MDM bring the Bhutanese legend of the Four Harmonious Friends to life on a new coin duo

Enigmatic and mysterious, the Kingdom of Bhutan is one of those countries known to few and known about by even fewer. A strict tourist policy and a land-locked geography haven’t helped, but this naturally beautiful nation has opened up in recent years. Situated in the Eastern Himalayas, it’s bordered by Tibet and India, and has a population of well under a million, despite covering almost 15,000² miles. The landscapes vary from rich subtropical plains and forests in the south, to exactly what you would expect when you see the word ‘Himalayas’ – mountains in the 7,000m range.

Not only is it a beautiful and ecologically diverse country, it also takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously. Bhutan is viewed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as ‘a model for proactive conservation initiatives’. At least 60% of the land area is forested to some degree and 40% of it is designated as protected (national parks, reserves, etc.) – both fixed in law. It’s a remarkably stable and corruption-free country in the region, and one that has a limited representation in modern numismatics.

The Singapore Mint released a multi-year series called World Buddha Heritage, and also an annual lunar coin for the country, but MDM Wholesale have now joined in with a pair of different designs featuring the tale of The Four Harmonious Friends. Part of Buddhist culture, the tale is showcased in colour on a 4oz silver rectangular coin, and on a minigold. The coloured coin has a coloured image, done in a regional style, of the four central characters in the story. There’s quite a lot of the coin left to inscription, but it’s a neat look at a culture rarely visited outside of the regions own coins. With just 250 being struck, the well packaged coin makes a pleasant departure from the usual.

Also out is a minigold (0.5 gram) coin. A format that is pretty affordable for this metal, it has boomed in popularity in recent years. Modern minting techniques have meant that fine detail has become easier to accomplish on these tiny (11 mm) canvases, and this one is a great case in point. A charming design manages to encapsulate the tale perfectly, and while the rim is a little wider than we’d like, the design is a complete success in our view. The obverse manages to include the pretty nine-segmented circle emblem of the Kingdom in its entirety. One of our favourite minigold issues of the year so far, and a fine look at the culture of this impressive country.


Part of a huge body of Indian Buddhist literature called the Kakata Tales, The Four Harmonious Friends is a tale offering societal wisdom on respect for seniority. The Four Harmonious Friends are usually, although not always, depicted as an elephant standing under a fruit tree carrying a monkey, a hare and a bird (usually in Bhutan a hornbill, although it differs elsewhere), all standing on top of each other.

“The scene refers to a legend which tells that four animals were trying to find out who was the oldest. The elephant said that the tree was already fully grown when he was young, the monkey that the tree was small when he was young, the hare that he saw the tree as a sapling when he was young and the bird claimed that he had excreted the seed from which the tree grew. So the bird was recognized by the other animals as the oldest, and the four animals lived together in co-dependence and cooperation, helping each other to enjoy the fruits of the tree. After the story is finished, it is revealed the partridge was the Buddha in a previous life.”

It is said to have originated as a tale told by Buddha after some of his students had failed to pay due respect to the senior disciple Śāriputra. The four animals represent the different habitats of the animal world—the sky, the trees, the ground, and underground.

DENOMINATION 100 Ngultrum (Bhutan) 1 Sertum (Bhutan)
COMPOSITION 0.999 silver 0.9999 gold
WEIGHT 124.4 grams 0.5 grams
DIMENSIONS 91.0 x 49.5 mm 11.0 mm
FINISH Prooflike Proof
MINTAGE 250 1,099
BOX / COA Yes / Yes No / Yes