The coin collector: You can make a fortune with your defective notes, coins

What would you do if you received a note from the bank with a printing error? Most would typically rush back to the bank to exchange it for the fear that it wouldn’t hold any value. However, some collectors would be willing to shell out thousands to lay their hands on such a note.


At a recent auction, one such Rs 100 note was auctioned with a base price of Rs 10,000. The denomination on the note was not printed entirely, a portion was blank, and it had extra paper stuck on it. Similarly, a single Re 1 or Rs 2 coins with minting error could fetch you 50-200 times intended value. “Many collectors and enthusiasts like to collect what is called as ‘error’ coins and notes. Anything that is rare sells for a much higher price in the numismatic world. It can be new coins and notes with errors or old ones that are difficult to find,” says Pune-based numismatist P V Bharat.


A rare half-rupee coin that was minted in 1911, for example, was worth Rs 20,000 in 2005. Depending on the condition, it could now fetch the owner Rs 400,000. Collecting rare coins and notes as investment or hobby can be highly rewarding, giving manifold returns.


The rarer the coin or note, the higher the value: It’s not that all old currencies fetch you a great value. You can get ancient coins belonging to 600-500 BC for just Rs 4,000-5,000. “The prices depend on the rarity of the coin and, sometimes, the events that led to their rarity,” says Farokh Todywalla, owner of Todywalla Auctions, a leading auction house. Around 80-90 per cent of silver and gold coins are sold at a 10-15 per cent premium over the prevailing metal price. It’s only the 10-20 per cent that sees the manifold price rise.


The 1911 half-rupee coin, for example, was minted when King George V took the throne. The coins showed the new king wearing a robe with a small elephant on it. This elephant was thought to resemble a pig with the trunk appearing to be a pig’s snout and its short legs not looking very elephant-like. Due to this, the coins were withheld from circulation and melted. Only very few survived. This is probably the most expensive half-rupee coin.


The most expensive one-rupee coin sold at an auction was minted in 1939. Due to the shortage of silver during the first World War, all coins minted after 1939 became less pure. It’s called the 'last pure rupee' in numismatic circles.


The first currency printed right after Independence bearing the signature of the then finance secretary of India, K R K Menon, could cost upwards of Rs 10,000 apiece. Some of the Re 1 notes printed in 1964, bearing the signature of the then finance secretary, S Bhoothalingam, are even rarer and can fetch upwards of Rs 25,000.


Even notes with fancy numbers are in much demand. They could be notes with all the same digits like 444444, or a unique series like 100000. Such notes could fetch upwards to Rs 5,000, and much more if they are rare.


Rising interest: The investment in old coins and notes are at a very nascent stage in India. But there is a rising interest from collectors in numismatics, according to dealers. A decade ago, auctioneers sold around 2,000-3,000 coins and notes annually. This number has now seen a 10-fold increase. The number of attendees at auctions has also gone up at the same rate. As the interest grows, so does the demand for rare notes and coins, and the price collectors would be willing to pay for them.


Passion pays: Unlike other costly collectables, you do not have to break a bank to start a collection of coins and currency. You could start collecting coins with as little as Rs 2,000-3,000. But the field is vast. You need to understand and know what you are buying. It, therefore, requires an investor to gain knowledge and experience continually.


In India, the field can be divided into nine broad categories – ancient and medieval Hindu coins, Sultanates and Mughals, independent kingdoms and princely states, Indo-Dutch, Indo-Portuguese, Indo-French, British India, Republic India and foreign coins. Among these, rare coins and notes from British India attract most collectors. There’s more demand for these as there are more enthusiasts, which include numismatists even from Commonwealth nations. Also, as these are in English, they are easier to understand. For others, a collector needs to decipher the language on the coin.


Apart from the nine broad categories, there are also coins and notes with errors and special number series that has high interest from collectors. There can be many errors while minting coins or printing notes. They include discolouration, chipping of the surface, die rotation, and so on. Among these, broken edges and double strikes get the best value, according to Bharat.


The best way to learn is by connecting with other collectors and hobbyists. For this, you could attend auctions. You could sign up with auction houses on their websites, stay updated about upcoming auctions, and get the catalogue of what’s on offer.


As rare coins and notes get much more value than their original worth, piracy and duplicity are also common. To avoid falling prey to fraud, buy from well-known auction houses, only with a proper bill after paying taxes. There have been cases where coins or notes purchased from a reputed dealer have turned out to be fake. If you have the bill, you can return it. Buying from a reputed dealer also helps in better price discovery. Take notes with special serial numbers, for example. Many such old note bundles with Re 1, Rs 2, Rs 10 and Rs 100 are sold for Rs 4,000 to Rs 20,000. However, these could be counterfeit. Avoid buying online, unless you trust the website and the seller.


Also, the price of the same rare coin or note could vary by over 20 per cent, depending on its condition. If it is in mint condition (uncirculated), the price is the highest. However, if the coins have scratches, the value could fall despite its rarity.