British Indian banknotes ...

issued from 1861 by the Government of India!

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Historical context

In the 17th century, the English East India Company, originally founded to conquer “the Indies” and dominate trade flows with Asia, still only administered a few small coastal territories and trading posts in eastern India. Its influence and growing expansion quickly made it the most powerful commercial enterprise of the time. However, the pressure exerted on the local populations, the social reforms imposed by the British, the property taxes and the summary treatment of the landowners, feed the enmities which lead to the Indian Rebellion of 1857. This "first war of independence" is quickly put down but leads to the dissolution of the English East India Company and the direct administration of India by the British crown. In 1861, the “Paper Currency Act” gave full powers and a monopoly over the issuance of banknotes to the British government of India. James Wilson, the first financial member of the Indian government, will be the instigator of the generalization of Indian banknotes issued by the Government of India.

The Queen Victoria Issues

This first series of British India banknotes comprises five denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100 and 1,000 rupees. The Currency Act of 1861 stipulates that the minimum denomination of banknotes to be issued is 10 rupees. Considering the value and purchasing power of Indian currency in the 19th century, these banknotes are therefore of a very high amount. Printed only on the front side on a hand-molded paper, the notes feature a profile portrait of Queen Victoria, two linguistic panels, as well as security features incorporating a watermark of wavy lines and the text "GOVERNMENT OF INDIA / RUPIES ". At the bottom of the notes are one or two printed signatures of a commissioner. Finally, for security reasons, these banknotes are cut in half with a first piece sent by post and on acknowledgment of receipt, the other half is then sent in a second mail! This series of banknotes, little used by the general public, was mainly used to collect income and allow the circulation of funds for commercial and official purposes. Victims of major counterfeits, the banknotes with portraits of Queen Victoria were withdrawn from circulation after a few years of use.


Above: 10 rupees type 1862 (Ref. Pick # A1, TBB # B102 or Jhunjhunwalla-Razack # 2.1.1-4). This copy, graded PMG 20, was sold in 2020 at $ 45,600.00 by Heritage Auctions (Lot #28369).

1866-1927 Issues

The second series was introduced in 1866 and following the insistent demand of the population, five rupee banknotes were finally put into circulation. These notes are printed, as for the first series, on molded paper and include 2, 4 or 6 linguistic panels for the “green” series and up to 8 linguistic panels for the “red” series. Security features are enhanced and include wavy line watermark, manufacturer code, guilloche patterns, and colored underprinting of green or red. This series remains largely unchanged until the introduction of the third series of King George V, which begins from 1917.


Above: 5 rupees type 1901 “green” (Ref. Pick # A3, TBB # B109). Dimensions: 153 x 97 mm. Signature: A. F. Cox. 6 horizontal language panels in the center.


Above: 5 rupees type 1914-1924 “red” (Ref. Pick # A6, TBB # B132). Dimensions: 176 x 108 mm. Signature: A. C. McWatters. 8 horizontal language panels in the center.

1917-1931 King George V Issues

The issue of this third series begins with the inevitable introduction of notes of smaller denominations. The consequences of the First World War on the economy and the strong demand from the public led the government of India to create a 1 rupee type 1917 banknote which was put into circulation on November 30, 1917. In the process, a 2 rupees, 8 anna type 1917 note is introduced, as well as a 5 rupees type 1917 note which will ultimately remain unissued. The issue of the first two banknotes was very quickly interrupted, from January 1, 1926 for reasons of profitability. These three banknotes, which have the particularity of including a medallion profile portrait of King George V, will be the precursors of the sequel ...

The new 5, 10, 50, 100, 1,000 and 10,000 rupee banknotes are more elaborate, multi-colored and all feature the portrait of King George V. These banknotes, printed in Europe by the Bank of England, are shipped to India for their release. Due to a surge in demand for banknotes, the need to print the banknotes locally is becoming inescapable. A secure printing house and a current printing house were set up in 1925 and 1928 respectively in Nashik. As early as 1932, the Nashik printing press printed all banknotes intended for circulation in India. However, the Indian government continued to issue banknotes until 1935, until the Reserve Bank of India took over the functions of resignation institute.


Above: front of 10 rupees type 1917 (Ref. Pick # 7, TBB # B141). Dimensions: 160 x 100 mm. Signature: J. B. Taylor.

Between 1949 and 2019, the government of India continued to issue banknotes mainly valued at one rupee, which is currently being printed by the government printing press India Security Press, a subsidiary of the Security Printing & Minting Corporation of India Limited, a public company of the Government of India. The last note issued is a 1 rupee type 2015 note!

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