Gold Fanams

Summary of discussion on southasia-coins eGroup.

From: Rick Bilak
Date: 2000 Aug 21, 3:19pm

Lately there seems to be alot of these little gold coins posted on 
the various e-auctions. What I have observed has been the following,
1. Shiva type
2. Tipu/Wodiyar type
3. A 1600's type with a fire alter

Not having the proper references some question have arisen:
1. Are these the only types?
2. How many different types are there and how difficult are they to 
3. What is the best reference for researching these neat little coins?
4. Are there any other references for dealing with the tiny coins of 
   SouthAsia besides the 3 vols of Krause?

From: Alan VanArsdale Date: 2000 Aug 21, 3:59pm There are hundreds of types of AV Fanams. I have not even begun to study these, though like many types of coins I should. Many of them command high premiums, up to hundreds of dollars each for rare ones. Even so there are at least 200 types under $50 each. I will leave the references to the experts on the list. In closing most of the fanams appearing on the internet are types everyone in South Asia collecting such coins already has, so in low demand there. The result is an interesting and low cost collectable is now finding its way in large numbers to the internet markets. I expect this process will continue for some time, and as a result many new collectors of South Asian coins will be recruited internationally. I am told by reliable sources common fanams have not been counterfeited for some years now in India in any numbers (of dangerous quality at least), so fears about fanams expressed on this list in the past may not be current at least for freshly imported fanams. Forgers can not sell common fanams in large enough numbers now, with the demise of unsolicited mail order offers for them about 1985, to make the forging of common fanams as profitable as the forging of rare ones. As the fanam market rebuilds in Western countries, there could eventually be a shortage of fanams again, and the problem could reemerge. Hopefully this is still at least three years off as the invention of metal detectors has made it possible to create large enough supplies of fanams for the time being.
From: Jan Lingen Date: 2000 Aug 21, 2000 5:41pm It must be very confusing to read all the different attributions of a coin-type, which looks one and the same. Particularly when persons, lacking historical or numismatic knowledge, only using their imagination for the coin description. The AU fanam you're referring to is the so-called Kanthiraya fanam, lateron called "Canteroy"or also "New Canteroy" fanam by the British. It was an extremely popular coin in South India (particular along the Coromandel Coast) and struck by various dynasties. The earliest issue was probably struck by the king Kantivara Narasa Raja Wodeyar (1638-1659) of Mysore. After the dead of Tipoo Sultan similar coins were still struck by the Diwan Purnaiya as regent for Krishna Raja Wodeyar (1799-1812). They may have been struck at Mysore right up to about 1850. It is reported that around 1800 these type of fanams were also issued by the Nayaks of Sira. The so-called (New) Canteroy fanam seems also to have been imitated by the British at Madras and perhaps even by the Dutch at Pulicat, Negapatnam and Tuticorin. De obv. of the Canteroy fanam shows the figure of Narasimha, the god with human body and lion face. He is regarded as the 4th incarnation of Vishnu. The reverse shows part of a degenerated legend, which originally should have read the name "Shri Kamthirava". It is presumed that in the 19th and 20th century similar (rather crude and debased issues) were also privatly struck by goldsmiths. As this type of fanam was struck over a long period of time by various dynasties and trade companies, it is virtually impossible to atribute them correctly. One can only collect a few different types (older types with much detail and decent inscriptions as well as more recent issues, which are much cruder, with a legend consisting of circles only) and attribute them accordingly. I hope that this description may be of some help, but it also shows the complexity of these fanams. Moreover it doesn't apply to this serie only, but also to most other gold fanams. Particularly the Vira Raya fanam (which was mostly used on the Malabar Coast of India) has been struck over a very long period and the number of different types result in several dozens. However, don't get frustrated because these coins are still inexpensive and very attractive to collect.
From: Scott Semans, Seattle, WA Date: 2000 Aug 22, 8:35am As Jan Lingen noted, these little gold coins have been issued and imitated by many rulers, and by private goldsmiths. When I sell them I divide them into two categories, the ones that I saw in great quantity in the 1970s which can reliably attributed to Bangalore gold merchants, and what I call "original" fannams which appear to be older, though it's often difficult to be certain. I would not call any gold fannam "counterfeit" unless it is a gold-plate, since they have always been issued for small-time gold hoarding and whether they were produced by rulers or merchants was of no consequence to their intended users. I usually sell the "new" types at $13.50-$15.00 regardless of type, but have been cleaned out by the promoters in recent years. I've been hoarding the "originals" and worked up a price list, with rather tentative attributions and catalog references. I've classed them by the four major types: Ikkeri (Vijayanagar style), Vira Raya, Kali ("Gully"), and Kanthiraya (New Canteroy). I still have to do some drawings for it, but anyone wishing a copy, send me your mailing address if I don't already have it, and be patient! I sell these at $25 up. What you will find in Ebay-type auctions will almost certainly be the new ones, but at $12-14 or so, they are not a bad buy even so. Krause, Mitchiner OC&V series, and some of the old-time South India references such as Elliot and Jackson have a scattering of these, but probably not reliably attributed. Mitchiner's new two-volume series on South India has a goodly number of them, probably more reliably attributed.
From: Alan VanArsdale Date: 2000 Aug 22, 2:06pm It is inaccurate to say that on eBay the fanams now are the newer ones. In fact from dealers lists, which tend to be older stock than by internet, it is more likely to encounter newer coins. This is because during the large promotions starting in the 1970's many counterfeit and newer coins were put on the US market. The newer merchant coins because they tended never to be lost, and still in human possesion so available then for export. The counterfeits because it was then profitable in the US and India to counterfeit common types. In this period there was market for up to 100,000 fanams or more per year in Western markets. Now the Western markets may take up to 40,000 fanams per year, I doubt even that many. With the advent of large dish metal detectors of good quality, available in Asia widely starting about 8 years ago, the Western demand for newly found common gold fanams is about at par with new supply. Internet markets are highly competitive. Margins are narrow, and distribution chains have few steps. Freshly found fanams in India are now more competitive on the internet market than existing dealer accumulations in the US, in terms of price, even though they are more desirable they are cheaper on the open markets. Very few of the fanams I receive from India are later (post 1850 AD) merchant copies. I have yet to find the same die twice, most of the coins are obviously old and from the ground. The gold content is not so high that they do not undergo any changes during burial. Since fanams on the internet have gone from domestic sources mostly over to integrated import, prices have fallen from about $25 per coin to as low as $9.50 per coin. Raja Wodeyar Shiva fanams can now be had, good strikes, pre 1840 manufacture, for $10 each. The common 17th century and Tipu Sultan fanams for only a little more. The reduction in prices is mostly due to the increased distribution efficiency of the internet, that is the internet allows wholesale to the public. Only about 1% of the population is actively buying by internet still, so dealers can obtain up to $40 each for the same coins from their shops, though sales are visibly declining. As shop sales decline, shop wholesale purchases decline, so the internet takes up the surplus as it grows. Previously on the internet, more than a year ago, there may have been many merchant and forged fanams on the internet as dealers unloaded their less desirable stock. Now that this trade is mostly in the hands of specialised professional internet dealers, most coins are freshly imported, and so almost entirely of pre 1880 AD manufacture. I have tested a large number of fanams for gold purity. I have found only a small number of coins I could identify as being made after 1900 AD. All of these were below carat, under 14K. The fanams I obtain directly from India are all over 14K, usually over 17K. Field prices in India are about 25% over bullion value for fanams as found, unpicked for rare coins. Field buyers then bring the coins into large central distributors. These distributors remove the coins they have market for at high premium, and are just about stuck with the remainder as far as selling them in South Asia. So the price is then determined by the Western market places, and nearly the entire surplus is now exported. There is no profit to forge common fanams in India for sale at 25% over bullion value, the new coins mostly come from the field, so the vast bulk of the common fanams coming out now are old ones. I am not expert in the identification of fanams. I am trained in systematics as part of my UC education, and am expert in the identification of forgeries, contemporary copies, and imitative issues by a variety of methods. I base my conclusions on the examination of thousands of freshly imported fanams, and many hundreds of fanams from the US market. I will debate this issue with anyone who wants, I doubt anyone in South Asia involved in these markets will contest what I have written here, except maybe to make some minor adjustments in my figures.
From: Scott Semans Date: 2000 Aug 22, 4:12pm My own designation of new vs old fannams is based on a large reference collection, and style comparison. Many of them were attributed by the late Charles Panish using the ANS's collection as reference. However, I have not kept up on what is coming out of India in the last ten years or so, and have not paid attention to what appears on Ebay in this category, and I've never done metal analysis on them. I'm curious how you identify something as being post-1900 - are you equating lower fineness with more modern issue? If so, why? I'd be grateful for more information on dating these by fineness, as I've never been comfortable with judgments made by style and provenance, or attributing by photos in references. Also, do you use acid for testing, or? Does anyone know of published assay figures? As hoarding units more than circulating coins they may not have been of great interest to the European trading companies, but still, someone must have done an assay ... In the 1970s my India suppliers told me that the "new" pieces were made by Bangalore merchants to satisfy local demand, and that these were the same merchants (or family) that produced coins on order for local rulers prior to the 1940s or so, when there were such sovereign rulers. 100,000 yearly exported to the West is probably in the right ballpark, as I would get them in 5000 lots and was not the largest dealer in these at the time. However, this must have been just a fraction of what was made, as (according to my suppliers) the main demand was local. There are endless die varieties in the 1970s pieces, as one would expect with such large mintages. As to pricing, up until 4 or 5 years ago I could sell any gold fannam at $10 to delaers who sold to promoters, though now these same dealers are offering them to me at $10 (tho I haven't seen them, whether "old" or "new"). This is why I set retail prices on 1970s ones at $13.50-$15, depending on quantity purchased. I've regularly paid $12.50 or more for lots of "old" ones, pulled out "new" intruders upping my net cost, so I won't try to compete with Ebay sales at $9.50! Again, unless you have samples of the 1970s pieces for comparison, or there is really some nondestructive assay test and solid information relating assay to period of issue, you're taking a chance on what you get in venues like this, but at that kind of price you won't lose money regardless.
From: Alan VanArsdale Date: 2000 Aug 22, 8:49pm I am using electronic gold testing, on the edge and using an eraser to take off the spot or I just leave it. I have tested gold of known purity, marked carat and acid tested, and find that with the correct technique electronic testing is very accurate from 12 to 18 carat purity (if the gold is uniform throughout the coin, there are methods to discover if the coin has deep plate by electronic testing, an internal plug of base metal can only be found by specific gravity testing or cutting the coin). As to determining which are the merchants copies, I am not sure how anyone can condemn clean gold coins as forgeries with certainty by ordinary methods especially if high carat. I have found one plated forgery, and found other new looking coins which appeared to be of the same manufacture to me. Also I have found some which appear to use technology not used in the older types, at least the Raja Wodeyar post 1799 AD Shiva types and older. In my estimation low carat gold, cut with copper and silver to maintain color, should undergo some changes over time. I am more accustomed to ancient coins, but I have in the past worked with a lot of 17th-19th century European coins. The main basis of my considering some coins to be modern issues are they are in about uncirculated condition, have not been cleaned or dipped, and yet do not show the amount of oxidation I would expect of coins over 150 years old of such low gold purity (more like coins of the 1970's). So certainly higher purity forgeries/merchants copies might get past me by this method. The others in that they are milled using modern machinery, as still is plain even after striking. If someone were using the old methods, then on very clean coins I could have serious trouble with them. However, many of the coins I am getting are not clean. They are from buried hoards (potted and loose in the dirt) and stray finds. It is generally considered that, though it is an art and not easily quantified, some individuals can distinguish between coins which have been buried for many years and those artificially aged. Perhaps it is vanity to count myself amongst these people, and I certainly have been fooled a few times, amongst the hundreds of thousands of coins I have handled. The groups of coins I am receiving in the mail look authentic to me, I would even go so far as to say I am certain at least 60% of them are more than 100 years old. As to the rest, I have seen uncleaned ancient gold coins in museums from excavations I could not authenticate, so for me at least the cleaner ones (likely from potted hoards), are problematical though I think most are old. With carefull analysis I can have some chance at discovering their age roughly, by examination inside of flan cracks etc.. I am informed by sources I consider reliable that there are persons in India who can distinguish between modern imitations and the real items fairly reliably, and the astute Indian coin collecting community is paying high premium on certain rare fanams on this basis. The coins I receive are checked by one of these experts. Still I can admit to the likelihood that as many as 20% of them, no more, are modern, though I doubt it is more than 5%, I am told less. Any dealer is more likely to make a mistake on a cheap coin than an expensive one, I am sure nobody is checking each of these carefully under a microscope. Still I have checked many of them as to gold purity, and found them consistent in that aspect at least. Also they do not seem to be struck with modern high speed equipment, which does leave signs (this is a complex topic). In my opinion, which is arguably expert, these are primarily field coins newly discovered. It is certainly possible field coins could be from the 1970's, and it is also possible coins never leaving human hands from the 1970's could be getting mixed into these at some point. It is a common practice by some exporters to mix a few forgeries in to increase margins. In this case it would not serve to increase margins by much. If anyone wants to examine some of these and try to determine which if any are post 1850 AD, I can send some samples for evaluation, to be returned to me later, you may cut one of them. Contact me off list at barnowl@s... , you may post your findings to the list. I will send examples which are fresh looking, and one that is not fresh looking (fresh as in not greatly altered since striking, all the uncleaned examples appear to be oxidised to the amount expected for coins over 100 years old, the older types more oxidised than the newer types). Coins can be oxidised by a number of artificial methods, but this is a long topic as to how to distinguish these methods from the real thing I will not get into here. Some of these coins appear to have circulated, but under conditions more like being in the mud in some road, or in flowing water, than passing in human hands.
From: Scott Semans Date: 2000 Aug 23, 11:02am Where can I get more info on the electronic testing? What does the equipment cost, or is this something to be found in a lab? One thing I forgot to mention is all of the animal types that showed up in the 1970s - actually late 70s, early 80s as I recall - these are all modern designs, some vaguely based on copper kasu. Comparison of these, as a group, with the traditional designs is a good way to identify modern pieces. I'm wary of putting too much weight on surface features such as toning, wear, deterioration. It's nothing I've researched, but my impression is the Vijayanagar, Ikkeri, and some others that were not imitated later were circulated, and are found worn today, but at some point these became a gold-hoarding unit rather than a circulating coin - the poor Indian's equivalent of a Krugerrand. I've seen many pieces that I know from flan characteristics are old, in UC. But, perhaps Alan can spot oxidation factors and other clues that I would miss. There's guesswork involved in dating these no matter what factors are considered. Yes, soil adhesions and the like would incline me towards believing a piece was old. I never saw any attempt to make these appear older than they were. What I got from India in the 70s-80s were 100% newly made, and nobody cared at the time. All of the ones I consider old, I've gotten from US/European sources. It could well be that what comes out of India today is largely old pieces found by metal detector. I'd want to do some comparisons with my reference collection before I offered them as old myself, but Alan has much more recent experience in the field than I do, and sounds quite capable of distinguishing these. I resist use of the word "counterfeit" in this series, and use "imitation" to mean a later issue, by a different issuer, trying to copy faithfully the design. According to my suppliers at the time, these were made by gold merchants even in the 19th (& 18th?) century. Whether it was to the order of a princeling who wanted some earlier princeling's design copied, or by order of a merchant or the gold merchant himself seems of little import and probably impossible to determine today. I suppose some could have been made from 1948 to ca.1975 and thus, technically, private issues, tokens, or whatever. Perhaps new batches have been made in Bangalore since the early 80s but I'm doubtful there were very many unless quite recently, given the market demand in the 90s and the lack of new varieties (that I've seen, anyway). I think what matters to collectors is whether they are pre-1970 (and thus likely 19th c. or earlier) or not. This is why I divide them, as best I'm able, into two categories when selling them, and price accordingly.
From: Alan VanArsdale Date: 2000 Aug 23, 2000 4:33pm I have used two types of electronic gold testers. The first was very advanced for being so early (I bought it in about 1987), but seemed to always go haywire with time. I sent it back once and they fixed it, but within a few months it was given false positives for gold again. My current one I have had only about a year, but it seems reliable. As with any tester you need to have good contacts, and to follow standard methods. Thin plate can be detected by an eraser (taking progressive readings after erasing, the indicated purity will fall), thick plate or gold dipping by using a file instead by the same method. I put a dollar sign in the title as I am going to give the company of the gold tester, I have no affiliation with them. Tri Electronics, INC 9561 Ridgehaven Court San Diego, California (USA) phone toll free USA only 1-800-445-4241 FAX 619-571-5404 I have the GT-3000 which is billed as being good only under 18 K and down as low as 6-7 K. I find I can extrapolate some to lower or higher purities, but metals like platinum and silver likely can throw the results, so if present at ranges outside recomended some fudge factors are needed using numbers generated by gold of similar alloying and purity as the test example. From 8 to 16K I find it to be accurate within .25 carats (about 1%) if you just go by the number and divide out in the given range on the face of the machine. There are models which will test accurately at higher and lower purities, but for some reason they are pretty expensive, and not needed for my purposes. Personally I consider the post 1970 coins to be fakes, whoever made them, and those before to be either official issues or something like merchant tokens. This is an arbitrary definition, but fits the history of them well, given the rise in the price of gold about then and the dumping of huge numbers of old and newly made coins on the US market starting after 1970 AD. I have sold most of my US bought fanams, but have a couple of examples still which are suspect though purchased from reliable sources. One is small diameter and thick, low carat, with deep striations on the edge. It looks well toned, and has hard deposits. These deposits are remarkably similar under the microscope to those I have seen on high quality forgeries in a Bactrian silver coin likely purchased in South Asia, possibly applied by shaking in a bag while the deposits were still plastic. The other is in about mint condition, good gold, but appears almost cut out, though the flan looks good otherwise. It is one of the about 17th century types. In all the freshly imported coins of this period not one has this octagonal type flan, which in my opinion has been roughly cut out of a milled sheet with some type of modern hand assist equipment. Whether done in Asia or the US I do not know, I suspect Asia, I am informed these were made both in India and the US in the 1970's in large numbers to meet the demand by unsolicited offer mail order dealers (who sold at very high margins, some becoming quite wealthy even, something internet dealers of coins like most South Asian coin dealers have yet to accomplish). My problem is lack of certain authentic (old) pieces and lack of certain forgeries (post 1970 AD) pieces. I can form some pretty strong opinions, but to develop a really strong approach I need to develop a large sample of known forgeries and known authentic coins. Otherwise I am risking having new coins down as old for comparative purposes, or old which are remarkably well preserved (such as potted in anaerobic conditions) down as new coins. In regards to animal fanams I have purchased a group of them freshly exported. These I have sent to several international experts without any complaints. I am informed, by an expert dealer, that they are Kadba or maybe Karba writing is hard to read, probably 11th or 12th century. That they are known from only one hoard of about 800 coins. That it is debated as to what type of animal is on them. I have two types. I bought 40 of them originally, and found no die repititions, I could have missed one or two, there are no repititions in the 10 I have now. Upon microscopic examination they look like potted hoard coins of great age to me. I have not tested them for gold content, it is visibly high at least 17K. Some are of fine engraving style, some not, I estimate the dies were cut by different persons. They appear very similar in preservation, which is to be expected in a potted hoard, or in a forgers lot. More toning near raised images at low points indicating light cleaning or wear. The finer engraved coins are not recutting of the dies of the weaker examples. Rather it looks like a tradition wherein the style has degenerated over time. If these are forgeries, and it can be determined by this list that they are conclusively, then these coins will make a very good reference regarding current high level forgers art in South Asia, and be very usefull for study in regards to this art. I can not condemn these coins as forgeries (at least without a lot of work), but I know my skills in high carat gold are defeatable upon occasion. If these are forgeries they are very sophisicated, and if determined as forgeries I will run a series of tests on them to try and determine how they were done. Results of analysis of forgeries should not be fully released, as it aids forgers in their work (I have been guilty of aiding forgers in their work before as exporters have demanded from me to know why forgeries were forgeries, and the next tries reflected my complaints to some extent). Exporters can be innocent or guilty, one should always assume they are guilty as far as giving information to them, and innocent as far as any blame for the deed, so long as they are willing to take returns on forgeries, as it is internationally the responsibility of the person up stream to take forgeries back.
From: Rick Bilak Date: 2000 Aug 31, 5:08pm After digesting all the info posted on the list and viewing several different scans fo fanams. I have a couple of more questions for the members of the list. 1. Of the Kanthiraya fanams ("Shiva Types") minted by Kantivara Narasa Raja Wodeyar and Krishna Raja Wodeyar, do both types have the obverse of Narasimha? Is there anywhere I can see the reverse legend "Shri Kamthirava" before it degenerated into series of circles? 2. How many mints produced fanams for Tippu Sultan, I know of 4?
From: Shailendra Bhandare Date: 2000 Sep 1, 11:31am I have the follwing answers to Rick's queries - 1. Yes, both these types indeed have the Narasimha on obverse. He is depicted in what is known as the 'Yogabandha' pose, i.e. with legs folded inwards and a band going around both his knees, thereby supporting the posture. Some pieces of superior workmanship and showing a readable, albeit truncated, legend on the reverse do turn up.These, I believe, would be the early examples issued during the reign of Kanthirava Narasa Raja, before the type got degenerated. 2. The well-known mints producing fanams of Tipu Sultan are Farukhi, Nagar, Patan and Kalikut. However other mints do exist but their issues are exceedingly rare. They are Dharwar, Khaliqabad and Gurramkonda. I have seen only one piece of the mint mentioned last, whereupon the mintname appears as 'Gurramkonda' and not 'Zafarabad', the name by which it was later known. While we are on this subject, especially about forged fanams, I remember a group of fantasy issues that appeared on the market in the west perhaps in the early eighties. Some of these issues are listed by Mitchiner.They have strange designs such as an elephant with a 'Howdah' on its back and some of them imitate designs of Tipu's copper coins. As rightly pointed out earlier in the discussion, there are enormous numbers of fake Fanams available. They mainly belong to two categories - the 'Vira Raya' fanams and Tipu's issues. I believe that the spurt in production of spurious fanams can be attributed to, amongst other reasons, to a surge in their use in jewelery.
From: Manuel X. Rajesh Date: 2000 Sep 1, 2:39pm How many mints produced fanams for Tippu Sultan, I know of 4? ......... I know of 5 mints for Tipu Fanams : Patan, Nagar, Kozhikode (Kalikut), Farrukhi & Khaliqabad. Perhaps there are more ? Fanam, the lowest denomination of Tipu's gold coins, was called Rahuti by Tipu. It is 1/10th of a Pagoda or about 1/40th of a mohur. But neither the word Fanam or Rahuti is seen on the coin. The Khaliqabad Fanams are now found mostly in Madurai district. The best places to see the Tipu gold are the Bangalore Museum (43 gold coins) and the Madras Museaum (21 gold coins). The Bangalore museum still sells the 1914 book by Rev.Geo P Taylor "Coins of Tipu Sultan" ! The other book I look up is by J.R.Henderson Southern Indian Coins of Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan 1763 to 1799. Originally printed in 1921. The has a nice online gallery of gold coins :"
From: Kavan Ratnatunga Date: 2000 Dec 19, 6:34pm Subj: Hoysalas gold fanam ? Recently I obtained from VanArsdale a Fanam which looks like the Hoysalas gold Fanam and wrote up a webpage for it at URL Elliot calls the side with 3 rows of 4 dots which is convex in this coin the obverse, different from both Mitchiner and Codrington who call it the reverse. Which is the Obverse on this coin ?