Bhutan’s hammered coinage (Betang/Matang) era ended with the advent of two of our earliest milled coinages – the silver Thala and two sizes of the bronze Zangtum, in 1928. The order for the minting of the coins was placed with the Calcutta Mint, Government of India. The engraver of the dies was Mr. A. P. Spencer, an Englishman. It is recognized that the engraving of the Thala die was Mr. Spencer’s finest work. Alas, notwithstanding his exceptional work, his die for the Thala turned out to be erroneous. The Thala die had the word “Druk” wrongly rendered. The following was the flaw:
This error was detected and corrected the following year, with the striking of additional 30,000 silver Thala coins. As you can see from the following, the word “Druk” has now been rendered correctly:
The earliest two Thalas – the erroneous one and the corrected one looked thus:
The Thala with the word "Druk" incorrectly rendered
The Thala with the word "Druk' correctly rendered
The following are the other milled coins that were struck in 1928 – the bronze Zangtum. It was struck in two different sizes - a large one and a small one (Large: 7.0g, ⌀ 26.5 mm; and Small: 4.9g, ⌀ 25.1 mm):
One of the two earliest of Bhutan's milled coinages - the bronze Zangtum of 1928
As you can see, the engraving of the die was flawless. The word “Druk” is correctly rendered. It is a matter of wonder why the Thala’s die was in error.
If you observe closely, the obverse of the 1928 Thala and the Zangtum is exact replica of each other. Thus, it would have been possible to use the same die to cast both the obverse side of the coins, since both of them contained exactly the same information and detailing. Then how is it that the Thala had the error and not the Zangtum? Obviously the dies for the reserve side of the coins have to be different since they carry two different sets of information.
Is it possible that another engraver, and not Mr. A. P. Spencer, engraved the Zangtum die? It cannot be because if you take a careful look at the rendition of the Dzongkha characters on both the coins, the engraving is unmistakably the same:
The engraving of the obverse of the Thala and the Zangtum are a perfect match - except for the error with the word "Druk"
The perplexities of the journey of the Thala does not end here --- there are more coming --- I will deal with them in subsequent postings.