A Hyderabad man’s fascination for stamps and currency notes featuring a British monarch has, over the past five decades, seen him build a personal repository of priceless collectables.
With the recent passing of the United Kingdom’s longest-reigning sovereign, Syed Asghar Hussaini is left with hundreds of commemorative stamps featuring Queen Elizabeth II, and over 600 currency notes from 32 countries that swore allegiance to her as their head of state.
Born in 1953, the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and a year after her accession, Hussaini says it was a quarter century later, in 1977, that he became a serious collector. It was the silver jubilee year of her accession. The gifts he received as a child kindled in Hussaini a fascination for stamps and currencies. While his job at Jeddah airport enabled him to travel the world on subsidised tickets and be in the company of globe- trotters, according to him, the nearly forty years that he spent in Saudi Arabia and the United States had cemented his passion.
“I have never seen the queen though I have visited London at least 15 times. For me, the queen was such a towering personality who was widely respected by world leaders including the US presidents. I have no doubt she will remain the longest-reigning monarch,” says the 68-year-old. “As I went on collecting stamps and currencies featuring the queen from across the world, never did I think that I would keep collecting for this long. The pleasure I received while collecting them was my reward.”
“It is not the work of a day or two but his life,” says Syeda Zehra Hussaini, underlining her husband’s patience, dedication, hard work and uncompromising attitude. “He is a perfectionist and does nothing haphazardly. Every small detail is promptly documented and he never quits,” she says, adding that the currencies are meticulously curated on the basis of denominations, year, country of issue, and even signatory authorities.
Over the years, some of the British colonies have become independent countries and Hussaini has managed to collect their currencies from pre-independence to the present day. For instance, he says, Northern Rhodesia has become Zambia, Southern Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland became Malawi and British East Africa became four separate countries–Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zanzibar–whereas the erstwhile British Caribbean Territories still issue notes as the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union. British Honduras became Belize, Ceylon became Sri Lanka, and British Malaya and Borneo became three different countries–Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.
“These countries, even after independence, used to feature the queen in their currencies. One would be surprised to know of currency notes featuring the queen with descriptions in Arabic too,” he says. It is also amusing to see his collection of currencies of former and present British colonies such as Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, Isle of Man, Solomon Islands, Jersey, Bermuda, Bahamas, Guernsey and Saint Helena that feature the queen.
Then there are countries, like Australia, that changed their currency from the pound to the dollar in the sixties but has continued to feature the queen. Canada and New Zealand, for example, still carry portraits of the queen on their 20-dollar notes. “Almost 90 per cent of my currencies are ‘uncirculated’ even though there are many ‘very fine’ ones too. As a collector, I go by the years of issue, denominations and signatory authorities so that they reveal the evolution of currencies.”
Over the decades, Hussaini has travelled to exhibitions and dealers across the globe for his stamps and currency collection and procured from eBay the ones that eluded him. Apart from the queen’s collection, he has gathered over 3,000 bank notes from 200 countries. “I don’t want to say how much I have spent on my passion. It’s a treasure I would not associate with commercial factors,” he says, adding that his search for missing issues would continue.
His collection of the queen’s stamps includes commemorative stamps issued by countries during her royal visits, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, accession and coronation. “They are so colourful and attractive. There can be no match to the quality. And there is so much to learn about countries from their stamps and currencies. The research is fun,” he says.
At his home in Old City’s Aziz Bagh in Noor Khan Bazar, Hussaini is now in the process of setting up a mini-library to display and preserve for posterity his large collection–of not only stamps and notes but also miniature cars and carefully curated scrapbooks on literature, fine arts and sports dating seven decades back. “I may have started in the late 1970s, but I did not collect from when I started. I travelled two-three decades back in my search to give a holistic picture.”
If this collection of stamps and bank notes provide for a montage of portraits of a young, elegant British queen of the 1950s to the regal monarch in her nineties, seven decades later, his scrapbooks focus on the life and times of famous personalities.
On the occasion of 50 years of Indian independence in 1997, Hussaini compiled a scrapbook with original newspaper and magazine clips and photographs of all important events and milestones of the republic. His scrapbooks cover a wide range of topics and are a mine of information.