks, old purses and treasure boxes to find out what they have, and the response has been quite good so far,” Agrawal says.

A 50-peso  bank note
A 50-peso bank note

Once they do that, the collectors can then reach out to the website’s in-house curators, researchers and experts for details like mint marks, inscription, weight, metal, date of issue and other anecdotes surrounding the objects. People can even ask for tips on preserving the coins and notes for a longer shelf life, how to catalogue them in the right manner, and how much their value has increased over the years. Agrawal tells us that a lot of people started dousing their currency notes in alcohol during the pandemic to decrease the risk of infection, which is a mistake since the object’s longevity also decreases as a result.

A two-rupee eight-anna note that can fetch above `3.5 lakh in the market today
A two-rupee eight-anna note that can fetch above Rs 3.5 lakh in the market today

Similarly, there are others who use erasers to rid notes of scribbles that they might have. This, again, is a mistake since there is the risk of wiping out valuable details that would otherwise increase their worth. But the main intention behind the website is to illustrate a long-gone history that these monies embody. Agrawal tells us, “We wanted to share knowledge about the heritage and cultural importance that each piece has.”

An early-issue French-Indian bank note
An early-issue French-Indian bank note

He gives us an example to elucidate his point. If you look at coins and notes from the British era, you’ll find that the design would include some element of the monarchy of the time. There might have been one made to commemorate events like the reception of a visiting dignitary, while others were used purely for trading purposes. Then, post-Independence, the pieces of currency that were produced used the same metals and had the same size. But the designs on them immediately reflected the sensitivity of that time, asserting the country’s new-found freedom through images including the Ashoka emblem and Mahatma Gandhi’s face.

A silver one rupee coin of Maharaja Sadul Singh of Bikaner
A silver one rupee coin of Maharaja Sadul Singh of Bikaner

That is the sort of education that the website aims to impart. Agrawal tells us that he also plans to introduce an auction feature in the near future. But for now, he is asking you to take that forgotten chest down from the attic. He’s asking you to break that age-old piggy bank. And he’s telling you to delve into the past if you do find an object that has historical value, because sometimes, artifacts hold clues that books miss out on.

Sushilkumar Agrawal
Sushilkumar Agrawal

Log on to mintageworld.com

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