Back in Currency

The rupee might be slipping and sliding and keeling before the dollar in these financially interesting times,but a note of Rs 2/8 (two rupees eight annas) with a stern,bearded King George V’s profile and printed in 1918 at a Calcutta mint...

Written by Debesh Banerjee | Published:March 3, 2009 11:53 pm

A two-rupee eight-anna note goes for Rs 3.2 lakh. A Delhi auction shows a few old coins and banknotes,from Mughal era to British India,are recession-proof

The rupee might be slipping and sliding and keeling before the dollar in these financially interesting times,but a note of Rs 2/8 (two rupees eight annas) with a stern,bearded King George V’s profile and printed in 1918 at a Calcutta mint,seems pretty recession-proof. At the Todywalla Auction on Saturday,its third year in Delhi,the note went for Rs 3.2 lakh — Rs 20,000 more than its reserve price.

Investors,collectors and money dealers engaged in two hours of fierce bidding at the auction of coins,banknotes and war medals at Seva Bapu Sadan. Among them was a 43-year-old Rajendra Maroo,eyeing a Re 1 note. It looks ordinary enough to non-numismatic-crazy eyes,but a closer look reveals an interesting feature. It is signed by Manmohan Singh in 1976 and is one of the very few notes that has the fancy sequence of five zeros. This forms part of a bundle in mint condition and having the sequence from 000001 to 000010. These went for Rs 1.2 lakh to Maroo. “I was looking for a note from this series for over a year and had been to countless auctions across the world in search of it,” says a satisfied Maroo,a collector from Bangalore. He belongs to a family of numismatists. “My grandfather began this hobby during World War I — and it has stuck like a hereditary disease,” he smiles.

The auction had over 258 lots,which included coins from Thakshashila,the medieval India,the Gupta period,the Delhi Sultanate,the Mughal era,the British India,a Nero in copper and a Napoleon III in gold,seals,war medals and rare notes from the British Raj and independent India. “Various factors like the mint which printed the currency,the year of issue,the name of the king inscribed on it and its rarity determine its price,” says Malcolm Todywalla of Mumbai-based Todywalla Auctions. This will help you figure out why the Rs 2/8 note from Calcutta grossed the highest,while a Rs 2/8 note from the Madras mint,also from 1918,went for just Rs 1.7 lakh — because the Calcutta mint is more prized than the Madras one.

“The total sale has been upward of Rs 25 lakh,” says Todywalla,who adds that auctions have become avenues for numismatists to look at their hobby as an investment opportunity. “Each year,the reserve prices of currency are increasing by 20 per cent.”

Never mind. The economic downturn was certainly there at Seva Bapu Sadan,twiddling its fingers. Todywalla’s Nagpur sale,just two months ago,had grossed over Rs 31 lakh. Over 20 per cent of items went unsold in Delhi and these included a booklet of 25 Re 1 notes from the George V era,which are considered very rare. “Over the past six months or so,the items which would easily find many buyers willing to shell out Rs 3 lakh are now seeing only one or two bidders. Many cannot afford that kind of a budget any longer,” says Todywalla.

He wouldn’t mind a stimulus package.

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