This article from The Hindu profiles Dr. Joseph Thomas M., author of the new book, Legends of Travancore – A Numismatic
a far cry from the cowrie shells of ancient times to the present day credit cards or plastic money used in transactions, but the transition
reflects the evolution of money. Numismatics has been generally considered the domain of students of history who rely on it as a source of
information. For Joseph Thomas M., a physician, his interest in history developed as a natural outcome of his childhood hobby of collecting
“Growing up in Thiruvananthapuram, it was not difficult to acquire coins particularly because I am a third generation resident of the
city. I naturally had access to coins in circulation during my grandfather’s time. That was just a fancy. The collection kept growing. But
it was in the last 15 years or so that coins have become a serious passion for me,” says Dr. Joseph, a urologist in Kasturba Medical
His progression from a mere coin collector to a genuine numismatist who learnt to use the coins to reconstruct the history of a period
has found fruition in the book – Legends of Travancore – A Numismatic Heritage.
How did he zero in on the coins of erstwhile Travancore as the subject for the book? “With a collection of coins from 300 countries
(some of these countries have ceased to be, for instance, East European nations such as Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia) and the numbers
growing, I gradually narrowed down my interest to the coins of colonial India,” he says. Once the colonial powers set foot on the
sub-continent, barter system gradually made way for more a concrete payment arrangement. The native states started their own methods of
Travancore and Venad became the focal point of his study. “For my personal use, I made a reference book that was a combination of
catalogue-cum-history. Since access and availability of documents on the Travancore era were easier than the Venad phase of history, I
commenced work on Travancore,” explains Dr. Joseph.
The book draws on coins from ancient Travancore to narrate the political history, as well as the manner in which the coins were used
within the social hierarchy. Since coinage fell within the Diwan’s functions, the mints of Travancore were located in different places,
Padmanabhapuram, Kollam, Mavelikara and the Paravoor. Wherever there was a Cutchery, there was a mint. An interesting feature, according to
the author, is that every mint (Kammattam) had a temple with Ganapathy as the presiding deity! Gazette notifications regarding such temples
exist to confirm the practice of having a Ganapathy temple adjacent or close to the mint.
The book, according to the author, offers illuminating details on the use of coins within the social hierarchy, the coming of the
kaashu, phanam, chuckram, practice of thulabharam by the rulers, how the first machine-struck coins were issued under Maharaja Ayilyam
Thirunal, changing dynamics in minting with the arrival of the British Resident, procuring coins from the Birmingham and Bombay mints, how
documents reveal methods of identifying counterfeit coins, all nuggets that are interesting facets of Travancore history.
To read the complete article, see:
Every coin counts
Wayne Homren, Editor
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