Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Swastikas for prosperity

Last year's Holabird Americana’s Big Bonanza Auction included a share in the Swastika Mining and Development Company. The item sold for $80. Scripophily magazine no.121 said: “The swastika was said to be a good luck symbol in western Native American culture and it appears on a few certificates”. That’s only a part of the truth.

Fig. 1 The Swastika Mining and Development Company owned claimes at Lakeview, Idaho, and a lime quarry at Lake Pend Oreille. This share was issued in 1910, and shows two swastikas in the masthead and one in the embossed seal. 

We usually recognize the Swastika symbol as the symbol of Nazis, which we can also find on Nazi era bonds. However it is a much older symbol. In North America, the Tlinglit and the Hopi applied the symbol to decorate objects like baskets up to the 20th century. The Ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Celts, Germanic and Baltic tribes, as well as the Vikings knew about the swastika. The swastika is one of the most common symbols on Mesopotamian coins.

Fig. 2 Detail of the tomb of Bishop William Edington (d. 1366) in Winchester Cathedral. Note the swastika on the vestments of the effigy of Bishop William Edington. Atrribution: Ealdgyth, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons 

The word swastika comes from Sanskrit, the lingua franca in ancient South Asia and generally means ‘beneficial for well-being and prosperity’. The Sanskrit philologist Pāṇini from Ancient India wrote down the word approximately around 500 BC, but the symbol predates even the pyramids of Egypt.

Fig.3 Details of swastikas on Indian shares. Top row, left to right: Kesoram Cotton Mills, Gourepore Co, Scindia Steam Navigation, Bottom row, left to right: Indore Malwa United Mills, Jodhpur Commercial Bank 

The swastika icon has a spiritual significance in Indian religions. Swastikas can be seen on many buildings, statues and in homes in Asia and especially in India. It is an auspicious symbol for Hindus and can be used when starting anything new. The swastika often decorates the opening pages of personal and ledger account books. What follows are some examples in Indian scripophily. I grouped the details in figure 3.

Fig.4 The Indore Malwa United Mills Ltd, Rs100 share, 1949 

Sir Sarupchand Hukumchand was an important opium trader and a pioneer in the cotton Industry of central India. He founded the Indore Malwa United Mills in 1909 at Indore. In the 1950s the company employed about 3,000 textile workers that worked more than 1,400 looms. The underprint of its share shows the Goddess Lakshmi giving lots of coins. A minuscule swastika was incorporated in the border design right below the hoard (Fig. 3 and 4).

Fig.5 The Scindia Steam Navigation Co Ltd, 1 share of Rs15, 1948 

The Scindia Steam Navigation Company was founded in 1919 by Walchand Hirachand, Narottam Morarjee, Kilachand Devchand and Lallubhai Samaldas. Back then the sea routes in the British Empire were controlled by British companies. The company's flag ship SS Loyalty was the first Indian owned ship to sail to the United Kingdom. The vignette on the share, Fig. 5, depicts the SS Loyalty. The ship was purchased from Maharaja Madho Rao Scindia of Gwalior. Note the tax duty stamp with swastika.

Fig. 6 The Gourepore Co, Ltd, ordinary shares of Rs100, 1929 

What appears to be a rather plain certificate, the share of the Gourepore Company comes with a surprise feature to the meticulous researcher. This jute mill was registered in 1893. Its factory at Naihati, now part of the Kolkata Metropolitan area, had its own train carrying coal to its power house. The underprint of the certificate, Fig. 6 and 3, consists of a pattern of 2.5 mm² sized swastikas covering most of the surface.

Fig.7 Kesoram Cotton Mills Ld, 100 ordinary shares of Rs10, 1955 

Registered in 1919, the Kesoram Cotton Mills from Calcutta was managed by the Birla brothers. On 16 August 1946, Direct Action Day was announced by the All-India Muslim League leading to large-scale lethal violence between Muslims and Hindus in Calcutta. More than 300 labourers of the Kesoram Cotton Mills were killed. The company’s share certificate from 1955 shows an embossed company seal with swastika (Fig. 7 & 3). The business evolved into today’s industrial group Kesoram Industries Ltd.

Fig.8 Jodhpur Commercial Bank Ltd, ordinary shares of Rs10 paid Rs5, 1946 

The Jodhpur Commercial Bank was established in 1944 in Jodhpur but soon opened branches in Kuchaman, Merta City and Pali, all three in Rajasthan, but also in Nagpur and Bombay. Jodhpur’s impressive Mehrangarth Fort is illustrated on the company’s share certificate, figure 8. Note the swastika in the 100 shares denomination. 

As a symbol of good luck the swastika had a major revival in Europe and North America in the 19th and early 20th century (that lasted till World War II). Scout groups used the icon on badges, even the US Army’s 45th infantry division used it as a sleeve insignia. Carlsberg has put it on its beer labels. Metal watch fobs in the form of a swastika with Coca-Cola logo are now selling at auctions for hundreds of dollars.

Fig.9 The Ericsson Shipping Co, Ltd, shares of £1, 1915, image courtesy aktien.gutowski.de 

I end this article with a share from the Ericsson Shipping Company. This company from Newcastle-on-Tyne experimented with ships built with a corrugated steel hull. This design increased the longitudinal strength of a ship without any corresponding increase of weight. Its certificate shows a sectional view of a ship’s hull on the left. 

The Ericsson shipping flag consists of a swastika for good luck. However, its SS Monitoria was sunk on 21 Oct 1915 by a U-boat. Their SS Willingtonia, built in 1918, was hit by a torpedo the very same year. So much for good luck.


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