* In 2018, to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi, Ram Tolani exhibited his huge collection of coins and currency notes bearing the image of Gandhi
* His collection now worth $2.5 million is also showcased at exhibitions in Dubai
* At a blind auction in 2011, they received three bags of coins, and out came some real rare finds
It is an office room like no other. Vying for space in the cubicle with swivel chairs and sleek computers are walled glass panels displaying rare currency notes, antique coins and stamps from across the world. Housed inside the second floor office of Goodwill Insurance Brokers, in a tony high-rise complex in Dubai’s busy financial district, Business Bay, this tiny museum showcases one man’s love for numismatics.
Ram Tolani, the founder of the brokerage firm, has a collection of over 2,50,000 coins, 1,00,000 stamps and over 25,000 currency notes. His collection includes coins from 2-3 BC, Islamic Hijri 13 coins as well as a large commemorative collection of stamps on MK Gandhi.
The 65-year-old Indian expatriate and Dubai resident is diabetic, has hypertension and high cholesterol and has survived two brain strokes, but he could easily be the poster boy for living life to the fullest, thanks to his childhood hobby for numismatics — collecting coins, notes and stamps. Growing up in Indore, in central India, young Tolani had always been fond of collecting stamps and coins, some of them sent by his businessman brother who often travelled abroad on work. With forefathers who had business links in East Asia, the family also possessed old coins.
“It was an expensive hobby those days and nothing I had was of any great value. So, in the course of life, my hobby took a back seat,” he says.
In 2008, on the eve of his daughter’s wedding, Tolani collapsed, losing his memory and speech. “I was paralysed. Even after surgeries and physiotherapy I was unable to do much work; I felt a deep void in my life,” he recalls. Tolani, who recovered later, adds that during a conversation with his son, Sanjay, about his childhood memories, he recollected his love for collecting coins.
“We even found a small tin of coins I had collected as a child lying in a corner of my ancestral home in India.”
While recovering from his stroke, with more time and money on his hands, he rekindled his passion for his childhood hobby.
Tolani started participating in online auctions. Sanjay, now helming the affairs of the company, also actively aided his father’s hobby during his business trips abroad. “One of the earliest coins I collected for him was from the Perth mint, when it was celebrating its 100th year. The two gold coins I collected were 100 years apart — one made in 1909 and the other in 2009,” Sanjay says.
The next significant coins came from Singapore, where the father and son had gone for an auction and bought a set of Chinese coins set in gold and silver, bearing the image of zodiac signs. The next year Tolani got his hands on one of his favourite coins — the diamond wedding anniversary coin of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. At a blind auction in 2011, they received three bags of coins, and out came some real rare finds — 2-3 BC punch-mark coins (before coins were minted, irregular punch-marked coins were in public use) and coins from the era of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Tolani’s collection includes commemorative coins and stamps from many countries, including the Expo 2020 coin that was recently released in the UAE.
As Tolani got increasingly immersed into his hobby, not only did his collectable kitty expand, but it also improved his health. “I had a new goal, and each time I chanced upon a rare find, it gave me immense joy, which positively impacted my well-being,” he tells BL ink . In rediscovering his childhood passion, he was able to keep his mind active and also find a way to cherish a slice of the past through old collectibles.
With time as stamps, coins and currency notes from across the world started accumulating at his home. Tolani started displaying them in his office and opened up the collection to the public and schoolchildren for free in 2013. “I always tell kids who are interested in numismatics that it is not about amassing rare commemorative coins, but equally about preserving memories and doing it for the love of coins,” he says.
His collection now worth $2.5 million is also showcased at exhibitions in Dubai. In 2018, to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of MK Gandhi, Tolani exhibited his huge collection of coins and currency notes bearing the image of Gandhi in Dubai. The exhibits included the first ever ₹10/- coin of Gandhi released by the Reserve Bank of India to mark his birth centenary in 1969. Also on display were first day covers of Gandhi’s centenary stamps of various denominations. Stamps of Gandhi as a law student in London released by the government of Mauritius and gold and silver medallions produced by Mayer’s mint in Germany were also a part of the exhibition.
“My love for collecting is a story of my comeback and also about how family support can pull you out of any crisis,” says Tolani, adding that he has also been making the most of the pandemic. He now spends his time largely at home cherishing his collection and looking at ways to expand it.
Tessy Koshy is an independent journalist based in Dubai