The East India Company outside India

A talk given to the London Numismatic Club on 9th Sept. 1999 by John Roberts-Lewis.

(Click on any image to view it enlarged)

The East India Company (E.I.C.) was granted a charter by Elizabeth I in 1600 and in that year these coins were struck in London at the Tower Mint. In 1601 the Company’s first expedition was sent to the Indies, carrying trade goods and silver coin to the value of £28,742. It is not known what proportion of the coins was of the “Portcullis” issue. As trade coins they were too little and too late; the Spanish dollar was the accepted standard for the area, so they were probably used as bullion. The unit is a dollar or 8 testerns with fractions of half, quarter, and eighth.

This map shows the locations mentioned in the talk and Bantam in NE Java was the main factory (Trading Post) for the E.I.C. The enterprise was not successful and the Company withdrew in 1683 or 84 returning in 1687 to establish a factory at Bencoolen on the S.W. coast of Sumatra; this later became a successful settlement.

St. Helena was a useful re-supply base on the long journey from Europe to the Indies. It became a Crown Colony in 1651 with the E.I.C. responsible for administration. The Cocos-Keeling Islands were found in 1609 during one of the early voyages when Captain Keeling was blown south, off course, and was making his way back to the Indies.

These coins of Sumatra were struck by the E.I.C.’s Bombay mint.
Top left: - silver 3 fanams (1693). Top right: - silver 2 fanams (1695).
Under left: - silver 1 fanam (1693). Under right: - copper 1 cash (1695).
The obverses use the “balemark” of the original London E.I.C. with an orb having a cross over. The letters inside the orb are said to stand for “G(overnor and) C(ompany of the Merchants of London trading to the) E(ast Indies)”. Often a “C” is used for a “G”.

These are the reverses of the previous Sumatra coins. The “Malay Arabic” is translated as “English Company”. The monetary system is 24 fanams = 1 Spanish dollar and 20 cash = 1 fanam. Value of a dollar fluctuated in some parts if the East Indies.

A montage of extremely rare E.I.C. coins struck in 1714 for use in St. Helena is made from black and white illustrations. The heart –shaped bale mark began use when the New or English East India Company was formed in 1698. The London E.I.C. bought a large number of the former’s shares and the two amalgamated in 1708/9 as “The United Company of Merchants of England trading to the East Indies.” This is shortened to the letters V.E.I.C. on the balemark, for United East India Company.

It was 88 years after coins were for struck for Sumatra by the Madras Mint that the next ones were struck for them. This was in 1783 by a private mint in Bengal owned and set up by John Prinsep. The copper pieces of 2 kepings have on the obverse the balemark commonly used in the 19th Century. It has a device like a figure “4” sometimes claimed to be an altered Cross, changed so as not to offend non Christians. However, Madras, for example, was still using the Cross style into the 19th Century, but no other explanation for the “4” seems to exist. The 2 kepings reverse has date and value in Arabic.

The Sumatra silver 2 Sookoos were struck by the Calcutta mint dated 1793 and 1794. Fort Marlborough was built in1714, 3 miles south of Fort York. It had a convict settlement attached; whose prisoners worked on the E.I.C. plantations. The reverse inscription in Malay script says “money of the Company”; the designs were approved by Warren Hastings.

The next Sumatra copper coinage of one, two, and three kepings was struck by Mathew Boulton, but not at his Soho mint. This was the historic first order for Boulton, who would supply the coining machinery to a makeshift London mint, as Soho had a water-powered rolling mill, but as yet no mint. The first issue was dated 1786 and there were repeat orders in1787 and 1798, the latter struck by Boulton’s steam machinery.

A uniface undated copper cent was struck at Calcutta and taken with the founding EIC expedition to Pulu Penang in 1786. The Island had been given to Francis Light by the Rajah of Kedah, whose daughter he had married. Light thought it would make a suitable Naval Station for the EIC and as part of the agreement, the Sultan was offered protection. However Kedah was annexed by Siam in 1821 and the Sultan deposed.

The following year, 1787 Calcutta struck copper 1, ½ and ¼ cents for Pulu Penang. The common obverse is a balemark, no value is stated and the reverse inscription translates as “Prince of Wales Island.”

Silver followed in 1788 also struck by Calcutta. Again no values stated, the obverse and reverse of the 1/10 dollar is shown. It was overweight being close to 1/8 dollar; the ¼ and ½ dollars were also overweight and it is probable that most of the issue was melted for bullion as the issue is now scarce.

A pen and ink drawing, made in the late 20th century is of wooden warehouses on Malacca’s waterfront. Probably it was little different in the time of the East India Company when, during the Napoleonic Wars, the EIC occupied the Dutch settlements, including Malacca, to deny their use to the French.

Despite the large orders for Sumatra struck by Boulton, a shortage of coin in 1787 was met by overstriking an emergency half dollar on copper 3 kepings coins. They were struck it is said for the Governor at Fort Marlborough, to pay his troops or possibly the convict workers.


In 1804 the Soho mint Birmingham struck another copper issue for Sumatra. The arms of the EIC were used for the obverse and closely resemble the design used for Bombay, being struck at Soho at the same time. The Sumatra denominations in kepings are 4, 2 and 1. The designs were used again in1823 when the weights were reduced to two thirds using thinner blanks, because copper price had increased. The 1804 date was not altered. In 1824 Soho’s mint was being prepared for sale to Bombay, but with one press not yet in a crate, ten more tons of the light 1804 coins were struck for Sumatra.

A proof Sumatra 2 kepings obverse shows clearly details of the EIC arms. The cross of St George has the arms of Great Britain in the first quarter. The supporters are Lions rampant, bearing standards with flags carrying the cross of St. George. Above the shield is the crest of a lion rampant, standing on a helm, on a torso, holding between the forepaws an Imperial crown. The whole rests on a scroll whose Latin is translated as “Under the Auspices of the Sovereign and Senate of England.”

In 1805 Penang had been raised to a separate Presidency and in 1809 “a sound copper coinage” was requested. The contract was placed with the Royal Mint, whose machinery was supplied by Boulton and a rolling mill not yet working was supplied by John Rennie. Soho were requested to supply the blanks, but refused to do so because they thought that they had an unofficial agreement to produce all copper orders. Consequently the order was delayed and the coins were not delivered until 1812. The coins produced are clearly inferior to Soho’s minting.

This tin uniface cent, or pice, was struck locally in Penang about 1800 by the authority of Governor Leith, whose initials “G. L.” are in script on the obverse. Tin was available locally, but pure tin is soft, wears easily and is easy to re-melt so few have survived. A similar issue in 1805 has the initials of Governor Farquhar and others may exist; they must also have been easy to forge, so it is no wonder that “a sound coinage” was requested.

This painting is of an East Indiaman, the “Earl of Abergavenny” is an example of the ships built for the 19th Century China trade. They were twelve to fourteen hundred tons and carried twenty to thirty guns; necessary to fight off pirates. Their Captains were mostly ex-Royal Navy officers and they sailed from China in a fleet under a Commodore. The ships were used for about four voyages before being replaced.

When Java was taken by the EIC the Old Dutch mint at Sourabaya was restored and its Dutch mint master, Zwekkart reappointed to strike copper similar to Dutch designs, but using the EIC balemark instead of the Dutch one. The ½ stiver of 1811 is shown, obverse on left, reverse on right. The blanks were cast and issued each year from 1811 to 1815. They have a “z” for the mint master.

Java also used lighter copper pieces called “doits” (¼ stivers), minted in 1811 & 1812. Obverse left; reverse right, with “B” above balemark. The blanks were cast, with obvious tangs not removed. The letter “B” is for Batavia or possibly British, as on the balemark. No value is stated, but there were 4 doits to a stiver and 30 stivers to a rupee. Java was returned to the Dutch in 1815 after hostilities had ended in Europe, under the Treaty of Vienna, 13th August 1814. The delay was mainly due to the sailing time to the East Indies. Zwekkert continued in office, dying in 1819.

Java tin doits, obverse left; reverse right. These doits were only struck in 1813 and 1814 by the Dutch mint master Ekenholm, using the United East India Company balemark. Lead forgeries are known.

A separate mint for gold and silver was erected at Sourabaya and silver rupees were struck from 1813 to 1816. The obverse on the left is in Javanese with Zwekkert’s initial below. The reverse on the right is in Arabic script; there is an engraving mistake in the date (mid left side). It reads 1668, instead of 1228; mistakes were common when European engravers reproduced Arabic and other unfamiliar languages.

This coin has been struck with the gold ½ mohur dies, obverse left, reverse right, but it is silver. The gold has Christian dates from 1813 to1816, the mint being closed on 8th July 1815. Apparently Zwekkert was empowered to continue minting gold and silver coins at the request of private individuals. There are no silver half rupees known and it is unlikely we shall ever know why this coin was struck. The gold is very rare and this striking is included as an example of the dies.

700,000 St. Helena copper halfpennies dated 1821 were intended for use by the local population, greatly increased by the military garrison, who were guarding Napoleon Bonaparte in exile. By the time the coins arrived, Napoleon had died and most of the garrison had left. The order had gone to Birmingham’s Soho mint, with a request that the arms for the obverse should be those used for the Penang 1810 issue.
That issue had been struck by the Royal Mint however, so new obverse as well as reverse dies had to be made.

Penang. Top left Rev ½ cent; Top right obverse1 cent; under is the reverse of the 2 cents.
The “money of account” in Penang was changed in 1826 from the Spanish dollar to the Bengal sicca Rupee. The pice then became a cent, with 48 cents = 1 Rupee. In this same year Penang Singapore and Malacca were united as the Straits Settlements. The Royal Mint struck ½ pice and 1 pice in 1810: local dies were made by the Madras mint to strike ½, 1 and 2 pice in 1825; and ½, 1 and 2 cents of similar design in 1828. There are noticeable, but small differences between all these issues.

Singapore Tokens, obverse, left and reverse right of 1 keping copper.
Singapore, founded by Sir Stamford Raffles, had no specific currency. The merchants used available currency especially Dutch doits, the exchange rates being quoted daily. They ordered tokens from Birmingham to increase supplies and to avoid paying for the Dutch currency. There are many varieties, some imitating official coins, like the one shown. Though dated 1804 it was struck from 1829 to 1844. It copies an original design issued by the East India Company for Sumatra. However it replaces the Company name with “Island of Sumatra” above the arms. The reverse in “Arabic” is meaningless. A hundred and sixty-six varieties have been noted!

Two obverses used for Singapore Tokens.
To avoid accusations of forgery, especially by the Dutch, a mythical “Island of Sultana” is used and on the left horses have replaced lions as shield supporters.

Reverses of the above tokens have mistakes in the Arabic, perhaps intentionally, though probably through not understanding the language. On the left hand specimen the Arabic date of 1219 is equivalent to 1804. On the right the date reads 1411.

Straits Settlements. Copper ¼ cent, ½ cent, above; 1cent below.
Coins based on the dollar standard were finally struck by the EIC’s Calcutta mint in 1845. The matrix dies were engraved by William Wyon at the Royal Mint and his initials appear on the truncation of the Queen’s bust on the ½ cent only.

St. Helena, crown (25p) reverse.

The trading operations of the East India Company in India and China had been wound up in 1833. From that time the Company governed India on behalf of Great Britain. Following the Indian Mutiny all its property was transferred to the Crown in 1858 under the India Act. It was finally dissolved in 1874 when the 1854 Charter expired.
This modern cupronickel coin commemorates the tercentenary (1673-1973) of St. Helena’s Royal Charter. The “East Indiaman,” in full sail on the reverse, is a fitting tribute to a unique company.