For many of us it's the wads that count of money. There are some though who fall in love with a simple coin, even a thousand years old. Aman ur Rahman, the Dubai-based numismatist, has a fantastic collection of coins from the subcontinent covering the period from 500 BC-16 AD. Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary meets him for a tour through history
He is a man who lives in many time zones at the same time. In the present, his work involves dealing with adhesives for the plastic industry. Away from the present, he also lives in the very distant past, from the depths of which he arduously amasses one particular item that was of as much interest to the kings and queens of the times as to the peasants coins.
A chemical engineer and
businessman by profession, Aman ur Rahman is a passionate numismatist. He possesses a vast collection of coins belonging to the reigns of various kings of the Indian sub-continent a collection that covers the period from around 500 BC to about 16 AD with particular emphasis on the coinage of North Western India (now Pakistan).
But coins are not his only passion. He also collects seals and statues and is a voracious reader on anything related to the history of the subcontinent.
At his tastefully done-up villa at the Meadows, the eye-catchers are his displays of coins in gold, silver and copper, a small part of a magnificent collection of 35,000 coins from various ages in history. The majority of his collection is stored in his home in Islamabad, Pakistan. Apart from coins, he also has a collection of about 1,200 semi-precious stones, metal and clay seals of various emperors who ruled the subcontinent, as well as and statues from the Gandhara period.
Coin collection is more than just a hobby with me, says Rahman, who has spent over $2 million (Dh7.34 million) on his love. It is an all-consuming passion. His free time is alloted to attending auctions, buying coins, examining them under his powerful microscope, making his own evaluations and trying to fit them into the great jigsaw of history.
Rahman is also the co-author of an award-winning book on ancient coinage Pre- Kushana Coins From Pakistan and is in the process of writing his second book on the coinage history during the reign of the first Mughal king, Babur.
Before we find out what took him on the route of ancient mints, a little history about the man:
Rahman was born in Delhi, and did part of his schooling as a boarder in Convent of Jesus and Mary, Hampton Court, Mussorie, a hill station in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in India. We migrated to Pakistan in September 1947 when I was about five years old and moved to Peshawar, my maternal grandmothers home. I spent my childhood in Peshawar and have some wonderful memories of the place, he recalls.
From Peshawar, he moved to Karachi where he finished his schooling and college earning his masters in chemical engineering. He then shifted to Paris on a French scholarship for a specialisation course in petroleum and oil refining.
A career in oil refining was to take him to countries around the world including Singapore, Bahrain, Ivory Coast, the UK and Hong Kong. I came to Dubai five years ago and was working for ENOC when I took an early retirement to get into the business of manufacturing additives for the plastic industry, he says.
Between all these experiences, the clink of coins made regular music.
Teenage held a few looks thrown at history askance Rahmans first contact, during his teen years, with an interest in coins was nearly perfunctory. My interest in ancient history dates back to my school days when we had to compulsorily spend some time in the library at St Patricks School in Karachi. I always sauntered over to the history section and pored over books on emperors of the past and their conquests.
At home, it was a tradition that on special occasions such as marriages, engagements, childbirth, etc., the man of the house would gift his wife a small pouch of ancient coins purchased from the local souq. My grandparents practised this tradition. Even today, one can buy period coins from jewellery shops in the bazaars of India and Pakistan, of course at a handsome sum, and have its authenticity verified. I do that very often.
My grandfather had, over the years, gifted several such pouches to my grandmother leaving her with a hoard of gold, silver and copper coins belonging to different periods of history. She, in turn, used to gift these to her daughters and sometimes to her grandchildren when they did well at school. She once gifted me with a silver coin which carried inscriptions I couldnt decipher.
Rahman took the coin to his mother hoping she would be able to help him. She explained that the coin belonged to the Mughal Emperor Akbars reign, he recalls. This nugget of information tugged at the rope of a bellfry that was to soon resound all over his mindscape. It really fascinated me as [at that time] I was reading about Emperor Akbar in my history lessons at school. I felt as if I owned a piece of history. Since then my interest in history, especially in coins, grew tremendously.
Soon, he began to look out for coins which matched the era he was learning about in history classes. If I couldnt find one at home, I would scour the souqs in Peshawar, he says.
Funding his collection
Rahman very often found that he did not have much money to fund his passion for his coin collection. I would use my Eidi (cash gifted by elders to youngsters on the occasion of Eid) to buy coins. But once he started working, a sizeable percentage of his salary began to be spent buying rare coins.
As I began progressing in academics, my grandmothers purse strings loosened up a bit more. I inherited quite a lot of gold and silver coins from her. The rest I purchased at local markets and international auctions held the world over, especially in the US, UK, Europe and Japan.
For Rahman, coins are more than just a piece of history. To him they are stress relievers. When I am stressed, I sit in my study, go through my collection, study or write about them. It is a greatly stress relieving, he says.
Few things in life give him more joy than going through his collection every day. Since the collection is rather extensive, there is always pleasure in concentrating on a particular series at a given time, depending on my mood or fancy. [My] large personal library helps immensely.
My greatest regret is that I do not know the principal languages [of the times during which the coins were minted] which would have helped me enjoy my collection even better.
A fair knowledge of Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit would have been helpful, he elaborates.
Vital pieces of history
Ask Rahman what he has learnt from coins, and he will give you a lesson in history and commerce that to your delight you find very interesting.
The history of coinage started from the Greek island of Lydia. Barter was a normal way of conducting business. But when barter involved fractions of things, for instance, half a cow or a goat for a bag of rice, exchanges became tricky, he says.
A set of nuggets made of a metal called electrum an alloy of silver and gold was found on this island and is considered the earliest use of a common currency. However, there was no uniform standard being applied and no difference was made between a lighter coin and a heavier one.