Big fortune for a small change

Big fortune for a small change

These tiny pieces of metal have both historical as well as monetary value.

For the residents of Pune, it was one of those rare momentous occasions. A Rs 10 gold coin issued in 1854 by the East India Company was auctioned for an astounding Rs 1.15 lakh in December 2006. The same month, a Rs 50 bank note of the Bank of Bengal issued in 1850 fetched Rs 6.5 lakh in Delhi. “It is the highest-ever price received for an Indian banknote,” says Farok Todywalla, chairman of Todywalla Auctions, India’s only licenced numismatic auctioneers. “Prices have really picked up in the last two years.”

Investments in ancient coins have always yielded big returns, agree coins collectors, but it is not easy to trade in them due to government regulations. All coins over 100 years come under the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act and need a clearance from the Archaelogical Survey of India before being traded outside the country. Hence, the trade is limited within the country.

“Millions of coins are melted as there are no authorised vendors to trade in them and the dissemination of knowledge is also very poor,” says Arvind Chandra, president, Delhi Coin Society, and an avid coin collector for over 30 years. Coins are also one of the safest forms of alternative investment as there is no speculation in them and the returns are almost always guaranteed, says Todywalla, who is now creating an investment portfolio starting at Rs 1 lakh consisting of silver coins of various British monarchs.

Coin auctions are usually promoted by websites and auction firms. Direct auctioning can be done online too. Websites like eBay India, Yahoo India, etc have online auction provisions. When bidding online, take precautions like checking seller profile and examine the coins carefully.

So how does one evaluate the value of a coin? A coin value depends on demand, supply from the dealers, from which mint it was issued, condition, metal content, rarity, etc. The date is the easiest to gauge as it is usually mentioned on the coin. Coins containing gold and silver have greater market value. However, a very rare copper coin can be worth more than even a gold or silver coin.

Coins that are in abundant supply carry no premium (at most Rs 10-50 over the value of the metal if the condition is good). But rare coins can demand high premiums. King William’s double mohur issued in 1835 was selling at Rs 80,000 in 2004. “The same is valued at Rs 2 lakh today,” says Todywalla.

To start off, identify a particular age you are interested in and build your collection from coins of that period. Remember, it’s not too difficult to have an average collection. But rare and unique coins only surface at auctions and are difficult to come by.

Coin dealers, especially those who deal in ancient ones, can be a big help. Another idea is to become a member of associations or clubs, which are good platforms to share information. Informal trade through them helps a lot.