Flipping A Different Coin

Updated: Aug 25 2002, 05:30am hrs
She is one of the few female qualified numismatists in the country. For Jyoti Rai, director, Operations, Frazer & Haws, coins are not just coins, she has studied them, collected them and even designed jewellery with them.

Ms Rai has the distinction of having worked at the American Numismatic Society for over 11 years, where she received several certificates of appreciation for outstanding work. In fact, she was solely responsible for assessing, sorting and cataloguing the societys collection of Sikh coins and also been instrumental in building their Sikh collection to make it one of worlds finest. The Sikh collection contains over 500 coins, including many rare ones.

At the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris, Ms Rai sorted and assessed its collection of Sikh coins in the April of 2000. In India, she is probably the only woman who studies coins and has expertise in Sikh coinage from the period of 1710-1849.

So how did Ms Rai stray into numismatism I have always liked collecting coins, especially gold coins. But it was only when I visited a coin exhibition and saw all those Roman and Greek coins that I decided to study them. And it is here that I picked up a coin of Alexander the Great, Ms Rai discloses.

For some time, she picked up bits and pieces of Indian coins. Soon, she realised she wanted to specialise in the Sikh era. She has 1,500 coins from the Sikh era in her collection.

Today, Ms Rai is the only Indian to be nominated on the standing committee for Central and South Asian coins of the American Numismatic Society, New York. She is also a member of the Art and Acquisition Committee of the Khalsa Heritage ComplexAnandpur Saheb Museum.

Ms Rais expertise comes from a thorough knowledge of the history of old Punjab. In fact, its thanks to this knowledge that she has published researched papers and catalogues and designed exclusive jewellery with her coins.

But to study coins, one needs to know several languages. I had to study Persian, Arabic, Devanagri and Gurmukhi for my coin collection, she tells us.

Ms Rai also holds the rare distinction of being the only woman to study the dyes used in making coins. Each era had a different mint where different dyes were used. And it was in 1989 that I decided to study not only Sikh coinage, but also the different dyes used in making coins during that period, she explains.

Talking of her experience, she says, I worked out of Columbia University and brought out several papers on Sikh coinage. During my studies, I realised that for almost three years, Maharaja Ranjit Singh had a trishul on his coins.

With a passion for designing and the need to create constantly, Ms Rai also acquired a three year diploma in textile designing along the way. Not completely satiated with what that had to offer, she completed a thesis on jewellery in India. What fascinated her particularly were the colours of the gemstones. She began designing jewellery for friends and relatives, and before she even realised it, she was armed with both confidence and technical knowledge.

Ms Rai has recently designed Rakhis based on the Sikh era for Frazer and Haws and plans to come out with more collections based on coins of the Sikh era around Gurupurabs and Diwali. I will be using the Khalsa colours of blue and orange, she reveals.