The sheer number of banknotes with their interesting details from denominations to size, symbols, signatories, safety features, inset and colours has made collecting Indian paper money a fascinating hobby.
Unlike the origins of a spectrum of expressions from art to architecture, crafts, textiles, and coinage in India, the beginning of the issue of currency notes go back a relatively short period; currency notes were first issued in China way back in 1024 AD. In India, they were first issued in the year 1770 by a bank founded by Warren Hastings, the Governor General of Bengal, and subsequently by the three Presidency Banks – Bank of Bengal, Bank of Bombay and Bank of Madras, as well as many private banks. However, the history of paper money, in India, is believed to have begun in 1861, with the issue of currency notes by the British government.
The late issue of paper money in India is attributed to the India’s penchant for coins made of gold, silver or other metals that had an intrinsic value, unlike paper money. Yet, once the issue of currency notes commenced, there seemed to be no looking back as a wonderful variety of bank notes came to be issued of different denominations of the rupee – the official currency of India, of different sizes, printed on one and both sides, bearing denominations in different languages and symbols reflective of the times! And these issues, covering just 150 years, span denominations from onerupee to ten-thousand rupees, make paper money a fascinating document of the times and make collecting banknotes an interesting hobby.
The issue of paper money is broadly divided into the pre-independence (before 1947) era when paper money was issued by the British government, princely states, the French and Portuguese in their Indian territories, and the post independence period when banknotes were issued by the Indian government. The first issue of currency in India (1861) featured currency notes of the denomination of tenrupees, a significant amount in those days. It was uniface (printed only on one side with the portrait of Queen Victoria on the upper left of the note and place of issue with date mentioned in the centre of the The issue of other denominations – five rupee notes, twenty, hundred and ten thousand rupee notes followed and were issued by the turn of the century. The opening decades of the 20th century saw the issue of fifty, five-hundred and one-thousand rupee notes. One-rupee notes were issued only in 1917 and two rupee notes in 1943. There were several interesting issues in this period such as onerupee notes that were issued in perforated booklets of twentyfive notes; one-rupee notes bearing the coin-like portrait of the British king; and notes of the denomination of two rupees and eight annas issued in 1918.
The Reserve Bank of India was established on April 1, 1935 and it issued, and still continues to issue, currency notes of denominations of two-rupees and above. As currency notes of one rupee are treated at par with metallic coins, their issue remained with the Government of India. Thus, the Governor of the RBI now signs all banknotes as one rupee notes are no longer issued; they were signed by the Secretary, Ministry of Finance of
the Government of India.
Post Independence Period
The post-independence period opened a new chapter in Indian currency. Banknotes came to feature national symbols such as the Lion Capital, parliament building, Brihadeeswara temple in Tamil Nadu, peacock (national bird), tiger (national animal); symbols related to the developmental focus of the Government of India such as a farmer on a tractor; and featuring Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation.
Banknotes started featuring the denomination in Hindi and several regional languages. A relatively recent addition is the new rupee currency symbol (Rs). Thus, besides serving as a medium of exchange, currency notes are also helpful in highlighting an Indian identity and areas of development.
“In the post-independence period till demonetisation, 800 different currency notes covering the different denominations have been issued. From small details like the alphabet inset in the serial number of the currency note to its year of issue that has been mentioned on the reverse since 2005 to the security features and rare star notes that are notes that replace a faulty note in a bundle, the variety is amazing. For example, fifty different types of Rs 50 banknotes were issued during the tenure of RBI Governor Dr D Subbarao”, says Rajnish Karnik, who has been collecting currency notes for over thirty years.
The sheer number of banknotes with their interesting details from denominations to size, symbols, signatories, safety features, inset and colours has made collecting Indian paper money a fascinating hobby. Collectors have retained a few demonetised banknotes for their collection, especially those with fancy numbers, and are enthusiastically adding the new issues to their collection!