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History of Indian Coins and Coinage

Sanjit Kumar Bhagat 
on 03 January 2017

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Indian coins from Ancient India to present

The word "rupee" originates from the Sanskrit word “raupya” meaning "silver" or "made of silver". Many Indian languages like Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Tulu, Malayalam, Gujarati, and Hindi etc. use this root word “raupya”. However, in West Bengal, Tripura, Mizoram, Orissa, and Assam, the Indian rupee is officially known by name “Tanka” a word of Sanskrit which means money.

The history of the Indian rupee traces back to Ancient India in circa 6th century BCE, ancient India was one of the earliest issuers of coins in the world, along with the Chinese wen and Lydian staters. The first "rupee" in form of silver coin had been introduced by Afghan king Sher Shah Suri. At that time, 40 copper pieces were equal to one rupee. Originally “rupaya” was made up of silver having a weight of about 11.34 grams. Even during the British rule, the silver rupee continued. Throughout its history, coins and the monetary system has seen ups and downs. Due to such an early introduction of the coin, the monetary units have seen a fantastic history and gone through many changes under different rulers in pre-Independence era as well as in free India. These changing periods of coins is technically called as "Coinage".

Ancient India Coinage:

  • The earliest coins were known as ‘punch-marked’ coins. These coins are called 'punch-marked' coins because of their manufacturing technique.
  • Mostly made of silver, these bear symbols, each of which was punched on the coin with a separate punch.
  • The motifs found on these coins were mostly drawn from nature like the sun, various animal motifs, trees, hills etc. and some were geometrical symbols.
  • The silver coin remained in use during the Mughal period, Maratha era as well as in British India.
  • The Saka coinage of the Western Kshatrapas are perhaps the earliest dated coins, the dates being given in the Saka era which commences in AD 78.
  • The Satavahanas also referred to as the Andhras’s coins were predominantly of copper and lead, however, silver issues are also known. These coins carried the motifs of fauna like elephants, lions, bulls, horses, etc. often juxtaposed against motifs from nature like hills, tree, etc.

Medieval India Coinage:

  • The Arabs conquered Sindh in 712 AD and ruled it as a province of the Caliphate. By the 9th Century AD, provincial governors established independent rule and struck their own coins.
  • However, it was with the emergence of Turkish Sultans of Delhi in the 12th Century that a decisive break was made with the past and the existing motifs were gradually replaced by Islamic devices, largely calligraphy.
  • The unit of account came to be consolidated and was referred to as the 'tanka' with the 'jittals' as the smaller value coins. This period was marked by a considerable expansion of the money economy.
  • Coins were struck in gold, silver and copper. In this period coins kept on changing in terms of design according to personal interest of many rulers like Khilji, Muhammed bin Tughlaq, Ibrahim Lodhi, etc.

Mughal Coinage:

  • Mughal Coinage reflected originality and innovative skills. Mughal coin designs came to maturity during the reign of the Grand Mughal, Akbar.
  • Innovations like ornamentation of the background of the die with floral scrollwork were introduced. The system of tri-metalism which came to characterize Mughal coinage was largely the creation, not of the Mughals but of Sher Shah Suri.
  • Together with the silver Rupiya were issued gold coins called the Mohur weighing 169 grains and copper coins called Dam.
  • Aurangzeb, the last of the Grand Mughals did away with the Kalima, the Islamic Article of Faith from his coins, and the format of coins was standardised to incorporate the name of the ruler, the mint and the date of issue.
  • The Mughal period in India ended in 1857 AD when the British deposed and exiled Bahadur Shah Zafar.

British India Coinage:

  • Early British settlements had three broad grouping in India: those in Bombay & Surat (Western India), those in Madras (South India) and those in Calcutta (Eastern Province of Bengal). On the basis of settlement three broad strands were developed by Early British Coins in consonance with local acceptability.
  • These settlements are called as Presidency.
  • The Coins were developed in Bengal along with Mughal pattern.
  • The Coins were struck in Madras along with South India lines and Mughal design as well.
  • The Coins were developed in Western India along with Mughal design and British pattern as well.
  • By the early 1830, the English had become the dominant power in India. After having dominant power the Coinage Act of 1835 was enacted for uniform coinage to be issued.
  • Up to 1835, each of the three presidencies of the British East India Company (Bengal, Bombay and Madras) issued their own coinage.
  • In 1835, a single coinage for the EIC was introduced. It consisted of copper 1⁄12, 1⁄4 and 1⁄2 anna, silver 1⁄4, 1⁄3 and 1 rupee and gold 1 and 2 mohurs.
  • In 1841, silver 2 annas were added, followed by copper 1⁄2 pice in 1853. The coinage of the EIC continued to be issued until 1862.
  • In 1862, new coins were introduced which were known as regal issues. These bore an image of Queen Victoria and the name ‘India’.
  • The silver rupee continued as the currency of India through the British Raj and beyond.
  • The Indian Coinage Act, 1906 was passed which governed the establishment of Mints as well as the coins that would be issued and the standards that would be maintained (Rupee 180 grains, Silver 916.66 standard; Half Rupee 90 grains, Quarter Rupee 45 grains).

Republic Indian Coinage:

  • India became independent on 15 August 1947 but the old British India coins were still in use as a frozen currency till 1950 when India became Republic.
  • The lowest-denomination Indian coins, the half-pice (128 to a rupee) and the pie (192 to a rupee) officially became obsolete in 1947.
  • After independence in 1947, the Indian rupee replaced all the currencies of the previously autonomous states.
  • India's first coins after independence were issued in 1950 in 1 pice, 1⁄2, one and two annas, 1⁄4, 1⁄2 and one-rupee denominations. The sizes and composition were the same as the final regal issues, except for the one-pice (which was bronze, but not holed). The British King's portrait was replaced by the Lion Capital of the Ashoka Pillar. A corn sheaf replaced the Tiger on the one Rupee coin. The Anna Series introduced on 15th August, 1950.
  • Before shifting to decimal system in 1957, India had coins in denomination of1/2 Re, 1/4 Re, 2 Anna, 1 Anna, 1/2 Anna & 1 Pice coins which are also referred as Anna series or pre-decimal coinage. 16 annas used to make one rupee. The anna was further divided into 4 paisas or 12 pies. Nowadays, the rupee is divided into paisa and 1 rupee is equal to 100 paisa.
  • For a short period both decimal and non-decimal coins were in circulation.
  • To distinguish between the two pice, the coins minted between 1957 and 1964 have the legend "Naya Paisa" ("new" paisa). The denominations in circulation were 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 20, 25, 50 (naya) paise and one rupee which remained as the same pre-decimal value.
  • Coins after Independence were made of cupro-nickel. It was followed aluminium one-, two-, three-, five- and ten-paise coins between 1964 and 1967 were introduced.
  • The first Indian commemorative coin was issued in 1964 to mourn the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first P.M of India. Since then, numerous coins of these type on almost all denomination from 5 paise to 10 rupees have been issued.
  • In 1968 nickel-brass 20-paise coins were introduced, and replaced by aluminium coins in 1982.
  • Between 1972 and 1975, cupro-nickel replaced nickel in the 25- and 50-paise and the 1-rupee coins.
  • In 1982, cupro-nickel two-rupee coins were introduced as an experiment to replace 2 rupee notes. The 2 rupee coin was not minted again till 1990, after which it was minted every year.
  • stainless steel 10-, 25- and 50-paise coins were introduced in 1988, followed by 1- and 5-rupee coins in 1992.
  • In 1997 the Indian government issued a 50 rupee coin with 50% silver content and 50 paise coin of steel. Only the 50 paise coins were introduced into circulation.
  • Between 2005 and 2008 new, lighter fifty-paise, one-, two- and five-rupee coins were introduced, made from ferritic stainless steel. The move was prompted by the melting-down of older coins, whose face value was less than their scrap value.
  • Coins with the "hand picture" were minted from 2005 onwards.
  • In 2005, the higher denomination coins of Rupees 10 were introduced due to increasing demand for change and increasing cost of printing 2, 5 and 10 rupees banknotes.
  • India's much awaited first ever bimetallic 10 rupee coin was released in 2005 under the theme "Unity in Diversity". But, due to its controversial design resembling a cross, it was criticised and was not minted in large numbers. Coin dealers and the public who got this coin hoarded it and it never came into circulation. It is available for sale on some auction websites.
  • The demonetisation of the 25-(chavanni)paise coin and all paise coins below it took place.
  • The Indian rupee symbol was adopted in 2010, that was created by D. Udaya Kumar. To create the symbol the Latin letter “R” and Devanagari letter Ra “र” is used and given two parallel lines representing the Indian National Flag.
  • In year 2010 and 2011 for the first time ever 75, 150 and 1000 coins were minted in India to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee of the Reserve Bank of India, the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindra Nath Tagore and 1000 years of the Brihadeeswarar Temple, respectively.
  • In 2012 a 60 coin was also issued to commemorate 60 years of the Government of India Mint, Kolkata. 100 coin was also released commemorating the 100th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi's return to India.

Some Additional knowledge:

  • The Indian rupee (symbol: ""; ISO code: INR) (Unicode U+20B9) is the official currency of the Republic of India.
  • The Government of India has the only right to mint the coins.
  • The designing and minting of coins in various denominations is also the responsibility of the Government of India.
  • The responsibility for coinage comes under the Coinage Act, 1906 which is amended from time to time.
  • Coins are minted at the five India Government Mints at Mumbai, Alipore (Kolkata), Saifabad (Hyderabad), Cherlapally (Hyderabad) and NOIDA (UP).
  • The coins are issued for circulation only through the Reserve Bank in terms of the RBI Act.
  • Coins are received from the Mints and issued into circulation through its Regional Issue offices/sub-offices of the Reserve Bank and a wide network of currency chests and coin depots.
  • The RBI Issue Offices/sub-offices are located at Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Belapur (Navi Mumbai), Bhopal, Bhubaneshwar, Chandigarh, Chennai, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Jammu, Jaipur, Kanpur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Nagpur, New Delhi, Patna and Thiruvananthapuram.
  • These offices send coin remittances to currency chests and coin depots and also issued directly to public.
  • There are 4422 currency chest branches and 3784 small coin depots spread throughout the country.
  • Coin Dispensing Machines have been installed at select Regional Offices of the Reserve Bank on pilot basis.
  • Dedicated Single-window counters have been opened in several of the Reserve Bank's offices for issuing coins of different denominations packed in pouches.
  • Mobile counters are being organised by the Reserve Bank in commercial and other important areas of the town where soiled notes can be exchanged for coins
  • Recently RBI launched a website Paisa-Bolta-Hai to raise awareness of counterfeit currency among users of the INR.
  • RBI request to members of public to avoid holding on to coins and instead, use them freely for transactions to ensure that there is a smooth circulation of coins.
  • India has experienced Tri-metallism, Bi-metallism, the Silver Standard, the Gold Exchange Standard as well as fiat money.
  • The rupee was the currency of several other countries like Aden, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the Trucial States, Kenya, Uganda, the Seychelles and Mauritius in the early 20th Century.
  • Because of shortage, the RBI has been forced to mint coins in foreign countries in the past.
  • At one time, 5 rupee coins were smuggled to Bangladesh for making razors.

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