India Paper Money A Retrospect : 1770-1998

Financial Instruments and 'Hundies' in India have a venerable history. Paper Money, in the modern sense, traces its origins to the late eighteenth century with the issues of private banks as well as semi-government banks (the Bank of Bengal, the Bank of Bombay and the Bank of Madras alluded to as the Presidency Banks).

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The Bank of Bengal The Bank of Bombay The Bank of Madras
The Bank of Bengal The Bank of Bombay The Bank of Madras

Among the earliest issues were those by the Bank of Hindostan (1770-1832), the General Bank in Bengal and Bahar (1773-75, established by Warren Hastings), the Bengal Bank (1784-91), amongst others. Few of these notes survive.

The Paper Currency Act of 1861 conferred upon Government of India the monopoly of Note Issue bringing to an end note issues of Private and Presidency Banks. Paper currency in India owed much to the intellectual stimulus and personal dynamism of Sir James Wilson, the first Finance Member in the Executive Council of the Viceroy of India. With the early death of Sir James, the task of issuing Government Paper Money in India devolved upon his successor Samuel Laing who substantially modified Wilson's original proposals.

Government of India continued to issue currency notes till the Reserve Bank of India was established on 1st April, 1935. When the one rupee note was reintroduced as a war time measure in August, 1940, it was issued by Government of India with the status of a coin. Government of India continued to issue Rupee one notes till 1994.

The motifs appearing on Indian currency notes reflect the changing socio-cultural ethos and the world-view of the times: buccaneering mercantilism, colonial consolidation, domineering imperialism, the grandeur of empire, to the symbols of National Independence followed up by allegories of progress and finally in the latest series, reminiscing Gandhian values.

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