About thirty-five years ago, a young child of 15 chanced upon an old Omani currency. Something within him was awaken — a passion and an interest that would eventually lead to a lifetime of pursuit for collecting not only currencies but other important memorabilia and trinkets.
Jamal al Balushi is no longer that same child he was years ago but his heart do still skips a bit when he see an interesting old coin. He now has a few lines on his face, a reminder of the years that have gone by. He also have more life experiences made colourful by his pursuit for some of the most unique currencies from different parts of the world.
Today, when you pay the Friday Market in Wadi Kabir a quick visit, Jamal would definitely catch your attention. It’s not for his height or thunderous voice but because of the crowd that surrounds him.
In his small stall, he has a treasure trove of collection. His hundreds of currency notes and coins of different denominations coming from several countries sit beside postal stamps, commemorative pieces, ancient ornaments and war memoirs. He also has some exclusive pieces — metals and stones which are said to have come from underneath the ocean. He shared he has remains of volcanoes and several pieces that tells the story of the Sultanate.
It was a museum-of-sort where the oldest phone in the country, the national emblems, gramophones, cards of world leaders and other things offer a glimpse into a forgotten past.
It is understandable why he would gather a large number of curious people — it was a show and it’s definitely something worth one’s attention.
“I must admit that I’m a Numismatist by chance,” Jamal shared.
A numismatist, simply defined, is someone who studies or collects coins. This study can extend not only in the context of local currencies but to other forms, from paper currency to bartered goods even jewelleries.
“It all began when I was 14 or 15 years old. I got an old currency of the country by accident. I stared at the note for quite some time and I felt, I still remember, it was speaking to me and I felt the images on the currency were moving. I didn’t know that I was falling in love with that currency”, Jamal, who works as security officer at Oman’s Ministry of Health, said.
“I must admit that it was my friends and relatives who expanded that little spark in me to a big fire. It took me to many countries and whichever country I am visiting, the first thing I always ask my guide is where I can find old currencies and other interesting things about that country,” he said.
Jamal visited almost all the flea markets of Asia and beyond over the last three decades in search of fine collectors’ pieces. His neverending search never disappoints him.
Besides all the oldest currencies of Oman and GCC countries and the region, he has some of the rarest currencies like Indian currencies which existed in the Gulf Region between 1959 to 1966, those in Dubai and Qatar between 1966 to 1971, Cuba’s three pesos, currencies with Oman’s old names on them, bank notes issued by Oman Monetary Council, and numerous other priceless, timeless objects of curiosity.
Jamal runs a WhatsApp group of like-minded people from Oman and elsewhere and they gather once in a while to discuss and share knowledge and expertise among themselves while analysing the latest trends in their hobbies.
What makes Jamal different from his peers is that his collection didn’t stop with currencies. He is a proud collector and owner of some precious and semi-precious stones which came from different parts of the world. These stones include amethyst, charoite, ametrine, chrysanthemum flower stone, azurite, beads, beryl, amber, and bloodstone.
“This stone that is in the shape of a rose petal was found in Dimaniyat Island while this black with silver glittering is from Brazil’s mines. They are in great demand in the market and a collector would pay dream price to own them,” Jamal proudly showed us the pieces.
Jamal has good knowledge of all the currency and other pieces in his collection. A piece will often awaken in him the journey he has to take to get it. A quick question and he will launch into a litany of informative narration of what one is looking at.
A permanent fixture in the Friday market, Jamal has a steady stream of fan following him wherever he visited. His passion for different old currencies has taken him to different countries and although he has been to several, he is no way stopping now talking briefly that he has plans to fly to another country soon to acquire some unique pieces.