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India struggles against fakes

You know counterfeit coins are a problem when the state archaeological department issues an advisory warning. The situation is so sufficiently serious, that India’s government has recently taken such action.


Bogus examples of popularly collected 17th to 19th century copper shivrai coins issued during the rule of the Marathas are being sold “in the market through portals,” according to several sources. The coins circulated through the end of the 19th century, particularly in the region of the Bombay Presidency.

Several counterfeiters are reported to be active in Gujarat and West Bengal. Assistant Director of the State Archaeology Department, Vilas Wahane, was quoted by the March 5 PuneMirror newspaper as saying, “Because fake coins are being circulated people must crosscheck the genuineness of coins through numismatists as only they are aware of the standard weight and metal quality.”

The Numismatic Society of India, founded in 1910, has been recommended by the agency as a place where experts can check shivrai coins now appearing in the market for authenticity.

The web site posted, “By selling fake coins we are insulting the great king,” a reference to all the Marathas kings, commonly called chhatrapati.

The March 5 posting indicated the fake coins are uniform in appearance, with a weight of about eight grams and “quite in good shape while their thickness is less.”

Genuine shivrai coins are round, not uniform, and have a weight that can vary between about 10 to 12.21 grams. The obverse carries a Devanagari script legend that reads ‘Sri Raja Shiv.’ The reverse is also in Devanagari, the inscription honoring the reigning Maratha monarch.

Shivrai coins had very low contemporary purchasing power and, for this reason, were used extensively by commoners throughout western India. This reason is why the coins are popularly collected today by what the state archaeological department called “coin collectors and history lovers” in its warning.

Shivrai were first introduced during the reign of Shivaji Bhonsie, who established the Maratha Empire at the expense of the Adilshahi Sultanate of Bijapur in 1674. Shivaji died in 1680.

The Maratha Empire declined throughout the four decades following Shivaji’s death. At the time of the empire’s rejuvenation under the Peshwas beginning in 1720, a new series of shivrai coins called dudandi shivrai were issued. The same Devanagari inscriptions appear consistently throughout the period of this coinage.

The shivrai coins were authorized and continued by the British East India Company following Britain’s victory in the Third Anglo-Maratha War of 1817 to 1818. Shivrai were valued between 1/74 and 1/80 of a rupee prior to the 1830s. By that time there were 150 different types in use.

The BEIC shivrai coins include the Fasli year in which the coins were issued. Company coins were minted at Poona between 1820 and 1830. As the coins became increasingly obsolete during the final quarter of the 19th century they were replaced by company coins valued at 1/64 of a rupee called a pice. The shivrai coins were collected by local revenue collectors (mamlatdars) in 1885 and deposited in the treasury.

A Reverend Abbott studied about 25,000 shivrai coins about 1890, remarking the coins were still in circulation at that time.

According to the State Archaeological Department, the fakes typically sell for about 600 to 1,000 rupees (about $8.50 to $14.14 US). Genuine examples should sell for between 2,000 and 3,000 rupees (about $28 to $42.50 US). Due to the incomes in India, this is a large sum of money.

This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.

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