The story of Bhutan’s coinage is one of mischief and utter callousness. The callousness begins in 1790 and it goes on to this day. The mischief begins in 1928 but ends in 1974.
The mischief begins with the first milled coin – the silver Thala of 1928 ordered by the second King, the die for which was engraved by an Englishman named A. P. Spencer. On the obverse die the word “Druk” was wrongly rendered. The following year in 1929, in an effort to correct the mistake, another order for 30,000 silver Thalas were placed on the Government Mint in Calcutta, India. The word “Druk” on the obverse die was corrected but yet again there was a mistake with the second issue as well – the mint used the same old reverse die of 1928 – resulting in mistake in the year of mintage. The year of minting should have been “Sa Drue Lo” (Earth Snake Year) - 1929. It came out “Sa Druk Lo” – (Earth Dragon Year) 1928.
This was during the British Raj era.
It seems like the second king was so frustrated that for the next 21 years he never issued coins – not until towards the end of his reign. Once again in 1950 he ordered the issue of fresh set of Thalas - this time not of silver but in alloy of copper and nickel – called cupro-nickel.
This was during the newly emerged Indian Republic era.
True to tradition, yet again the curpo-nickel Thalas issued in 1950 was full of mistakes. The mint used the faulty die of 1928 with the erroneously rendered word “Druk”. If that were not enough, incredibly even the reverse die was wrong – the year of mintage read “Sa Druk Lo” (1928). It should have been “Chaag Taag Lo” (1950). But this coin is perhaps among Bhutan’s rarest coins – in the process of my research, I have examined thousands of cupro-nickel Thalas – so far I have seen only three copies of cupro-nickle Thalas with the year of coinage marked as “Sa Druk Lo”, of which two are in my collection.
Four years later in 1954, the newly crowned Drukgyal Soompa ordered some more cupro-nickel Thalas. Incredibly, the mint used the same obverse die of 1928 with the faulty word “Druk”. This time the mint decided, quite rightly, to engrave a brand new reverse die for the coin. But yet again mischief was intended when they put a wrong date of mintage – “Chaag Taag Lo”. The year of coinage should have been “Shiing Taa Lo” – Wood Horse Year (1954).
Coinage beyond 1954 gets even more pathetic. Thus my book on Bhutan's coining journey stops at 1954.
For me personally, one thing has emerged from all these disheartening discoveries – that a man must know history – to truly appreciate what great men have lived before our time.