Numismatics is the study/ collection of currency (coins, banknotes, or money in some other form like beads, tokens, and related objects). Historians use these to understand the past. A lot of people collect coins/banknotes and exchange them as well with other collectors. Some buy them for investment purposes.
What do they do?
An old coin (or currency) is a window to history. And now it makes for good investment, too. More awareness, thanks to the internet and greater purchasing power, are drawing people to old coins, says Malcolm F Todywalla of Mumbai-based Todywalla Auctions, one of only a few Archaeological Survey of India-licensed auction houses for coins and antiques in India.
When the Todywallas started the auction service in early 2000, “initial response was lukewarm. With (growing) awareness and a better economic environment, people had the disposable incomes to invest in coins,” says Todywalla, whose father started this business more than 40 years ago, as a dealer. And how much money can a numismatist make? “It gives good returns,” says Todywalla, who was recently in Delhi to take part in an exhibition. “We have never seen any depreciation (in the prices). Bullion rates go up, so the intrinsic value of the coin, too, goes up,” he says adding, “Certain coins give 15% returns while certain others give more.” The value of a coin depends on how rare it is, which mint issued it, metal content, its condition etc. A few years ago, a R5,000 banknote from 1960, which had been demonetised by the Morarji Desai government to clean up black money, was auctioned for R6 lakh. Currently, says Todywalla, “British Indian coins and British Indian banknotes are doing well. That’s a recent phenomenon because their language is English and they have pictorials.” Other coins have inscriptions in languages such as Persian, Arabic, Brahmi, and Devanagari, which are not known to many. Can numismatics be a full-fledged career? The answer depends on your perspective. Todywalla says it can be, provided “you have the right person to guide you and you buy the right coin at the right price.” “More and more people are becoming numismatists,” says Todywalla, who is pursuing an MA in numismatics from Mumbai University while continuing with his work. The Numismatic Society of India (NSI), founded in 1910, has 3,000 members in India and abroad, including 2500 coin collectors and scholars in the country. Yet, Jai Prakash Singh, general secretary, NSI, who retired as professor from department of ancient Indian history, culture and archaeology, Banaras Hindu University, says numismatics cannot be an independent career, except for people who choose to become dealers. Clearly, there are some riders to this proposition.
. Good grasp of history and knowledge of the language used on coins you want to study/collect and invest in . Business (investment) acumen; an eye for spotting the right coin, to tell a genuine coin/note from a fake . Networking/interpersonal skill
How do I get there?
You can get into this field even without formal training in history or numismatics, but a qualification will definitely help. So, your options include a degree in history, followed by a masters in history, which includes a paper/module or two on numismatics or an MA in numismatics. A PhD is desirable. Learn how to collect coins (and/or notes). Would you like to build a random collection or a specific one (by country/region, denomination, period, number, year etc)? Visit exhibitions, forums and websites to learn about coins and to check out pricing .