The box of coins

When I returned home after visiting the RBI Monetary Museum, it was to find my oldest brother there on a surprise visit from Pune.

I immediately handed him the set of Information Brochures I had purchased at the Museum and launched into an excited account of my visit there. My brother listened to me, went through the brochures and then said:

“You know, I just remembered. There used to be this box of coins at home, though I can’t recall the last time I saw them. With all the moving around cities and houses that we have done, it probably got lost somewhere.”

Amma, who was listening to our conversation, suddenly piped in and said, “No, it has not. The box is in one of the cartons in the kitchen loft.” This statement was enough to make us search for the box in the loft immediately. It took us a while to sort through the stuff there, but eventually we found what we were looking for — the box of coins.

It was a small plastic box, heavy with the coins it contained. It jingled tantalisingly with a metallic sound as we brought it down from the loft and opened it eagerly.

Box of coins, numistimatics, nostalgia I knew there would be coins in the box, but I was still surprised to see the variety it contained. As we examined the coins, my brother and Amma told me the story of how this “coin collection was built” by Appa a few years before I was born.

It was around 1968-69 and our family was living in Bhopal at that time. Appa, who was a metallurgist, used to work for an industrial unit that regularly received a consignments of scrap metal for smelting. One day, the scrap consignment contained some old coins. Appa, who knew a bit about coins, was quite horrified to see them in the consignment and got permission to “rescue” them. Appa picked out the coins he thought were interesting and brought them home. The coins were duly examined and Appa would tell the stories behind the coins to my brothers. As more scrap consignments with coins came in, the collection grew and soon a box was found to store it. The box that you see in the picture above

I listened to this story with fascination and also a touch of disbelief that this box of coins had been with us all these years and I knew nothing about it. It lay forgotten in our kitchen loft by all, except Amma. I could only take a guess at to how this must have happened.

Due to the nature of my father’s job, our family regularly shifted cities and houses. The box of coins would have moved around with us too, though there would have been a point where it never got unpacked and became part of a set of boxes that got relegated to the loft. Since those boxes held sentimental value for my parents, that could not be touched. As the years went by, the contents of the cartons were forgotten by all of us, except my mother.

Forgotten, till that evening when a conversation set off this train of discovery or re-discovery. My brother left for Pune the next day and when my niece came over we went through the coins and sorted and roughly catalogued the ones from India. Sharing some of the coins in that box with you here:

A cache of 1 paisa coins, most of them minted in 1959Box of coins, numistimatics, nostalgia

Coins from the Gaikwads of Baroda State: 2 paisa (top) and 1 paisa (bottom), both minted in 1949
Box of coins, numistimatics, nostalgia1/2 Anna Coin from the Holkars of Indore State. The year this coin was minted is not clear.
Coins 3Coins 4

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1/4 Anna coin from the Scindias of Gwalior State, minted in 1958
Box of coins, numistimatics, nostalgiaBox of coins, numistimatics, nostalgia

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1 paisa coin from the State of Ratlam, minted in 1945
Box of coins, numistimatics, nostalgiaBox of coins, numistimatics, nostalgia

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Coins minted by the East India Company. (Top and Bottom left) Quarter Anna coin minted in 1833; (Top and bottom right) Half Anna coin minted in 1835)
Box of coins, numistimatics, nostalgia

These coins below are actually like small pebbles. As you can see, the lettering on two of them is gone and the coins which have lettering on them is in a language I can’t read. I can’t even make out if they are Mughal era coins or older or from another country or region altogether !Box of coins, numistimatics, nostalgia

British India coins issued over the decades from Queen Victoria to Edward VII to George VBox of coins, numistimatics, nostalgia

Coins from Portuguese-occupied Goa. The smaller 1 Tanga coins were issued in 1881, while the larger 1/2 Tanga coins were issued in 1901.
Box of coins, numistimatics, nostalgiaThere were also coins from South Africa, Surinam, Hong Kong, Iran and few other countries in the box, but they still have to be sorted and catalogued.


In the weeks following the ‘discovery’ of the box of coins, Appa has been in my thoughts quite a bit, particularly one habit of his. It was a habit that irritated us a lot — whenever he received change from anyone, he would not budge from the place until he had not only counted the change, but also examined every coin carefully. We could have been in a shop, ticket counter, getting off from a rickshaw or taxi — it didn’t matter, for every coin had to be examined and we had to wait till he finished. Even notes would be examined, but coins received special attention.

Box of coins, numismatics, nostalgia
Coins issued by the Nizam’s State of Hyderabad

He would separate the new and shiny coins from the lot and keep it in a little bag. This bag would also contain special issue or commemorative coins.

Every time a new coin was added to the bag, he would show it to us.When he passed away in 2011, we found this little bag of coins kept carefully under his pile of veshtis.

After the discovery of the box of coins, I can imagine him going through the coins in the scrap heap and examining each one of them and setting the ones he wanted aside. One by one.

I also can’t help wondering if he had forgotten about it or thought it was lost for he never spoke about it to me. I admit to feeling a little cheated of not having him show the old coins he had rescued from the scrap heap to me or discuss their stories with me. I know it’s an irrational felling, but there you are.

I am also wondering about the people who sold these coins as scrap, and the dealers who collected it as well. Didn’t they realise the value of the coins? Didn’t they think of offering it to collectors?

But most of all, I’m wondering how to go about getting the coins identified. None of my family members are coin experts and books can only help us to a certain extent. Any suggestions or leads from you will be welcome. 🙂

18 thoughts on “The box of coins

    1. Thank you for the suggestion, Aadil. I will be contacting them soon and will hopefully be able to share some more information on the identification of the coins and also share the other coins as well.

      Yes, I’m lucky to find this treasure chest, but I think my father saving them was even luckier. If you have read Srinayan’s (my brother) comment, you will know that the coins came by the sackfuls and these were the few that my father was able to salvage.

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  1. A tsunami of memories: I was overwhelmed by the post and for some time, was not sure what to write. I was about 11 at that time and my sense of history was just developing. I just could not resist taking some of the coins to school and show them off to my friends. Needless to add, they created a ‘buzz’. There was also a competitive side to this: along the lines of my-stamp collection- is-better- than-your-coins. So I felt compelled to prove a point. Fortunately, appa, who was widely read, was aware of the intrinsic worth of the coins and put an end to the ‘mobile exhibition’. Looking back, I still wonder why no one in the scrap supply chain (I am a metallurgist myself) gave the coins a second glance. A lot of money could have been made by selling them to collectors. Appa also told me that the coins that we have now were the ones that he was able to ‘rescue’. They were being melted by the sackfuls. Literally!

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    1. Srinayan, I can completely understand what it must have been like. I have no memories of the coins or the box, but listening to your story and imagining Appa examining those coins was overwhelming enough for me.

      PS: You never told me about the mobile exhibition. Somehow can’t imagine you being associated with that 😛

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    1. Which goes on to to prove that all households have treasures that we are not even aware of. 🙂

      What kind of coins were they, Bikram? Do you have any photographs?

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  2. The coin collection is amazing. The half anna and quarter anna bring back memories of childhood when we could buy sufficient sweets, peanuts etc.
    Well! at least your father managed to salvage some of the coins and now you have a treasure with you as legacy. What more can we ask for?

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    1. Thank you, Neena. This has been an unexpected legacy and one I hope that I’ll able to cherish and take care of.

      The next time you come come, you can see them. The coins from India have all been sorted and kept in little individual packets. Now the coins from other countries have to be sorted. Maybe you can help me with that 😉

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  3. How about taking the coins to the RBI Monetary Museum? I’m sure there must be a docent or an expert there who can date and provide greater information about these coins. What a lovely discovery to make, Sudha. It’s so exciting to discover a new facet of someone we think we know everything about 🙂

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    1. That is my plan, MM. Or to take it to a coin expert. I did show the photos of the coins to an archaeologist, who said that they are not really special or rare, but should still be identified and valued.

      To be honest, I don’t care much about the identification or value of the coins but the story and the sentiment that accompanies it. It is a story that has my niece completely enthralled as well. 🙂

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  4. Collections of any kind set off a cascade of memories. I was with you as you impatiently tapped your foot and waited for your father to count and examine the coins! And enjoyed Srinayan’s recounting of the mobile exhibition 🙂 I have a box of coins at home too, but they are neither ancient nor rare. But I am keeping them nevertheless because in time, they would become both 🙂 Hopefully someone in the future would be looking at them and writing about them. Also, your post has renewed my interest in collecting — perhaps I will write a post on them too.

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    1. Please, please write a post on your collection of coins, Zephyr. Would love to read about them.

      The coins are not very old — the oldest is probably around 250 years old. I had someone look at them and they were dismissed as not being worth anything — monetarily or historically — as they are common. I am actually relieved as now I don’t have to hand the coins to the RBI or a museum and I can enjoy the sentimental value they have for me. The box of coins will eventually pass on to my niece, who has also loved the story behind it as much as the rest of the family.

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