The Indian subcontinent saw a rush of European powers who sent semi-trading agencies which doubled up as military cum naval representatives of their homeland in Asia at the end of the sixteenth century. However, the process began at the beginning of the sixteenth century with the establishment of the Portuguese in Goa in 1510 followed by Diu, Daman and Bassein in Western India. The Portuguese were zealous about their religion and initiated a local base currency with Christian motifs, Roman legends dated in the Christian era in contravention to the existing coinage with Islamic era dating and Persio-Arabic legends.
Thus, the Portuguese were the first colonial power to issue their own coinage on the Indian sub-continent interestingly before the Mughals became supreme rulers of North India.
The other powers arrived later with the English arriving in 1608 and opening its first factory at Masulipatnam in South India in 1611 and Surat on the Western Coast in 1612.
The other colonial powers competing with the English viz. the Dutch, the French also established their outposts in South India with the Dutch concentrating on the Malabar coast around Cochin and the French in Pondicherry, Mahe and Yanam.
Another smaller colonial power was the Danish who established a small colony cum fort called Dansborg at Tharangambadi called Tranquebar with the support of the local chieftain and survived till 1845 despite almost zero support from its homeland and hostility of the other European powers.
All these European powers were forced to issue baser currencies to support their soldiery in their exchange with the local populace and hence their initial coinage tended to be hand-struck coins in lead, copper, tin and pewter with European symbols from their national heraldry and few inscriptions.
The European powers issued higher denominations in the first half of the eighteenth century when the Mughal Empire went into decline testing their currencies and its acceptance against other indigenous currencies. In many instances like the English East India Company with its three Presidencies of Bengal, Bombay and Madras, they were forced to strike copies of prevalent local currencies with some variations like the Star Pagoda at Madras, the Bombay 'Mughal' Rupee in the name of the Mughal Emperors with Zarb Mumbai 'Struck at Mumbai' inscribed on the reverse to denote its origin or the Sicca Rupee at Murshidabad in the name of Shah Alam II.
The EIC was the only colonial power whose currency went from strength to strength mimicking the tri-metallic currency of the Mughals with the other powers sticking to baser currencies and barely graduating to silver as in the case of the French with their silver fanons and the Portuguese which even survived into the twentieth century adopting machinized coinage for its protectorates.
The acceptance of the colonial currency remains suspect with various sources claiming too high or too poor acceptance; however the small number of surviving specimens of certain currencies and the higher number of others in both private and museum collections tell the facts that the acceptance was majorly dependant on two factors; the market perception of both the power and the metallic purity of the currency decided by local moneychangers called the Shroffs.
The East India Company's currency was the only currency which merged into a centralized Uniform Currency in 1835 which sought to replace all major Indian currencies including the Mughal currency which was the dominant form of currency of the Indian sub-continent. The East India Company implemented this major change in 1835 issuing gold mohurs, rupees and lower denominations in the name of William the Fourth with his portrait and continuing it in 1840 with the ascension of Victoria on the English throne in 1840. This change may have been one of the trigger factors for the rebellion of the Indian feudal class which was tied to the interests of the Mughal Emperors in the subcontinent.
The French colony of Pondicherry also survived and switched to Banknotes as well though issued at Macau by the Banque de l'Indochine (Bank of Indo-China) with the denomination Roupie adopted in 1871.
In case of the East India Company, its currency was replaced by the British India currency which was issued in the name of Queen Victoria for the first time in 1862 and later the title Empress of India in 1877.
Thus, the colonial currencies form a very important resource of knowledge of Indian History pointing to the presence of various European powers on the Indian mainland as challenge to Indian powers right from their initial stage. The colonial coinage demolishes the oft-repeated and fallacious assumption that the European powers had entered India with the intention of mere trade since the issuing of coinage is almost certainly assumption of sovereignty in all cultures including Asian cultures.
The colonial currency however is also a pointer to the failure of Indian powers to gauge the threat to their territories from the earliest stage; they also point to the tolerance of Indian traders who saw the currency as a mere tool of trade exchanges with these powers.
|Portuguese Lead early issue from Goa mint dated 1777|
|Indo-Danish 20 Kas issued in 1831 at Tranquebar|
|Issue by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) with Tamil Inscriptions|
|Indo-French Copper Doudou issued at Pondicherry with Tamil Inscriptions|
|Mechanized East India Company Copper Pice for Bombay Presidency issued at Soho Mint, Birmingham 1796|
|The Balemark of the EIC on reverse with 'cartwheel' design a patented design of Soho Mint used in many English coins|
|EIC Uniform Currency Silver Rupee with portrait of William IV and EIC's name first issued in 1835|
|Indo-French Roupie issued by Bank of Indo-China|
Image Courtesy: National Museum, New Delhi and Wikipedia