Of coins, figurines and vinyl records: Three collectors on sourcing, vetting and preserving pieces of history

Private collections more often than not carry an extremely personal connotation and rightly so, for they are the product of a hobby nurtured year after year by an individual who painstakingly sources and documents every single one of those collectibles.

Collections – be it stamps, coins, cassettes – are also a result of nearly a lifetime of barters, from parting with the coolest toys in one’s possession to those savings in the bank, and are built with a great amount of patience, knowledge and a comprehensive study of history. Collecting, which often starts off as a childhood pastime can later make for an excellent respite from work and culminate into a retirement plan as well.

Suresh Chandvankar, a collector of vinyl records, has a similar understanding of his passion so much so that today he is the proud owner of a house dedicated solely to storing his records and spends much of his time listening to music on one of his many gramophones.

One can find a group of these like-minded, passionate collectors talk about their hobby at a platform like A Conversation on Collecting, a discussion organised by Ashvita’s, the Chennai-based initiative that works towards promoting and selling artwork.

Founded in 2002 by art enthusiast Ashvin Rajagopalan, Ashvita’s is a storehouse of fine art and collectibles such as ceramics, oils, photographs and toys among other artifacts.

Rajagopalan’s drive to engage with fellow collectors has led him to set up talks across the country on collectibles and their significance as documents of history. One such panel discussion held in Mumbai had Shamik Biswas, a numismatist, Chandvankar, the vinyl records collector, and Viraj Pradhan, a figurine buff share their views on multiple facets of the process of creating a collection.

On vinyl records

Vinyl records collector Suresh Chandvankar at a conference in Baltimore on his collection. Image courtesy: Suresh Chandvankar

Vinyl records collector Suresh Chandvankar at a conference in Baltimore that showcased his collection. Image courtesy: Suresh Chandvankar

Around the 1990s, when CDs were taking over nearly every other medium of storage — cassettes, tapes and VCRs — a group of collectors who were already in possession of thousands of records came together to form the Society of Indian Record Collectors, to share information about a technology that would soon be deemed archaic.

These records were storehouses of countless historically significant events including few of the very first recordings by celebrated exponents of classical music or speeches and propaganda crafted by eminent leaders during India's freedom movement.

Chandvankar pointed out that records would sometimes be abandoned and thrown away only to land in a flea market. Furthermore, it was very difficult to ascertain the source of a record at a seller's or in a shop. So, in the years when the digitisation of these recordings was not a feasible option, several such communities of collectors got together to preserve these priceless pieces of history.

Chandvankar, who began collecting records as a child in his father’s scrap metal store, kept up his hobby during his time as a scientist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai.  Now that a much more advanced and affordable technology allows one to document digitised files of these recordings, Chandvankar’s focus is primarily on ensuring that the records he possesses are stored in a digitised format.

Some of his rare collectibles include recordings of Gauhar Jaan circa 1902-1910, one of the first Indian classical musicians to ever record on a gramophone.

On numismatics

Biswas says that novice coin collectors must first figure out what kind of coins they would like to procure. And in order to do that, one must study the three main components of a coin: its mint, type and date.

The collector today possesses coins from nearly every country in the world and Indian coins that date as far back as the Vedic era. In fact, few of his collectibles include coins of the Ayodhya Janapada, a period that produced some of the first coins in India and the world and the Mumbai mint of the William and Mary rupee, created sometime around the 17th century. The latter is very rare, he says, as most of those coins would be melted in the years to come. These coins are also especially significant he notes, because they have been minted in Mumbai, and not in Bombay (as it was known by the Portuguese), after the city was given in dowry by the Portuguese to the British. The coins thereby also indicate that the British were the first of the colonisers to refer to the city as Mumbai. Biswas was curious about coins as a child because they represented several such histories and also said much about new, emerging countries.

Nowadays, he looks for coins from the 20th century and beyond.

Tracking currency has become easier due to the internet, he says, with e-commerce platforms such as “ebay.com, ebay.de and the late ebay.in (unfortunately taken over and destroyed by an inept Flipkart).” According to him, auction sites in India, the United States and the United Kingdom also provide a comprehensive knowledge of coins that are out there.

The onus remains on the buyers to identify the fakes, he opines, because grading companies and auction houses are prone to make mistakes.
“The best practice is to put up a good scan of the coin along with weight and diameter on various coin groups on the internet and Facebook which help establish the coin’s authenticity,” he adds.

“Also, it is possible to buy rare coins from all over the world,” Shamik continues but the customs department is a big bottleneck. He says that while customs levy a five percent Goods and Service Tax (GST) on coins imported by coin dealers, they levy 28 percent GST on coins imported by collectors claiming that a collector does not have an Import Export Code (IEC) and therefore cannot enjoy the five percent GST.

Even as collecting coins continues to be regarded as a private hobby, these collections are also storytellers of the economic history of any country and putting them on display in public spaces such as galleries and museums makes them accessible to the regular museum-goers. Of this Biswas says, “A museum is always a better place to display coins. Unfortunately, most of the rare coins in museums are kept in lockers and are not publicly displayed.”

On figurines

A peek into Viraj Pradhan's figurine collection. Image courtesy: Viraj Pradhan

A peek into Viraj Pradhan's figurine collection. Image courtesy: Viraj Pradhan

For Pradhan, his figurine collection is a Pop Culture Bhel. It is essentially a representation of all the characters that he has loved from the many movies and TV shows that he has seen over the years.

He asks, “If a movie/character has impacted your life in some way, isn't buying its action figure a sweet way of remembering it?”

Figurine collection is rapidly becoming a new-found pursuit among adults and is viewed as a very personal hobby. Quoting a fellow collector, Pradhan says, “The larger point of view though, is that figurines have evolved through time to be an equally efficient medium of storytelling. One of the best examples is Articulated Comic Book Art, a forum where amateur and professional photographers pose figures to recreate iconic comic/TV scenes or make something entirely new.”

The collector whose full-time job involves working at East India Comedy also opines, “I really feel starting an action figure collection is easier and less expensive as compared to a vinyl record collection or a coin collection. It can fit on a tiny desk or on a mega display unit.”

Viraj Pradhan's figurine collection of the characters from HBO's fantasy-drama Game of Thrones. Image courtesy: Viraj Pradhan

Viraj Pradhan's figurine collection of the characters from HBO's fantasy-drama Game of Thrones. Image courtesy: Viraj Pradhan

He suggests that this hobby is the best way of still being connected to your childhood: simpler times when paying bills was not your priority but watching cartoons and re-enacting the exact scene with your action figures, was.

Figurine collectors have Facebook groups like Action Figure Fanatics India, Indian Toy Collectors, The Collector Life where a lot of collectors sell and buy figures from their own collection.

Yet, even though websites like Amazon, Wizplex, Superherotoystore, Nerd Arena have made it easier even for new collectors to get these figurines, Pradhan says, “the feeling of randomly walking into a generic stationary shop and finding a rare Hotwheels car is priceless.”

Pradhan started collecting in all earnest only in 2013, years after he crossed into adulthood when he came across a Batman at Hamleys that he used to have as a kid. By and by his collection has grown to fit into a '6 ft glass display unit' that shows-off his collectibles. His showcase has an extensive collection of the characters of the popular HBO fantasy-drama Game of Thrones, Marvel's Avengers, the DC Comics and his own private 'Jurassic World.'

“Nothing can top the feeling of waking up to a view of all your action figures every morning, maybe if you own a sea-facing flat it can top this, I don’t know.”

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Updated Date: Jan 04, 2019 20:55:20 IST

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