Monday, September 14, 2020

Chettrums and Ngultrums

My current obsession – a book on the coinage of Bhutan – the task is turning out to be lot more daunting than I had imagined. In the process of my research I am making discoveries that baffle the mind and ridicule the established and the supposed. I am faced with some serious anomalies in the recorded histories – facts don’t match and some of them are simply impossible. Take for instance the following:

According to what we have been told, the terms Chettrums and Ngultrums were coined during the time when our printed currency notes were released in 1974. If that is true, then how did the following earliest of Bhutan’s postage stamps issued in 1962 and 1965 come to be denominated thus?

If our postage stamps were denominated in Chettrums and Ngultrums as far back as 1962, how did it happen that our metal coins issued much later were denominated as follows:



  1. Very interesting! Atleast Jatrum Ched has dzongkha text depicting equivalent nominal value but doesn't have the mint year. Other two from 1966 mint has English text and clearly the unit of coins are Indian rupees or paisa. My only guess is that our Bhutanese officials were present/vigilant with stamps but may be absent/not vigilant on coins.
    In short, not realising a coin has two sides but stamp has only one :-)

    1. Dear Anon,

      The Jatrum Ched coin (Thala) does have a year of coinage on its reverse: Chaag Taag Lo "Iron Tiger Year". Thus the year of minting should be understood as - 1950.

      Millions of coins were minted over the years - after the first Cupro-nickle (CuNi) Thala released in 1950. Sadly, all the cupro-nickle Thalas are stamped with the year "Chaag Taag Lo". Bhutan's milled coins (silver and cupro-nickle) starting from 1928 have only two years of mintage - "Sa Druk Lo" and "Chaag Taag Lo". According to records, Bhutan minted more than 6 times starting from 1928. But the years of minting has only 2 different years.

      After 1954, our coins were shamefully and erroneously denominated. Even the spelling of "Chettrum" and "Jatrum" were wrongly spelt. It is for this reason that my coin book stops at 1954. Coinage after 1954 until 1974 is simply shameful.

      Something that remains shamefully uncorrected to this day is the term "NGULTRUM". Ngulturm actually means "Silver Coin" = Ngul (silver) Trum (coin). Thus it would be incorrect to term a currency note as Ngultrum.

      Another problem is calling our earliest hammered coins - Maartrum. They were of silver while Maartrum should be copper or bronze. Therefore, our earliest coins of pure silver should have been called Ngueltrum or, another term that was in use - Ningtrum - meaning old coin. In Bhutanese "Maar" means red - the colour of copper or bronze.