Thursday, January 17, 2013
The 20,000 dollar coin
The restrike British Indian Two Mohur of William IV is now selling for $20,000 in high grade (as we saw in the past Bowers auction). About 2000 pieces were minted of the original strike coin. There are an estimated 5000-6000 restrikes floating around. The restrike was a coin minted on demand for collectors and never intended for circulation. As such it is more of a medal than a coin, but since it looks substantially like the original strike it is considered a coin. Semantics? Sure, but without the semantic distinction, this "coin" would surely sell for much less.
The reason it has suddenly caught fire, is that the Indian Economy is maturing. There is now a very wealthy upper middle class in India: a millionaire class, which is growing daily. There are now about 200,000 millionaires in India (compared to a million in China) but the Indian growth rate should be at 7 percent by next year - roughly equal to China's. And, like the Chinese millionaire class, they are very interested in acquiring treasures of their national heritage.
And unlike China, since India was a British Colony there is a numismatic tradition of coins and medals with well cataloged mintage records. Accordingly, no less than three major collections of British Indian coins will hit the market in the next year. Spink will present a collection of North India and Tibet, Baldwin's will present the David Fore Collection of British India, and Heritage will also present a collection of British Indian patterns and proofs.
In China, the numismatic surge began with modern Chinese gold coins from the Chinese Central Mint - precisely because there are known mintages. Some of these low mintage 1 ounce coins soared to 15,000 dollars - before reversing course and dropping back to the 6-7000 dollar range, as interest spread to early republican coinage and earlier sycees and medals. Still, the Chinese market is very healthy as China's economic development surges ever forwards. But for numismatists China will always be a relatively thin market as coinage - in the western sense - is extremely limited before the Republican period.
As India's economic power develops its comparatively rich numismatic history will provide collectors with opportunities in most every historical era. Starting with the Parthians then the Sassanians and moving to the Kushans and the Guptas through the various Islamic Dynasties, the Mughal Empire, the various Princely States all the way through to the British Colonial period there is a tremendously rich numismatic history.
And though the coins of British India are now by far and away the hottest area, British Inidan Medals are sure to follow (as they are equally well cataloged) - and then the coins and medals of eras past, as the Indians themselves are sure to eventually mine each and every era of their rich history.
But, as always, Caveat Emptor - don't go running out to buy up coins of some under-appreciated eras without understanding the cultural history, the language, and the history of the coinage itself, otherwise you're certain to wind up with a collection of useless junk sold to you by some sharp Indian dealers who have already culled and separated the cream of the crop for themselves.