Friday, March 29, 2024

My Labor of Love

My fanatical efforts towards the production of a coin book on Bhutan’s coining journey - from the earliest time to 1954 - has consumed me for the past more than fifteen years. Alas! Had I known that it would turn out to be such a stupendous challenge, I wouldn’t have touched it with a mile-long pole.

History spanning over 3 centuries neatly wrapped up in cute little cloth pouches.

Like a vigilant sentry standing guard, at the right bottom edge is the copper version of the weighty Norzang Phubchen - the first Bhutanese coin to bear 100% Bhutanese motif - reputedly introduced by Choetse Poenlop Jigme Namgyel towards late 1800.

My interest in the subject began when I realized how beguiling the journey of our coinage was – I was enthralled and captivated by the mystery and the intrigue surrounding our primordial hammered coins. Notwithstanding the bizarre theories and conjectures surrounding the issue, nothing was certain about them - no single person could say with certainty when the journey began, where it began, and how it began, including why it began.

The British East India Company officials accused our coins of being spurious, and grossly debased. The best of the acknowledged authorities on the subject confused the coins’ obverse for reverse, and vice versa. Some called them Pice, while others baptized them Rupee. Even our own Bhutanese people continue to confuse the term Trum for “Tang”. In fact, most of them are clueless about the origin of the term.

Until the early 1900s, the coins were not denominated. To this day, no one can say with certainty which of the then ruling authorities issued which of our over hundred coin varieties. Ofcourse, theories abound - but they remain merely theories, without any credible substance. Almost 95% of our hammered coins carry foreign motifs, including names of foreign rulers.

For a country that has no record of monetary transections – neither for trade nor for payment of debts, Bhutan boasts of over a hundred variety of metal currencies of different shapes and sizes. If that were not enough, currencies of close to ten foreign countries entered our country – since as far back as the early 1600s.
Koch Kingdom's first of the earliest Silver Tangka issued by Koch King Naranarayana in the year 1555AD, upon his enthronement as the King of Cooch Bihar.

I have this coin in my collection - acquired from a family in Chhukha Dzongkhag adjoining Cooch Bihar.

I have pored through tens of thousands of coins smeared with many centuries of grime and soot; I have read through thousands of pages of historical records relating to coins and coining, spanning close to a dozen countries that bear relevance to our coinage. I have subjected all of the coins in my collection to the goldsmith’s searing fire and flame; washed them and brushed them and rubbed them to a sparkling shine. I perfected the art of photographing coins - over three years - I went so far as to rig up a willowy brass pedestal for photographing them in all their splendor.

I am now almost - I repeat, almost ready to hang up my boots and get on with the job of publishing. But why do I get this sneaky feeling that I may yet again be drawn back to that world of misgiving and doubt?

Lets see!


  1. This is amazing. Would love to read your book on this. You say there are hundreds of coins from Bhutan of which around 95% of them bear pictures of foreign rulers. This is very intriguing.
    Firstly, are they really Bhutanese coins? Or foreign coins used in Bhutan? If there are 100s of them, you must have put them under few categories to make it easier to study them. How prevalent were their use? Many questions that your book could answer.

    1. Hi Doc. CIgay,

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Firstly, the coins bear the names (not pictures) of foreign rulers - in 100% of them - Koch Kingdom rulers.

      Secondly, there are some distinct marks on the coins that tell us that the coins are Bhutanese.

      Third - most of the Bhutanese coins are of copper, brass and nickel metal - very few in silver and very rare but also one in solid gold that I know of ---- while all of the Koch Narayanis were in silver.

    2. There are also other markings that set our coins apart from the Narayanis --- but they are too lengthy to be described here.

    3. thank you dear Yeshey. you knowledge on coins is uncomparable and i look forward to your book... Francoise/tashi

    4. Hi Aum Tashi,
      Thank You - it was good to meet you at the Workshop.

  2. I am curious to read your book and equally inspired to learn about coinage ... Thank you for sharing...

  3. Looking forward to reading your book la sir... Trashidelek.

  4. I have seen your toil and frustrations and the joy and hope when you found answers to bits of historical maze. This will be a great read and a truly historical publication. Waiting for you to go ahead and give us a gem!

  5. That would be a fascinating read for Millennials and Generation Z's.