Photos: This Money Museum is a treasure trove of Indian currency notes

Mangalore - The museum maps the journey, the history, and transformation of the Indian currency from cowrie shells and metal coins to banknotes.

By Maryam Aftab Kola

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Published: Sun 5 Sep 2021, 5:42 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Sep 2021, 5:43 PM

People with a penchant for history and numismatics have a one-stop destination in Bengaluru, the capital of the south Indian state of Karnataka.

Rezwan Razack, the founder and the joint managing director of the Prestige Group, is one of the world’s largest collectors of Indian currency notes and has set up a Money Museum, which is located on the second floor of Prestige Falcon Towers in Brunton Road, Bengaluru.

The museum maps the journey, the history, and transformation of the Indian currency from cowrie shells and metal coins to banknotes.

The museum displays Rezwan’s vast collection that spans over five decades, and houses one of the rare collections of Indian currency notes, which trace their origin to the 19th Century. The collection comprises early banknotes of the Madras Presidency and private banks, including some rare uniface notes. The display also captures the fascinating tale of the origin of currency notes and their usage as a legal tender.

The Indian Paper Money Act, 1861, led to the introduction of the first series of uniface currency notes that carried the portrait of Queen Victoria on them. Besides these currency notes, there are those that carry the portrait of British monarchs such as George V and VI, which were issued as promissory notes in 1917 in a bid to circumvent the shortage of silver during that era.

However, the printing of uniface notes was stopped by the Indian Government in 1930 after the Bank of England, the United Kingdom’s (UK) Central Bank, terminated their contract to supply them.

Many of the currency notes on display have history written onto them and enable the visitors to have a glimpse of the history of the various erstwhile princely states such as Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir’s notes that were used to pay tax on land and other government dues to the state treasury.

There are Osmania notes of Hyderabad that were issued in 1919 in denominations of Re1 to Rs1,000. The museum houses denominations of Re1, Rs5, Rs100 and Rs1,000.

The notes of Saurashtra state, introduced during World War-I owing to shortage of metallic currency, were known as havala (assurance).

“This paper money was never used as fiat currency, and, as a result, was known as banknotes. Currency was always in the form of coins, be it gold, silver, or copper. The public trusted it because of its intrinsic value. It was only in the early part of the 20th century that paper currency gained some acceptance. However, this changeover took substantial time,” Rezwan told Khaleej Times.

He also put in perspective the reasons behind how currency notes replaced metal coins at a much later stage. “Currency notes were accepted as a legal tender after World War-I because of an acute shortage of all kinds of metal. In the 10th Century, Chinese merchants had come up with a kind of paper money known as ‘Jiao Zi’. However, it led to disputes, and around the 11th Century, the Chinese government began overseeing the production of paper money. They collected capital by issuing paper tokens, which, however, caused economic disruption in China. The Bank of England issued paper money towards the end of the 17th century,” Rezwan added.

PoW Coupons

The museum’s precious collections include Prisoners of War (Pow) coupons used in PoW camps set up by the British during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 and World War-I and II. They were issued to prevent prisoners misusing the regular currency. Cash coupons of princely states were issued to replace metal coins of low denominations during World War-II; overprinted Indian currency notes used in Burma were unique as it was the only time that a country issued another nation’s notes during a civilian rule.

Also, currency notes used in Pakistan and Arabian Gulf states, and those used by Haj pilgrims are also on show along with contemporary Indian notes.

The designing and printing of currency underwent a meticulous process of trial and error --- a series of essays on patterns and proofs. Famous designers such as Tom Archer, Bradbury Wilkinson & Co. and Waterflow & Sons integrated artistry and beauty into the process and incorporated several security features on the banknotes using microprint patterns.

Future of currency notes

The advent of digital technology has been revolutionising the banking industry and the economic sector.

Is it time to write an obituary of the paper currency?

Rezwan said he had predicted in 2010 that digital currency would gain ascendancy and would hold sway.

“We cannot write the obituary of the Indian paper currency. Digital currency is an invasion of privacy. There’ll still be a need for paper money,” he added.

“Paper money is hard to conserve because of the nature of the paper, which is brittle and wears out,as compared to metallic money,” said Rezwan.

The museum has a climate-controlled environment and an excellent lighting facility to preserve the storied monetary heritage to ensure that the splendid array of artefacts doesn’t decay.

Rezwan said the museum is open to the public and is “a lesson in history for both adults and children”.

His singular mission in life is to educate pupils on Indian culture, history and economy through the artefacts displayed in the museum.

His passion came to fruition after 50 years of dedicated research.

Rezwan is also the co-author of 'The Revised Standard Reference Guide to Indian Paper Money', which was released in 2012. His second book, 'One Rupee -- One Hundred Years 1917-2017', was published to celebrate the centenary of the Re1 currency note.

The museum was inaugurated by Dr. C. Rangarajan, the former Governor of Reserve Bank of India (RBI), on February 15, 2020.

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