Friday, July 20, 2012

Stamps and coin collection as hobbies: Internationalizing the Rupee symbol!

Dear Comrades,

With the introduction of the new Rupee symbol and the desire to be accepted internationally, it is time the Indian government start publicizing this with the help of stamps

It was in 1840 that Great Britain issued the first postage stamp which featured the picture of Queen Victoria. Some 12 years later India followed suit in 1852, even though the Royalty continued to use the “road runners” for carrying urgent messages from one place to another.

Today, India has the largest operating postal system in the world.

And it is the government that runs this service. Postal departments in all countries run this service and issue stamps with different themes, from honouring their national heroes to popularising the local flowers, fauna, heritage sites and so on.

Occasionally, these stamps have been issued, due to oversight, with defects. For example, the US issued a stamp of a flying plane, upside down, in 1918. Just one sheet of 100 stamps had this defect. It was stopped when the blunder was discovered. One lucky holder of this stamp sold it for $ 825,000 while another, in 2005, sold a block of four “Inverted Jenny” (as they are called) for $2.74 million.

In 1993, a two penny Blue Mauritius was sold for $1,148,850; another two penny Orange Mauritius was sold for $1,072,260 while a collector bought the Swedish Three Skiing Yellow in 1996 for $ 2.3 million.

These are a few examples of rare stamps, some of which may still be lying in our own attic and backyards, left uncared for from our grandparents’ worldly possessions.

To commemorate the independence, India issued the Indian flag stamp on 15th August (priced at three and half annas) and nowadays we can only see this in exhibitions and they are not easily available.

India, fortunately, does not have stamps with errors—at least, they have not surfaced so far. However, due to great public interest, India also began to issue stamps showing its historical and heritage sites, flora and fauna, honouring international leaders etc and actively promotes issuance of First Day Covers (FDCs), which, not only carry the stamps with special first day ‘cancellations’, but are issued on one time basis which results in the FDCs becoming a prized possession the very next day and can be bought only at a premium!

All the commemorative stamps are of a limited edition in nature, and collectors buy them in the hope of long-term gains as well. Encouraging school going children to get into this hobby will also divert part of their “pocket money” into indirect savings in this manner!

Lastly, Indian postal authorities have rationalized the airmail charges (for 20 grams) at Rs5 for domestic and Rs25 for international letters. With the introduction of the new Rupee symbol and the desire to be accepted internationally, being the world’s third largest economy, it is time the Government of India start publicising this with the help of stamps. As a first step, why not have the Rupee symbol in Rs25 stamps that will carry this message throughout the world? Even the stamps, presently, do not have this symbol. So, why not have a Rupee symbol series in India? We must ensure that Rs25 stamps are designed specifically for use in overseas mail, as a start!

Now we take a look at coins. Indian history goes back to the 6th century BC and India was one of the earliest to introduce the coinage. A ‘cowrie’ or sea-shell was the means of exchange, before coins came into existence!

Since the country was governed by various forms of royalty, everyone had his/her own coins in use, which were mostly in precious metals, like gold and silver, besides mixed metals. Even today, when buried treasures are dug from the earth, these contain coins from various periods depicting a variety of subjects, besides honouring the ruler, local deity, etc.

Because of rarity, the ‘old’ coins are expensive. A one anna 1818 coin issued by East India Co showing Ram Darbar was priced at Rs10 lakh from a collector in Kolkata, recently; another similar older coin, details not given, has been indicated at Rs50 lakh!!

Such rare coins have been found in temple treasures, like the recently discovered Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram. Likewise, such coins may also be found in family heirlooms in the form of jewellery and in antique shops.

Also, when coins are minted, even today, overprinting, double-side same print, etc has taken place and these become invaluable.

The equivalent of FDCs in coins are in the form of “proof sets” and ‘UNC’ (uncirculated coins) sold by the issuing mints.  Fortunately, like the Western countries, India also sells these and these are collectibles and become valuable over the years. These form yet another avenue for safe investment and can be great money spinners.
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