Collecting coins, an enthralling pastime | Sunday Observer

Collecting coins, an enthralling pastime

11 August, 2019

A numismatic is a collector of coins not for the sake of collecting per se but as a person who collects coins and imbibes wisdom and knowledge from the coins that he collects. Sadly, collecting coins is a dying hobby today as it demands a lot of one’s time, a precious commodity in our world of touch button, instant living. In fact most ‘hobbies’ are a dying pastime as technology demands that the new generation keeps up with the new instant ‘discoveries’ that sprout up almost daily, or be left behind in the race for advancement and development. Hobbies have no place, or very little space in this mad, mad, race of technological advancement and the accompanying gadgetry. It is an accepted fact that those cultivating hobbies today are a diminishing breed.

I began hoarding coins (as opposed to collecting) from childhood, and that was eons ago when time moved lethargically and placidly, with no demands on one’s time and there were no pads, tabs, Facebooks, twitters, apps, and mobiles to devour one’s attention and energy and divert focus into a fast moving world.

The chink of coins against each other, the attractive shiny surfaces, the feel of the hard metals running through one’s fingers, and the general idea that having coins made you feel cash rich, all contributed to my accumulating this hobby whenever I came across them. In the days gone by, most people were averse to accepting foreign coins as they had ‘little value’; the bus conductor, the boutique keeper, the trader, even friends and family found them to be of no earthly use and would surreptitiously pass them on as quickly as possible in exchange for Sri Lankan coins, or, give them to another if you were fool enough to accept them. I would gladly receive them and in this way my coin collection grew and by the time I was in my late teens I had a cloth bag full of coins from all parts of the world; moreover, I was now growing in reputation in my circle as a collector of ‘good for nothing coins’. Friends and relations would go out of their way to pass on to me any ‘funny looking coins’ they would come across, and so my collection grew. Annas, pennies, paisa, cents, riyals, in varying metals, shapes and colours all found their way into my cloth bag, even the ones with holes in the middle.

Over the years my fascination for coins grew and I had a fair quantity of them. Reading newspaper articles and books on my newfound interest, buying Sri Lankan coins from various sources I enhanced my little knowledge in this hobby.

My eyes and ears were now attuned to the collection of coins. It did take up quite a bit of time especially, when immersed in identifying them, their metals, designs, the legends, lettering, etc. I also bought coins regularly whenever I travelled abroad as an adult and locally, particularly at the Central Bank sales, and soon became ensnared by this new-fangled hobby.

Collecting coins is an enthralling past time.

Like collecting stamps, or any other items of interest, one spends hours in the intricacies of its involvement. It would be ideal if one can specialize in such collections.

I invested in a ‘World Coins’ catalogue which itemised all the coins of the world and was virtually a bible on world coins and their values, and was an immense help in identifying my collection. Coin albums, where you could insert your coins into little dockets could also be purchased but these albums could be bulky when one’s collection grows. The ideal storage of coins could be in little pre-cast cardboard folders which could be stored in boxes or cloth/canvas bags.

The universal early commodity currencies we are told were crops, cattle, other animals or their skins. These were used for purchasing of goods and immovable properties. From these early symbolic currencies people graduated to the use of ‘cowrie shells’ for purchasing which were widely used in China during the Shang Dynasty 1700-1100 B.C. and found in large quantities in the Maldives.

In North America oblong clam-shells known as “wampum”were used as currency . It was around 600 BC in Lydia, present day Turkey, that coins in the true sense were made and moulded, from a mixture of silver and gold. They were little oval blobs with a rough identifying mark stamped on them. King Croesus, 560- 546 developed these coins into little silver and gold blobs with recognisable figures stamped on them. Greece was the next country that copied the Lydians and started minting their own coins establishing various artistic motifs with cultural resonance, which are still evident on money.

Images of the animal kingdom both real and mythological predominated these early coins. Eagles, doves, goats, lions, deities, among them Pegasus, the Minotaur, and Dionysus were all featured. Macedonia and Rome soon followed minting their coins and started adding their emperors’ and rulers’ figures on their coins. Julius Caesar imprinted his portrait on all Roman coins and in 44 BC after he was assassinated Brutus started imprinting his portrait on Roman coins and this set the trend for portraits of leaders and rulers of other countries to have their portraits minted on their country coins. However, the first leader to have his portrait on a country coin was Ptolemy 1 of Egypt, 306 BC.

By this time China’s Ten Cash, Spanish Pesos, and Portuguese pieces of eight were all flooding the North American, Asian, and European markets. The silver dollar made its appearance in 1520 in Bohemia, and the coin market for buying and selling had soon become entrenched in world trade, and people dealt in hard currencies until paper money began making its strong presence felt from the fifteenth century onwards when the printing press was developed.

In Sri Lanka too, known as Ceylon then, or possibly even by an earlier name, Taprobane, or Serendib, coins were a known entity. The Central Banks archives have it that our first unit of currency was punched marked coins called ‘Kahapana’.

They were cut off strips of metal and came in different shapes; rectangular, square, circle, oblong, and mostly of silver with markings of a tree, the moon, the sun or a dog.

The Kahapana was used during the Anuradhapura period (3 rd Century BC- 1st Century AD). Copper coins were also found in 3 BC- 8 AD and some, a mixture of lead and copper were called Lakshmi coins as they had a female figure stamped on them supposed to be Goddess Lakshmi. There were also round gold coins with human figures called, ‘Kahayana’ coins.

Today coins have become an everyday part of world trade and collecting them as a hobby is quite easy, but the accent should be to focus on ancient coins which is not easy but rewarding, and endeavour to build up a collection while imbibing knowledge of the countries, metals, and the background on the coins and the countries they represent.

Belonging to a numismatic association or befriending people with similar interests would enhance one’s knowledge on the hobby. But be aware it is a time killer and could get you into trouble with those around you as a waster of time as not everybody appreciates a good numismatic. You would have to choose between modern time wasting gadgetry and a knowledge imbibing hobby.