As the 49th Oman Renaissance Day approaches, Swati Basu Das meets one Bangladeshi expat whose love for his adopted homeland has led him to spend a lifetime collecting old currency that holds a very special message for His Majesty.
Uttam Kumar Shah’s souvenir shop in the Muttrah Souq showcases an array of collections highlighting Oman’s rich heritage and culture. From traditional Omani silver jewelry and artefacts, to Turkish lamps, his shop is nothing less than a treasure trove for tourists and locals.
But little does anyone know about his most prized possession close to his heart. A Bangladeshi resident of Oman for last 30 years, and a businessman by vocation, Uttam cherishes one of the world’s oldest and rewarding hobbies – currency collection. A numismatist [a specialist in coins] and a notaphilist [a collector of banknotes] for the past fifteen years, his collection in this era of cryptocurrencies and bitcoin have a story to tell.
Rare currency collection was considered a royal hobby in ancient times and originated in Rome during the 1st century AD – and it was a pastime that soon became an integral part of studying early economic and historical development through the use of money.
Enjoyed worldwide, currency collection, otherwise known as the ‘hobby of kings’ continued to grow over the millennia. Notable coin collectors like Adam Eckfeldt, the chief coiner at the United States Mint often displayed his amassed collection of rare notes and coins during the 18th-century.
Following in the footsteps of such renowned coiners like Eckfeldt and Virgil M. Brand, Uttam’s collection is a tour through time that spans nations and borders.
His massive collection of international currencies documents an exquisite history. “My collection includes paper notes and metal coins from 120 countries around the world. It was not my childhood hobby. I started my collection over the past fifteen years, as I wanted to do something interesting other than just running my business,” he explains.
He goes on to state that his collection of Indian currency notes is unique, rare, and extremely close to his heart. “The six-digit number – ‘181140’ and ‘001940’- on the currency notes exhibit the birthday and birth year of our esteemed and benevolent His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said,” he exclaims with a courteous gesture.
From 1940 through to the present year his Indian paper note collection is a chronicle of birth year, month, and day of His Majesty –a labour of love that he’s spent the last 15 years sourcing and collecting with one of his friend Kailash Chandra Jinga , an Indian expat and businessman here in Oman.
His rare Indian paper currency collection includes 1 rupee, 2 rupees, 5 rupees, 10 rupees, 20 rupees, 50 rupees and 100 rupees notes – all carrying the distinct six-digit serial number. “Some of the currency in this comprehensive collection dates back to 1950 and is very difficult to find with this unique six-digit number. Unlike metal coins, paper currencies can disintegrate, and their value has surged over past few years depending on various numismatic factors,” he says.
As fellow numismatists and agents dealing in old or rare currencies scour the city looking for prized collections such as his, Uttam mentions that several buyers have already approached him.
At his apartment near the Muttrah Souq, he shows us his collection. When asked if he would consider selling his pieces, he says: “I’m a buyer, not a seller. My collection is not for sale. It was real hard work to get this collection in order. Many people wanted to buy it and offered me huge amounts. But this prized collection is not for sale.”
Uttam’s only desire is not to stack it or sell it for a vast sum, but rather to donate it to Oman’s National Museum as a token of love and gratitude for His Majesty and the Sultanate. Flipping through his currency album, he expresses his wish saying: “It’s my gift as a salute and admiration to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said who is a wise and a benevolent leader and respected worldwide. I will approach the National Museum and seek their help to donate it very soon.”
Inspired by His Majesty and the beauty of Oman, Uttam explains, “The day I came to Oman I fell in love with its natural beauty and kindhearted people. The benevolence of His Majesty motivated me to collect these currencies. It’s my love and regard towards His Majesty, Oman, and the Omani people,” he says.
His is a genuine love for the Sultanate that knows no political boundary. True love is not for sale and Uttam proves it well.