“The more you pay for it, the less inclined you are to doubt its authenticity”
The quote from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy accurately captures the sentiment of a collector. In a recent high-profile case of art fraud, an unsuspecting buyer in Mumbai was sold nearly a dozen fake paintings. Fakes are a problem across all categories of collectibles, and numismatics is not an exception. As a long-time collector of old coins and banknotes, I have dealt with my fair share. Occasionally, other collectors and sometimes investors also seek my advice on new acquisitions.
If you are new to something, don’t go for big-ticket purchases. One of the most common scams targetting new collectors is to offer them a very rare item at a throwaway price because the seller doesn’t know its true value. It plays to the fantasy that some of us have of finding a hidden treasure that everyone else has missed out on. If this happens to you, RUN! And never deal with that seller again. The market for antique coins and notes is very liquid and transparent – I have yet to come across a genuine seller or a serious collector who doesn’t know the rarity/value of what they have. A particularly rare coin has been lying forgotten in an old cupboard for a century, and you are the first person the owner has found to sell to. Imagine the odds!
It also helps to know the most common fakes. Most Indian collectors start with British-India coins – of these, the 1939 silver rupee is one of the rarest and most prized. So far, in my years as a collector, I have seen one genuine piece (with a collector), but I have come across dozens of fakes ranging from the laughable to the very passable. If you ever go for one of one of these, go for a graded, slabbed piece verified by an expert.
Finally, don’t be in a rush. I have been collecting coins for nearly a quarter century and hope to continue for a long time. Most large collections are built over decades, occasionally generations. Start small, make small mistakes. It takes time to learn and develop your knowledge base, and confidence. Every collector goes through the process – it works.