Jim Bisognani: World Coins Worth the Wait

Posted on 3/2/2023

Coins from India deserve another look as their value has increased dramatically in a few decades.

Well, it’s March, and spring is less than three weeks away! After being subjected to frigid temperatures and an overabundance of snow this winter, I am more than ready to embrace the seasonal change. Luckily, I kept warm while reminiscing with my own collection during my vacation last week. I know, “What did Jim do on his vacation? He spent most of it looking at coins.” I can’t help it. If you're a coindexter, you know what I mean. For me, numismatics is more than a profession: It’s a lifelong hobby and an obsession.

I had time to pull out some old double-row boxes that house some of my favorite coins, including several British India and native states coins that I had not laid eyes on in over 20 years. Oh my, some of them are just fantastic! There was one special group that I bought during my attendance at my first Long Beach Expo back in the fall of 1987. That was a busy and very fun show.

I recall, after three full days of carefully selecting coins for some of my collector friends and clients in Long Beach, I was finally able to spend some time for myself. I carefully navigated my way around the massive market to the “world and ancient coin” section on that Saturday. After working my way around a few aisles, I found a veritable bounty of British India coins.

This particular dealer held a rather modest-looking table, but I could sense that there would be something of serious interest there. This notion was reinforced by the alphabetized double-row boxes sitting on top of his display case, with more lined up on the table behind the showcase. After our initial greetings, I pulled up a chair and asked him what he had from India. I knew immediately that I had hit the jackpot when he said, “My friend, I have some very special coins from India.”

I then, of course, asked to see what he had. Well, I couldn’t believe it. The man first pulled out several early Proofs: There was an 8 Anna, a truly luscious rainbow-toned Victorian Quarter Rupee and a divine 10 Rupee gold from 1879. Just as I was taking in the splendor of this trio, a handful of fabulous Victoria and Edward Rupees and Half Rupees appeared before me to ogle.

The dealer informed me their pedigrees were notated on each insert in the 2x2 flip. Then the haggling ensued. When the deal was complete, I had purchased the lot for $475! Looking back, that was quite the coup on my part. I had the three Proofs graded about 15 years ago, but the Mint State coins have not yet been slabbed. Today, this grouping would probably exceed $25,000 or more!

Truthfully, I first started collecting British India coins because, when I was a youth, the 2 Anna through 1 Rupee coins were all .917 silver coins, and they were the cheapest Commonwealth country coins I could buy.

Silver Rupees from the East India Company of 1835 of William IV (on the coin legend appearing as Roman numeral IIII), as well as those featuring the young Victoria head of 1840, were only a few dollars for near Mint State coins! Of course, I would have loved to have bought every single one I could have gotten my hands on. But back then, I could only spend $2 to $3 every month or so. There were toys and sundry snacks to consider, since I was a youth.

Flash forward to the recently completed Stack’s Bowers World Collectors Choice Auction and this frosty-white 1835 (C) India Rupee graded NGC MS 62 for William IV (with that peculiar legend IIII) realized $1,320, far above its pre-auction estimate of $150 to $300!

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Meanwhile, this lovely 1840 (C) India Rupee graded NGC MS 62 sold for a rather modest $312.

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Finally, a satiny-white 1901B Rupee NGC MS 63+, representing the last year of the Victorian reign, claimed an impressive $408.

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It is amazing to consider the fact that coins of this quality could’ve been bought for a few dollars back in my youth.

Another coin that I rediscovered last week was this fabulous 1835 William IV Quarter Rupee. I have attempted to photograph it as best I can. What say you, fellow coindexters, for the grade?

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I had forgotten this Prooflike 1888 Rupee, too.

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Coincidentally, the East India Company came up in conversation just the other day. I was chatting with a new acquaintance and he recalled how, in his youth, he had a coin from the East India Company that was from 1835. “When I was young, I used to collect a lot,” he said. “I used to have a coin from the East India Company dated 1835. It was a silver coin, and it was the pride of my collection… It was ‘my precious.’” 

My friend had the collection when he was around seven years old but hadn’t collected for many years. Then, in dismay, he said, “Of course, now I find out that ‘my precious’ wasn’t all that valuable in average circulated grade.”

Yet, that 1835 coin from the East India Company will always be his “precious.” Now, as an adult, he is again interested in collecting and setting aside something for his children. My friend then asked me what my recommendation would be today for an investment or collection for around $10,000.

I advised him to get the Red Book first and read about the coins or series he is interested in. I asked what types of coins he was looking for. 

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I think it’s better if (the set) has a theme or story to it. I have three daughters, so maybe every coin or set should feature some women in it. I could buy in triplicate, because I’m going to give each of them one set.”

As there are only a few vintage US coins that featured a female figure, I suggested that purchasing some vintage world coins would be a good start. I then suggested one of my favorite themes. Take your birth year and collect coins 100 years before your respective birth year.

For me, I take a shine to coins struck in my own birth year: 1957. Because I am an older coindexter, my birth year is nearly an antiquity. However, I also collect coins from 100 years beforehand, including 1857, 1757 and so on.

So, if my friend’s daughters were born in 2011, I suggested looking for coins dated 1911 or 1811. It will make for a diverse collection and would give his girls some perspective of what the coins and history was like. My friend agreed that would be a fantastic way to introduce them to the cultures and history of the time period as well. I concur, as we must bring new collectors — especially those from the younger generation — into the hobby!

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

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