Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Story of Indian Money - Part XX British India Coinage

The English East India Company (EIC) was established on the last day of the year 1600 A.D. and was just one of the European companies to flock to India to benefit from the spice trade. The EIC soon set up bases in three corners of the Indian sub-continent with one in Eastern India centered on Bengal with headquarters at the new found city of Calcutta, another located in Western India initially centered upon Surat and later Bombay and the last one based in South India centered at Madras. These centres eventually were named Presidencies viz. Bengal Presidency, Bombay Presidency and Madras Presidency after the EIC won a series of wars against European competitors including the Portuguese, the Dutch and lastly the French in the last part of eighteenth century.
After emerging supreme over its European rivals, the EIC began encircling its Indian rivals in a long drawn process stretching from 1755 till 1856 when the Indians put up a combined armed resistance with a coalition of various rival powers. 
The First War of Independence or the Mutiny as it is named failed to dislodge the British army which was far superior in terms of technology, regimental discipline and resources and the movement collapsed in the summer of 1858. However, it did manage to highlight the disaffection of the Indian masses to the British Parliament which resolved to dissolve the EIC with immediate effect in August 1858 and transfer the ruling powers to the British Crown under the Government of India Act 1858.
The British Crown created a new department the India Office in London headed by the Secretary of State to handle the India affairs and the Governor-General was renamed the Viceroy of India.

Importantly the Uniform Coinage introduced by the EIC in 1834 and 1840 was continued with the fixed date of '1862' on the coinage continued for a period of a decade or longer to break the nexus of moneychangers who charged a commission called 'Batta' to exchange older coins at lower value than coins of the current year. 
The coins were minted at the modern machinized mints of Bombay and Calcutta which issued machine-struck coins of uniform weight, fineness and metallic content. The Imperial coinage had the crowned bust of Queen Victoria with a Roman legend on the obverse and the name of the denomination with the name 'INDIA 1862' on the reverse.
 This series had issues in gold, silver and copper replicating the Mughal tri-metallic idiom to a 'T' and was made current throughout the Indian Empire for the entire decade while the two mints recalled old coins for recycling into the imperial currency in a manner akin to the Mughal imperial mints. 
 The gold mohur valued at fifteen silver rupees was issued with the dates of 1862, 1870 and 1875 with fractions valued at ten and five silver rupees also being issued between 1870 and 1879. 
The silver rupee was also issued in a fashion similar to the mohur with the image of the Queen and the fixed date 1862 but with a unique system of dots which was used from 1863 till 1875. These dots occur on the reverse below the date, above the word 'ONE', or in both positions. From 1874, this practice was halted and coins began to be dated continuously. 
The silver rupee had its lower denominations viz. the half rupee, the quarter rupee and 2 Annas.

The copper denominations were issued for the lower denominations with the Half Anna, the Quarter Anna, the Half Pice and the one-twelveth Anna with the Rupee having 12 Annas or 64 pice or 192 pies. The Copper denominations did not have the dotting system in place probably as the Batta was not applied to copper denominations.

Importantly in 1877, Queen Victoria assumed the title 'Empress of India' which was used on the coins from this date for all British sovereigns till 1947 to indicate their imperial status over the sub-continent. The coinage was then issued every year till 1901 when Victoria died and her son, Edward VII ascended the British throne and assumed the title 'King-Emperor' for his reign.
Coins in the name of Edward VII have the king's right profile with the legend 'EDWARD VII KING& EMPEROR' on the obverse and the reverse has a crown on the top with English and Persian legends denoting the denomination flanked by flower stem designs, was followed on his silver coinage whereas the copper coins retained the old pattern of the Indian Victorian era.

The important economic change in relation to British India at the end of the nineteenth century was the shift of Indian currency to the gold exchange standard which led to easy conversion of Indian currency with British standards which only furthered the drain of Indian money abroad. The Indian Rupee was fixed at  one shilling and four pence (1s 4d) Sterling. 

The Coinage of Edward VII adoption of Persian legends was the only unique feature adopted during his reign of less than a decade ending in 1910 with his death as he had ascended the throne at a ripe old age of 60 years (it was ripe old age in the early modern period when modern medicine was yet to make a mark) and had little time for his Indian territories which saw the rise of political movements calling for the end of colonial rule.

His successor, George V on the other hand travelled to India in December 1911 and held a 'Delhi Darbar where he and his royal consort, Queen Mary were presented to an assembly of Indian princes and dignitaries as 'Kaisar-i-Hind'. It was incidentally the 1911 issues of George V which created a major issue which had a portrait of the King-Emperor with an elephant pendant (encircled) which was believed to be a 'pig' and this led to a major row with the Muslim populace taking exception to the portrayal of a taboo animal on the coinage of the Empire. The coins were removed from circulation and most issues melted which has led to their rare status in comparison with other issues of George V.

The reign of George V saw the First World War with its own consequences for the Indian economy. It also saw the introduction of Government of India banknotes towards the end of the Great War with the issue of One Rupee Banknote in 1917 and a Two-and-half Rupee Banknote in 1918. The process of introduction of official coinage and banknotes was shifted from the Government of India to a new authority towards the fag end of George V's reign with the establishment of the Reserve Bank of India on 1 April 1935 just few months before George V's death on 20 January 1936. 
His immediate successor, Edward VIII did not rule long enough to merit a coinage though some Indian Princely States like Kutch enthusiastically issued coinage in his name. Edward's abdication led to the installation of his younger brother on the British throne as George VI. The new king began his reign on 11 December 1936 with the Second World War looming over the horizon which became apparent when the War was declared in 1939. The main impact of the War was seen on British Indian coinage as the silver rupees were melted to match the demand of the war-time economy. Thus, the 1940 Rupee had 50 percent silver and a security edge was introduced to prevent its forgery by the Axis Powers.
The use of half silver continued till 1944 and was totally suspended in 1945 when the use of nickel in place of silver began. George VI's final issue was in 1947 when a Nickel Rupee with the obverse image of the King-Emperor and his titles while the reverse had the image of a lion marching to the left in defiance of the British losses in the War. This issue was continued in circulation of the newly independent states of India and Pakistan which were formed by the partition of the British India till the evolution of the Republic of India's coinage under the new Constitution and President in 1950.

British India Gold Mohur 1962 Image courtesy

British India Queen Victoria Ten Rupee Gold coin Image courtesy
British India Quarter Rupee 1862 Image courtesy:
Edward VII Silver Rupee 1907 Image courtesy

George V 1911 'Pig' Rupee

'Two-and-Half' Rupee Banknote issued in 1918 Image courtesy
George VI Silver Rupee of 1939 Image Courtesy Heritage Auctions

George VI Nickel Rupee of 1947 Image Courtesy: National Museum