A brief history of the Indian rupee

The Indian Rupee is in the news. There are three reasons for this. One: The currency volatility which will see it touch $63. Two: The RBI ruling about withdrawing the pre-2005 currency notes and the panic it has caused. Three: Ajay Agarwal, CEO, Insight Communication and Print Solutions, making a presentation at the BMPA-Ricoh Print Summit 2014; and stating that almost all the Rupee notes are printed and produced on a Komori press.

27 Jan 2014 | By Sachin Shardul

All three reasons were a compelling reason for me to visit the RBI monetary museum in Mumbai. Which is what I did.

The museum has money in all forms: from neolithic axes to stored value cards. The displays are divided into three main galleries. The first gallery introduces the visitor to concepts, ideas and curiosities relating to money, including, how has money evolved from barter to the present and the shapes and sizes it has assumed over the years. On display are some of the smallest coins in the world, the nomenclatures they have assumed down the ages, their metals, alloys and so on.

The second section traces the evolution of coins from the 6th century BC to the present with exhibits of representative coinage along with a chronology of events.

What would interest readers of PrintWeek India is, the process of issuing paper currency began in the 18th century. Bank of Bengal, the Bank of Bombay, and the Bank of Madras (all private banks) printed paper money. It was after the Paper Currency Act of 1861 that the Government of India were granted the right to print currency.

While India fusses about the Rs 500 or Rs 1000 note in the 21st century, India was printing banknotes of Rs 10,000 denominations in 1938.

The other highlights are: The Rs 5-note was the first paper currency issued by RBI in January 1938.

Today, RBI prints the currency notes of Rs 10; Rs 100; Rs 500; and Rs 1,000. Re 1, Rs 2 and Rs 5 are no longer, they are available in coin form. Rs 10 is available as both as a note and a coin.

PrintWeek India had asked a government representative in Nashik about how the RBI decides how many notes are to be published. The answer was: "The RBI factors in inflation, GDP growth, replacement of soiled banknotes and reserve stock requirements, before deciding on how many notes are required."

In the midst of big money, there's historical tidbits like the SS Breda. An exhibit at the museum is a bank note that was saved from a ship called SS Breda. As I was told, "During WW II, bank notes were still being imported from England and the bank note for printing the R5 note from a Hampshire-based company. The SS Breda which was carrying the bank notes was captured by the Germans (1940) en route to Mumbai. The sheet on display remained intact for 50 years under water before it was rescued.

By the by, two other bits of trivia about the humble coin.

A Rupee coin (Re 1 and above) can be used to pay/settle any amount sum, However, 50 paise coin cannot be used to pay/settle any amount above Rs 10.

And finally, did you know that coins of up to Rs 1,000 denominations can be minted.

Do visit the RBI Monetary Museum which is located in Mumbai's Fort area in proximity to the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). Printed pamphlets with the history of the currency notes from the British Raj to the present day will boost your knowledge about India’s monetary history.

RBI Monetary Museum

Amar Building, Pherozeshah Mehta Road, Churchgate, 400020

Near RBI
Telephone +91 22 226 14043, 
+91 22 2266 0502
Please nb: It is closed on Monday