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The Kabul mint

Started by Oesho, August 06, 2011, 05:38:19 PM

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Oesho

QuoteI'm not sure how they prepared the flans for striking to get the weight correct & keep it round, I read an ongoing discussion on another coin forum which you possibly saw as to how the blanks were prepared. Various ideas that they were cut from a round bar or cut from sheet silver & chiseled till they were round were put forward.
Maybe that would make a good thread on this forum if you actually know how it was done.  I can't imagine how you could accurately chop a 28mm silver bar like you would a German sausage but that's one of the most
Some time ago I received an interesting eye-witness account of the working of the Kabul mint around 1880. The practise would have been the same in the centuries before. As it is an interesting account I have completely copied it for every one's perusal.

TO Kabul WITH THE CAVALRY BRIGADE.
A NARRATIVE OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCES WITH THE FORCE
UNDER GENERAL SIR F. S. ROBERTS, G.C.B.

BY

Major R. C. W. MITFORD,
14th Bengal Lancers

LONDON 1881

* * * * * * *
  The ends of the covered bazaar [of Kabul] were occupied by silversmiths and mo-ney-changers, who sacrificed the warmth and protection from the weather afforded by the more central positions, for the sake of the better light obtainable in these more exposed places. The silversmiths' work is very rough, and they appear to have but little originality or inventive faculty, or if they indeed are so gifted, they wrap up the talent in the very thickest of napkins.
At the money-changers (all of whom are Khattri Hindus, it being a trade strictly for-bidden by the Koran) we found a large variety of foreign gold coins, Persian "tillas,'' Russian five rouble pieces, Hindustani "mohurs," and others. The Afghans had no gold coinage of their own until Sher Ali returned from India in 1869, when he caused a few handsome Ashrafis to be struck, which are valued at eighteen rupees for the metal alone, the gold being very pure and rich-coloured. I may here mention that on examining the contents of the Amir's treasury no fewer than thirteen thou- sand Russian gold coins were found. What were they paid for?

* * * * * * *

Close to the mosque [in the basar of Kabul], and on the same side of the street, is the mint, and I entered unopposed to see if anything was going on. At the first glance I should have said it was a holiday, but a more careful circumspection revealed some half a dozen men and boys at work, and as their mode of proceeding was as primitive as it was un-usual, I venture to give a short account of The Royal Kabul Mint.

There were no sentries to oppose my entrance, not even a policeman to look suspiciously at me as I walked through an open doorway into an uncovered court, ten-anted only by the few people above-mentioned, who were sitting in a comer round a charcoal fire, which was tended by a small urchin of some ten or eleven summers, who worked a hand-bellows, made of a goat skin, with his left hand, while he fed or stirred the little furnace with his right. Sitting by him was one of the only two adults of the party, an old man with a venerable but very grimy grey beard, holding a pair of scales in which he weighed the rough silver, and afterwards the rupees made from it. On the other side of the fire squatted another urchin, whose business was to hold and watch the melting-ladle, and pour the liquid metal into a row of moulds like a Pandaean pipe. From these moulds the silver came out in small rods, the size of an ordinary drawing pencil, and of a dull red colour from oxidisation. Another boy clipped these rods into lengths of three-quarters of an inch, and threw them to a huge burly fellow armed with a hammer. This individual having only one eye was immediately christened "Cyclops" — a name he retained until our departure from Kabul.
Picking up each piece of red silver pencil with a pair of pincers, he placed it upright on the centre of a die sunk in an iron anvil, and struck it one blow with his ponderous hammer, on the face of which was engraved the obverse of the coin, the reverse being on the anvil. Then he immediately seized the freshly impressed rupee with his pincers and dropped it hissing hot into a pan of mashed quinces, super-intended by another little boy, who, ladling out the coins, now bright and clean, threw them into a pan of water, from which again another lad fished them out, dried them, and, the ring of workpeople being now completed, handed them to the old weighman for their final test, after which they were added to a heap lying on an old blanket behind him.
It was certainly the queerest mint I had ever heard or read of! No guard, completely open to the street, and only superintended by the old man.
It seemed a shameful temptation to place before the unscrupulous, hungry-eyed crowd continually passing and repassing the open door, but the old man said no attempt at robbery had ever been made during the years he and "Cyclops" had worked together, though they sometimes had as much as three or four hundred pounds' worth of silver on the ground. I asked what punishment would be given to anyone who might be rash enough to make such an attempt. The old fellow smiled grimly, and said he would have his hands cut off, and be thrown into prison, there to wait until the Amir Sahib ' had made up his mind what death he should die!



capnbirdseye

Fascinating stuff!
I didn't expect to see the upper die being part of the hammer itself so perhaps this accounts for so many coins being off centre.  But could Rupees up to 30mm be struck this way I wonder.
Other refs to hammered coinage seems to point to the coins being struck cold but I remember seeing a coin making demonstration as a boy ( possibly at the  tower of London) where they were showing how Elizabethan shillings were struck, they were indeed heated red first but we didn't see the blanks prepared & the upper die was held in tongs whilst another man hit it.

This is so interesting it needs it's own thread if someone can move it  ;D
Vic

Figleaf

#2
Agreed 100%. I strongly suspected the coins would be hot struck, but was also surprised by the upper die being mounted on the hammer. For me, the discovery was the quince treatment. As the good major noted, the colour of molten silver is not very attractive. In modern mints, the coins are chemically washed and annealed by rapid heating and cooling. In Kabul, the freshly struck coins were cooled in mashed quince. This will give two effects: the cooling will harden the metal, while the acids of the fruit (fresh quince is so acidic it cannot be eaten) will polish it to a brilliant shine. Neat.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

capnbirdseye

#3
Interestingly I have an Afghan coin of Kabul that I always thought looked a bit different because it's edge is rounded as though it was a blob of metal & then squashed as it were. Unlike many Rupees I've got this coin has a definite rounded edge which doesn't really show up on the photo too well but you can just about see it and it could well have been produced in just such a way as described.

Edit:  just been looking at a few Rupees from Princely states & many have faceted edges, little flat sections seemingly evidence of being cut prior to stamping rather than hammered into shape during the actual strike
Vic

akona20

#4
Oesho thanks for posting this.

One of the delights (or sadnesses) in reading what Europeans write about visits to far off lands is shown:
"It was certainly the queerest mint I had ever heard or read of! No guard, completely open to the street, and only superintended by the old man.
It seemed a shameful temptation to place before the unscrupulous, hungry-eyed crowd continually passing and repassing the open door, but the old man said no attempt at robbery had ever been made during the years he and "Cyclops" had worked together, though they sometimes had as much as three or four hundred pounds' worth of silver on the ground."

Coinsforever

Thanks for sharing here.

Cheers ;D
Every experience, good or bad, is a priceless collector's item.



http://knowledge-numismatics.blogspot.in/

Rangnath

What a description!  Absolutely incredible.
richie

brokencompass

The account was a very excellent description, taking me back to the time of the British India. A very vivid account! Thanks for sharing. Where did you find this?
My goal for 2017 is to finish finish my British India copper collection (1/4 anna, 1/2 Pice and 1/12 anna) by year and Mintmark. Any help with missing coins in BU grades is highly appreciated.
https://coins.www.collectors-society.com/registry/coins/MySets_Listing.aspx?PeopleSetID=130880

Figleaf

#8
Quote from: Oesho on August 06, 2011, 05:38:19 PM
"I may here mention that on examining the contents of the Amir's treasury no fewer than thirteen thou- sand Russian gold coins were found. What were they paid for?"

My best guess would be slaves. The Russian army made a few raids into central Asian territory over slavery in this period, but not as far as Kabul. Maybe it was too far away and Russian slaves were bought back...

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

akona20

#9
In 1878 the Russians sent an uninvited diplomatic mission to Afghanistan. the dates on the coins are not mentioned more is the pity but that Russian mission, and Afganistan's blunt attack on an uninvited Britisha mission, sparked the next Afghan War and was a direct result, given the date of the article, of that officer being in Kabul.

It has been suggested that the Russian brought a large payment in gold with them. I am wondering if the two are connected.

Some quick further notes that General Roberts, the expedition's commander, advised that Russian gold coins were plentiful in Kabul and Afghanistan at this time (1879) and given the large number of Russian goods in the bazaars can only find that trade was the answer. So this is the trade in bit but the trade out needs more understanding however we do know that Indian traders were well established throughout Afghanistan and central Asia and that British goods as well as Indian specialties made their way north from India.

Oesho

QuoteI may here mention that on examining the contents of the Amir's treasury no fewer than thirteen thou- sand Russian gold coins were found. What were they paid for?
The Russian gold coins were most likely imitations of Dutch gold ducats, struck at the mint in St. Petersburg from 1770 till 1849. In Northern India (Punjab) these coins were known as Budkee (For reference see Journal ONS 190, Winter 2007).
The imitated Dutch gold ducats were used in the trade via Central Asia. This trade was conducted along caravan trails by several parties. All kind of articles were imported by Russia from India via Afghanistan, luxury articles as well as bulk goods like cotton; in return from Central Asia also a variety of goods made their way to India and here horses were the most important component. Thus not slaves as suggested by Figleaf.

The net result was a Russian trade deficit that was mainly paid for in gold, probably mostly ducats. The character of this commercial relation changed over time, but only vanished completely when in India the need for war horses from the Russian steppe dwindled because of the "pacification" of the Indian subcontinent by the British.

\When the mint at St. Petersburg under diplomatic pressure from the Netherlands, stopped with the production of these 'Dutch' ducats, similar coins started to be produced in the Punjab. Those imitative Dutch ducats bear the abbreviation TOA instead of TRA for TRAjectum (Utrecht). 

Figleaf

Quote from: Oesho on August 09, 2011, 10:09:54 PM
When the mint at St. Petersburg under diplomatic pressure from the Netherlands, stopped with the production of these 'Dutch' ducats, similar coins started to be produced in the Punjab. Those imitative Dutch ducats bear the abbreviation TOA instead of TRA for TRAjectum (Utrecht).

You wouldn't have one lying arouns so you could post a picture, would you?  ;)

I heard of the Polish and Russian imitations, but an Indian imitation? The mind boggles...

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Oesho

QuoteYou wouldn't have one lying arouns so you could post a picture, would you?
TOA ducat 1777. The date is fictitious and struck during the first half of the 19th cent. in northern India (Punjab).

Coinsforever

Elegant ducat................

Cheers ;D
Every experience, good or bad, is a priceless collector's item.



http://knowledge-numismatics.blogspot.in/

Bimat

Incredible stuff, Oesho! Thanks for posting! 8) 8)

Aditya
It is our choices...that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. -J. K. Rowling.