Minting a silvery tale

Cover design of the book for now. (Pic: Yeshey Dorji)

Yeshey Dorji, a numismatist in his own right, shares some insight into the journey of Bhutanese coins since 1765


Yeshey Dorji delightfully narrates the history of currency in Bhutan.

From sea shells to salt as payment in medieval Bhutan and to the present-day metallic coins, the journey of coinage in Bhutan is as fascinating as its face value.

15 years back, he shared that he was fascinated by the designs of Bhutanese coins after which his collection got much bigger while the history of coins intrigued him further.

Yeshey, 69, a veteran photographer has his image of the rare White-bellied Heron featured in the 2012 Guinness Book of World Records and he is even into writing and vlogging.

His book “Bhutan’s Coining Journey 1765 – 1955” will feature more than 100 coins that were coined and circulated in Bhutan, mostly when paper currencies were not in vogue then.

Some of the coins and the actual inside page of the book. (Pic: Yeshey Dorji)

Yeshey opines that originally the coins used in Bhutan were of foreign origin since Bhutan minted coins only after 1765 – before that Bhutan was using coins minted in other countries.

“My book will not feature coins beyond the milled coins of 1955 since the coins thereafter were inaccurately inscribed,” Yeshey said.

His fascination for coins has made him do extensive research and produce an idea of publishing a book on coins of Bhutan which he picked up a decade ago. He does not believe that there is yet a book that deals with the subject in a substantive way. He would like to fill that gap.

He reveals that Bhutan’s coins were first (originally) made of silver, but as silver became more expensive, production switched to bronze, nickel, and copper.

The veteran photographer believes that all of the coins in his book are significant, but he is particularly proud to have been able to include an image of what he believes is among Bhutan’s rarest coins.

In his opinion the “Ma” coin which is featured in the book was struck by the Ja Chila (Poenlop of India) Punsutama who was installed at the capital of the Kingdom of Cooch Behar, upon being conquered by Bhutan in 1765. Thus, he opines that Bhutan’s earliest coin was struck outside the country, and not in Bhutan.

Foreign alphabets on Bhutanese Coins. (Pic: Yeshey Dorji)

One coin which he calls the Neowli Ngueltang featuring the mammal Mongoose, is a coin he knows of its existence in a private collection in the UK – but he has not seen it yet. Its image will be included in the book.

He said that coins of the independent Kingdom of Cooch Bihar in India, served as the model for most of the coins struck by Bhutan, as late as later parts of the 1880s.

He discovered via his research that the Cooch Bihari alphabet and words continued to be inscribed on Bhutanese coins even until after the advent of monarchy in Bhutan.

The oldest coins of Cooch Behar, which dates back to 1555, were also discovered in Bhutan’s Chhukha Dzongkhag, proving that coins of Cooch Bihar were in use in Bhutan.

Bhutan melted down silver coins of other countries – to be used as raw material for their own coins.

Foreigners have named an old coin depicting Sernya (the Golden Mahseer) one as two fish coins, to which Yeshey says that it seems completely out of place and incorrect.

He mentioned Yuroong should have been the name of one of the old coins in Bhutan instead of Swastika, named by the foreigners.

He says that he finds inaccuracies in the writings of foreign writers and historians. Unfortunately even Bhutanese historians committed mistakes that could have been easily avoided if they cross-checked with available records.

The historical events of Bhutan were mostly written by foreign visitors who stayed in the country for a short duration, which did not give them sufficient time to verify facts for their accuracy.

“Consequently, names were wrongly or inaccurately spelt. They ended up giving their own names, in place of Bhutanese names that were already in existence,” Yeshey expressed his concerns.

In ancient Bhutan, coins from other neighboring countries were in use – from China (Dayang/Gormo), Nepal (Baltang), Tibet (Boetang), Assam, Cooch Bihar, French East India Company, British East India Company and Crown British India, according to the records, says Yeshey.

He has traveled to countries including the USA, United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, and India in pursuit of rare Bhutanese coins, and their historical records. He further adds that he has consulted known and respected numismatics and historians around the world – in an effort to present the subject in its entirety.

The book will have a tale and history behind every coin, their approximate date of coinage, images and the weight and dimensions of the coins.

The reasons for delay and taking a long time to publish his book is due to the fact that he wants to have the least mistakes and provide the most accurate information, when he finally releases his book.

His biggest challenge in pursuing his coin career has been the historical errors and inaccuracies that he has been attempting to correct, through cross-references with a variety of records available around the world.

He believes that he will be able to present a substantial number of coins that were hammered by Bhutan. He expresses surprise and incredulity at the huge variety of coins struck by a small country like Bhutan.

In the next year or so, he aspires to get his book released. He anticipates being in a position to offer a substantial number of coins that were hammered by Bhutan. He expresses surprise and incredulity at the wide range of coins struck by a small country like Bhutan.

He hopes that the final product that he brings into the market will be a work with as few errors and omissions as possible – given that records have to be gleaned from the distant past and doubtful sources.