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Minted treasures of Oman

Not many would know that about a thousand years ago, Larin, a hairpin-shaped silver currency from Iran, was used as a common currency for international trade between Iran, Turkey, Arabia, India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

One comes across many such interesting facts on the history of sultanate’s currency in the Central Bank of Oman (CBO) museum located in the bank's premises.

The 14 year old museum is a treasure trove in the true sense of the word, giving visitors an insight into the nation's trysts with various currencies before the rial came into circulation.

It has over 672 different currencies, including 564 metal coins of different shapes, sizes, colour and weight and 108 banknotes, each telling a story from the pages of history.

If some coins have inscriptions from the Holy Q'uran and the Hijri calendar, some have ports, forts, animals, sports, the ruler's image, Oman's springs, ancient wells, underground channels, souqs, houses, mosques and the education system on them.

All these were produced in mints using fire, hammers, tongs and a couple of men. Using these primeval tools, the men would produce around 400 coins a day, according to the museum's curator.

A visitor can also see Chinese coins and Indian rupees adorning the walls of the museum. The grey, pink and purple coloured notes are the Gulf rupee issued by the Government of India in 1959 for use in Oman and other Gulf countries.

The museum curator informs that a ten Gulf rupee note which looked similar to the one used in India “had higher exchange value during trade.”

The most important and rare exhibit is the silver dirham, struck in Oman in 81AH during the rule of Caliph Abd al Malik bin Marwan of the Umayyad dynasty.

It is the oldest coin minted in the Arabian peninsula and has the name Uman on it, which means it was minted in the sultanate, the curator says. There are only two such coins in the world.

The museum also houses all the commemorative coins issued till date on National Days, including the most expensive one – made of gold, weighing 1,300gm and worth RO22,000. There are only two such coins in existence.

Another commemorative gold coin depicts details of the Albu Said dynasty starting from 1744. Details of 14 generations of this dynasty and the period of its rule are inscribed on the coin that weighs around 598gm. Months of the 1997 calendar year have also been engraved on another such commemorative gold coin.

One also gets to know a lot about Saidi rial, the first united currency that came into circulation in the sultanate in May 1970 and how it came to be widely accepted.

The Saidi rial played an important role in making Oman a modern society after His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said took over as ruler. He ordered that all coins minted after 1971 should carry the name, 'Sultanate of Oman', embodying national unity.

The museum also exhibits gold, silver and bronze coins that have been issued on special occasions during the rule of His Majesty the Sultan.

They highlight various facets of the Omani culture and important national and international events. An information board in each hall of the museum helps visitors know details about different currencies with just the touch of a button.

The CBO is thinking of renovating the museum by the end of 2013 and there are plans to introduce more coins and interactive touch-screen information boards in line with famous museums across the world. Another coin will be added to the museum’s immense collection after the 42nd National Day this year.

muscatdaily columnists