Colonial India

Coinage of the British East India Company

In AD 1600, the East India Company was founded and set up trading settlements on the coast of India, known as 'factories', At first they used silver coins from the New World, but were not accepted elsewhere in India, so an agreement was reached for the Company to send its bullion to the Mughal mint in Surat. By 1672 the Company had established a mint in Bombay to produce copper and tin coins to serve its local needs and in 1717 they started minting silver rupees of Indian style in the name of the emperor. These became the principal currency for West Indian trade. A mint was also established in Madras, where they produced copper coins, silver rupees and their most distinctive coinage, gold 'pagodas'.

Silver rupee of Shah Jehan I, 1639Silver rupee of Shah Jehan I, 1639 Tin two-pice, Bombay Presidency, 18th centuryTin two-pice, Bombay Presidency, 18th century
Silver rupee of
Shah Jehan I, 1639
© Fitzwilliam Museum
Tin two-pice,
Bombay Presidency, 18th c.
© Fitzwilliam Museum
Silver rupee, Bombay Presidency, 18th centurySilver rupee, Bombay Presidency, 18th century Gold two-pagodas, Madras Presidency, 1808Gold two-pagodas, Madras Presidency, 1808
Silver rupee,
Bombay Presidency, 18th c.
© Fitzwilliam Museum
Gold two-pagodas,
Madras Presidency, 1808
© Fitzwilliam Museum

Towards the end of the 18th century, European machine-presses were introduced in the Companyís mints, distinguishing their products from the Indian coinages which continued to use traditional hand-striking.

Bronze-gilt two-pice, Madras Presidency, 1804Bronze-gilt two-pice, Madras Presidency, 1804
East India Company bronze-gilt two-pice,
Madras Presidency, 1804
© Fitzwilliam Museum

Gradually Britainís interest in India turned from trade to involvement in local politics and, by 1834, East India Company's influence extended over most of India. From 1835, the Company issued the Uniform Coinage for all its Indian possessions. Their attitude had changed from the adoption of local traditions to the imposition of Western ideas. This new coinage was minted on the English pattern, with the head of the ruler of England in place of the name of Mughal emperor and the inscription 'EAST INDIA COMPANY' on the reverse.

Gold mohur, Calcutta mint 1835Gold mohur, Calcutta mint 1835
East India Company gold mohur,
Calcutta mint, 1835
© Fitzwilliam Museum

In 1858, after the Indian Mutiny, the East India Company was disbanded and administration of India was transferred to the British government. As a result, the coinage no longer carried the name of the East India Company, but the British monarch. After 1877, when Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India, new coins were minted bearing the legend 'VICTORIA EMPRESS'.

Victoria as Queen, gold mohur, 1862Victoria as Queen, gold mohur, 1862 Victoria as Empress of India, silver rupee, 1877Victoria as Empress of India, silver rupee, 1877
Victoria as Queen,
gold mohur, 1862
© Fitzwilliam Museum
Victoria as Empress of India,
silver rupee, 1877
© Fitzwilliam Museum

 


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Department of Coins and Medals, © Fitzwilliam Museum.