We get told this all the time: bigger is definitely better. Bigger cars with bigger fuel tanks and bigger engines; bigger meals; bigger coffee mugs; bigger houses with bigger rooms for all our bigger stuff.
And of course, something that applies to every single person reading this right now – bigger collections!
For the coin collector, we tend to think of a bigger collection (or a larger collection, depending on your view of semantics) as simply one that is taking those inexorable steps towards completion. One that is always growing. Perhaps steadily, perhaps slowly, but definitely expanding; a collection that is ‘bigger’ than it was last year.
We think of our collections in terms of overall size, or perhaps in the rising value that dwells within, but rarely in the size of the actual items within it. Perhaps we should….
In the world of the Mughal Empire, they certainly thought that bigger was better. These ‘gigantic’ coins are unrivalled in terms of majesty and size. The coin (a silver 10-rupees) in our New York auction is such an example – one of only 2 known examples.
Lot 1101: Mughal, Nawabs of Surat; Shah Alam II (AH 1173-1221; 1759-1806 AD) Silver 10-rupees, Hijiri, AH 1185, Year 6, 115.6g, 45mm. Incredibly rare and one of only two known specimens. Guide Price: $300,000
Shah Alam II inherited a crumbling Empire, with frequent attacks from the Emir of Afghanistan, who made constant gains throughout Alam II’s reign. Indeed, a popular joke at the time was that Alam II’s Empire ‘reached from Delhi to Palam’. With Palam being a suburb of Delhi.
The origins of this coin are well documented (it was minted at Surat, a large and popular port city on the banks of the River Tapti), but its purpose is somewhat less known. Perhaps it was meant as a last hurrah of a dwindling Empire. Perhaps it was, as many commentators have noted, simply a way of storing bullion (such as a gold or silver bar of today). Perhaps it was indeed designed to be a form of currency. Perhaps it is just the last reminder of that which was once magnificent.
Or perhaps it was always meant to sit at the heart of a growing collection, for no other reason than Bigger is Better….