By Utpal Borpujari
They are minted in pure (.999) Swiss silver layered with 24 carat gold at Faude & Huguenin, one of the finest minting companies in Switzerland at Leloce, a small town on the French border, and there are only 7,500 sets of them. Each one of them is 2.2mm thick, with diamond cut perforations, and is an exact replica of its paper original. And already 45 per cent of the lot have been sold despite the Rs 1.5 lakh price tag on each set. Yes, we are talking about the “Pride of India Collection”, the first-ever postage stamp ingots of the country, each set of which comprises metal replicas of 25 popular postage stamps that reflect the idea of India.
India clearly has been taken in by this extension of the hobby called philately, which involves converting popular stamps to silver ingots layered with 24 carat gold. Hallmark Group of the UK, which has brought out the set, has been bringing out such ingots since the last about 30 years, in countries in Europe, Africa and South-East Asia, apart from the USA. “It is an absolutely limited set, with only 7,500 of them minted, and the response has been quite unexpectedly positive despite it being a totally new experiment in India,” says Hallmark India Pvt Ltd’s managing director Ajay Sachdeva.
The pride of place in the collection is taken by a Rs 15 stamp issued to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the First War of Independence in 2007. The multicoloured stamp depicts a confrontation between freedom fighters and the East India Company’s infantry. This is followed by a mono-colour stamp in red, priced at two annas and issued to mark the inauguration of India as a republic on January 26, 1950. The other ingots are replicas of stamps depicting some iconic figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, J R D Tata, Mother Teresa and Dhirubhai Ambani, 150 years of India Post and Indian Railways, Indian art, the Taj Mahal, cricket, national animal tiger, India’s advance in space exploration, cinema and so on.
“The stamps for the set were selected by a panel of philatelic experts, historians, artists and national figures out of the collection at the National Philatelic Museum in Delhi. The selection was done representing some of the most important historic, artistic and cultural aspects of the nation,” says Sachdeva. The response to the set, he says, has been so good that Hallmark is already planning more such sets. “We are at the conceptualisation stage, and there could be many interesting themes that would attract philatelists both within and outside India,” he says.
The idea to develop such a set in India came after Hallmark achieved huge success with similar sets in the United States, on stamps brought out on US Presidents, Hollywood and 9/11. “With India emerging as a big market globally, our parent company decided to bring out a set on Indian stamps, and the result, after much deliberation, was this set. India Post was very receptive to the idea, just as postal departments all over the world have been,” says Sachdeva.
The response to the set has been good probably also because of the innovative marketing being done. Every month, one ingot is sent to the customer, who pay an installment of Rs 6,000 per month. The set comes equipped, says Sachdeva, with fact cards on each stamp, an album to keep the cards, hand gloves to handle the delicately sculpted ingots, a lacquered box to keep the ingots, a certificate of authenticity from the mint, and a coffee table book on India. “This makes it a well-rounded India experience, which is why we believe the response has been quite encouraging.”
As the original stamps are of varied sizes, and since the ingots have exactly the same length and breadth, their weight varies accordingly. However, the average weight of each ingot works out to 31.35 grams, or just over 1 Troy Ounce, which means the whole collection weighs 784 grams of pure silver layered with 24 karat gold.
“It seems that the sales rate has been on the higher side because it is a limited edition product, so much so that the mint’s capacity to produce has been exceeded by the demand,” says Sachdeva. The dyes for the ingots are engraved in the UK by master engravers, which are then sent to the mint in Switzerland. Once the minting process is completed, the original master dies are passed to the archives of the National Philatelic Museum. “All the master dies, along with the first set, will be put on permanent display at the Museum,” says Sachdeva. The metals used in the ingots are sourced in Switzerland from mints officially approved and inspected by the Swiss Assay Office, and each replica carries the mark of the manufacturer and the Swiss Assay. Quite clearly, a new chapter is being written as far as the history of philately in India is concerned, and all this, thanks to a apparently successful example of public private partnership.