The East India Company in India during the 17th and 18th Centuries.

A talk given to the London Numismatic Club on Tuesday 1st July 2008 by John Roberts-Lewis.

(Click on any image to view it enlarged)

On 1st December 1600 Queen Elizabeth I signed a Charter authorising The Hon. East India Company to trade for 15 years with the East Indies. However it was not until their third voyage in 1608 that they made contact with India. William Hawkins went ashore at Surat on the West coast and travelled to Delhi to establish relations with Jahangir, the fourth Mughal Emperor. Figure 1 shows a painting of three Emperors, commissioned by Shah Jahan, shown on the right. His Grandfather Akbar is in the centre and his father Jahangir is on the left.

Figure 1.

Hawkins was well received and found a financial environment more sophisticated than any in Europe at the time. There were countrywide market prices, financial credit arrangements and insurance, including war risk. There were brokers and an overdue market. Indian mints coined for the Emperor and taxes were required to be paid in newly minted silver. Merchants could have bullion coined at these mints at their own expense.

Figure 2 shows Mughal India in 1605 and highlights the main places mentioned in the early years of the East India Company (E.I.C.). Masulipatam on the East coast became the first English Factory in 1611; the name comes from the Factors or Company representatives at the Trading Posts. Surat followed in1612 and further Agencies were opened in Agra and other Cities. Sea voyages took months to get to India from Europe and had to be timed to avoid the yearly monsoon season. Goods were stockpiled at the Factories for local trade and to fill the holds of the Company’s ships. Surprisingly the E.I.C. was able to get permission to fortify their Factories and Fort St George, founded in 1629, was able to open its own mint in1643. A Factory was established at Hughli in Bengal in1650.

Figure 2.

The first English style coins struck in India for the Company were minted in Bombay in 1672. They were struck on dump copper flans smaller than the dies, which was a common Indian practice. They were called Copperoons and Figure 3 shows an example with a sketch of the full size obverse die with a Latin inscription. The Island of Bombay was part of the dowry of Charles II’s Portuguese wife Catherine da Braganza which he sold to the EIC in 1688.

Figure 3.

The reverse of the Copperoon, Figure 4, also has a Latin inscription which translates as “money of the English Government of Bombay.” Below is A 9 standing for Anno Nono or “year nine” and this is calculated from 1665, which was the year when the local Portuguese traders reluctantly handed over the Dowry territory. The coin is thus dated 1674 and would only have circulated within Bombay Island, being used to pay workers and soldiers.

Figure 4.

Figure 5 shows two silver designs (obverse & reverse) also for use only on the Island, because only Mughal style coins could only be struck in gold or silver and this had to be authorised by the Emperor. The top coin is described as a half rupee and is half the rupee weight. On some specimens there is part of an inscription around the shield, but the flans are smaller than the dies and not seen on this obverse. On the reverse part of the Latin inscription for money of Bombay can be seen. The rupee shown below has inscriptions in English partly off the flan, the obverse reads “1678 by authority of Charles the second” ending with a star and with stops between each word. On the reverse the surrounding inscription reads “King of Great Britaine (sic) France and Ireland. There are other designs and issues dated between 1672 and 1687.

Figure 5.

In 1639 authority was obtained to open a mint at Fort St.George, Madras. The gold Pagodas shown in Figure 6 were struck between 1678 and 1740 (left) and from1740 to 1807 (right). The image is probably Vishnu and the reverses, Figure 7 use granulation; in the case of the earlier issue possibly the idea was copied from a Dutch issue for Negapatam circa 1678/9. On the right is the “star” pagoda which became widely known outside India. It was also used in Europe and was one of the coins officially approved by the New South Wales Proclamation of 1800, where its tariff was eight shillings. Popularity led to imitation within and outside India.

Figure 6.      Figure 7.

The Madras Mint struck silver fanams from1689-1807 and there were three issues. They all used a similar reverse, Figure 8 (left) with interlinked “C, s”and this one from the second issue has a pellet, of unknown significance. The coin in the centre and the one on the right are respectively Vishnu obverses of a fanam and double fanam from the third issue (1764-1809). Interlinked “C, s” have been explained as standing for Charles II or for Charles and Catherine, but as their use continues until George III, “Chartered Company” has been suggested. However Indian mint design often remained unchanged for many years and that may just be the case here.

Figure 8.

Two new copper coins were introduced by the Madras mint in1691 again flans were smaller than dies. Figure 9 shows a sketch to scale of the obverse die made up by examining a number of specimens. On the left is a one Dudu coin equivalent to 10 Cash and on the right a half Dudu. The balemark letters are said to stand for “Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading to the East Indies. Only the G, C and E were used on the die. In this example the “G” has been engraved as a “C” the two coins between them contain the elements of the original London East India Company balemark. These were struck for over a hundred years, with a weight reduction in 1755 forming a Second Issue ending in1807. Figure 10 shows the reverses of the two coins with the obverse die sketch for size. The Dudu, left shows 180 of a late date between 1800 and 1807 when the issue ended. The half Dudu has a different date configuration with two digits above and two below. “17” is seen above a line, the bottom digits being off the flan.

Figure 9.      Figure 10.

Obverses of a selection of Madras copper 1 cash pieces is show in Figure 11, together with sketches (to scale) of reconstructed dies. The top left hand coin has “78” (for 1678) in the lower balemark position. The top right hand coin has a heart-shaped balemark, the normal die reconstruction is smaller and the coin is struck from a version where the die has been cut with the “I” and “E” transposed and retrograde. The lower left hand coin has been struck from a larger inverted heart-shaped die and the coin on the lower right appears to be from an imitation of the die to its left. Figure 12 shows the reverses with the one top left showing part of the Telegu inscription in the die sketch. Top right has “173 of a date which has to be 1737 with the obverse which used a retrograde “E”. The bottom left 1 Cash piece has part of the Arabic date and framing lines seen on the bottom die sketch. The forgery, bottom right, shows two pairs of intersecting lines and clearly when using flans so much smaller than the dies forgeries are difficult to detect.

Figure 11.      Figure 12.

Figures 13 and 14 show Obverse and Reverse for two Bombay copper coins of one Pice (left) and half Pice (right), which were minted circa 1704 to 1716. They replaced the previous Copperoons. The Crown on the Obverse has a star either side and on the reverse is the inscription “AUSPICIO/REGIS ET/SENATUS/ANGLIW in four lines of Latin. The translation is “Under the auspices of the sovereign and Senate of England”.

Figure 13.      Figure 14.

The map of India in1752 is shown in Figure 15 and enables us to put the coins we have looked at into the context of territorial change. Over 150 years the E.I.C. expanded from a precarious foothold to control by its Presidencies of part of Madras and Bombay and Bengal’s administration had moved from Madras to Calcutta where Fort William had been built. Regular trade with China began in 1715 and Portuguese influence had weakened. However increasing French involvement led to hostilities in 1745 which continued on and off for seventy years.

Figure 15.

Bombay issued a series of coins intermittently between 1717 and 1771 whose metal content depended on what could be obtained. Figure 16 shows the obverses of two 2 Pice coins in a tin alloy to use up surplus tin from the warehouses. The higher value was necessary because the exchange rate had fallen from 48 to 72 pice to the rupee. The dies and flans are now the same size; G R for George Rex is above part of the crown and this would be appropriate for three reigns. The abbreviation “BOMB” for the mint is prominent and as seen on the reverses shown in Figure 17, the left hand coin is dated 1741 and the right hand one is undated. The same four line Latin inscription was continued and occasional dates were issued in copper when supplies were adequate. The undated issues included one, half and quarter Pice as well as two Pice coins and were struck between 1754 and1757. Figure 18 shows the obverse of the one Pice and there is a half Pice of similar design (not shown), which was replaced later by a total design change for the ½ PICE whose reverse is shown. Figure 19 shows the reverse of the undated one Pice and the obverse of the later half Pice with a balemark.

Figure 16.   Figure 17.
Figure 18.      Figure 19.

In 1717 the Bombay mint obtained the necessary authority to coin gold and silver in the name of the Mughal Emperor. This meant not having to send their bullion to the Surat Mint and Figures 20 and 21 show the obverses and reverses of a rupee with fractions of a half and a fifth. These are from later dates, but the style carried on until the 19th Century. The obverse of the rupee carried a couplet in Persian; the one shown is for Shah Alam. On the reverse in Figure 21 Arabic figures for 46 seen on the right of the rupee refer to the regnal reign and equate to 1803, mint names are frequently off the flan. The two fractions are not for Bombay itself, but probably for areas further south which they administered.

Figure 20.      Figure 21.

In the mid 18th Century the E.I.C. operations were dominated by Robert Clive, who arrived in India in 1747 and was commissioned into the Company army at a critical time of war with the French and their Indian allies. Fort St George had been captured and its mint destroyed, Figure 22. He played an increasingly important part in the recovery of lost territories culminating in the victory of Plassey, after which he became Governor of Bengal. By 1760 the Company was ruler of most of Bengal and it was then that he sent a young man called Warren Hastings to be the Representative at the Emperor’s Court.

Figure 22.

Local rulers in the Carnatic in Southern India, whose capital was at Arcot, issued coins in the Emperor’s name, the dies being supplied from Delhi. They were in a North Indian style because they were used to pay the Emperor’s Mughal Troops in the south and these “Arcot” rupees became the local currency. When the Company acquired rights to mint these coins they were also imported into Bengal to pay the Company’s troops and were accepted though they were lighter than the Bengal standard. Figure 23 shows the rupee with its half and quarter, the half (top right) shows the common obverse with part of the regal titles of Alamgir II. The rupee (under) shows the reverse with regnal year 6 and the mint name of Arcot. The mints of Madras, Calcutta, Mushidabad and Dacca all struck coins with this design with no distinguishing marks.

Figure 23.

In 1773 the Bombay mint issued copper 2 Pice and 1 Pice pieces with a balemark obverse, Figure 24. There are also half and quarter Pice values, (not shown). The reverses, Figure 25 have part of the crown design on the 2 Pice (left) and a three line inscription on the one Pice. The resulting coins with flans smaller than the dies continued a poor standard that would not alter until the end of the Century.

Figure 24.      Figure 25.

The ability of Warren Hastings, an orphan from a poor family, Figure 26, was recognised by Robert Clive as mentioned and he went on to hold high posts, before returning to England with a modest fortune after 14 years; the high mortality rate for Europeans had claimed his wife and children. He was recalled to the second most senior position as Governor of Fort William in Calcutta in1772 to restore the Company’s finances from their near bankrupt state. He had to work with an uncooperative Council and corrupt officials for three years before he succeeded in this task. He was Governor-General of the three Presidencies by 1774 when, during the first Maratha war (1775-82), Bombay was in a dangerous position, being threatened by the Marathas and their French advisers. Hastings assembled six European Battalions from Bengal and marched with them, over a thousand miles to relieve Bombay. He subsequently steered the E.I.C. through further war before leaving India in 1785. This was the background during which the E.I.C. became responsible for more territory.
As part of a peace treaty in 1775, following fighting in north-west Bengal, Benares was ceded to the E.I.C. Coins in Mughal style were struck for the area, the designs continued into the 19th Century. The rupee and its fractions of half, quarter, eighth and sixteenth were produced and a selection of obverses is shown in Figure 27. Top left eighth and sixteenth with part of Shah Alam’s couplet and the distinctive “sun” mark. The rupee (bottom left) has in addition a distinct fish mark whilst another (bottom right) has a neater fish from a different die. The reverses, Figure 28, show various regnal year numbers. Warren Hastings as a junior Council member had proposed in 1763 that the regnal year should be frozen to prevent the money changers (shroffs) from deducting “batta”, percentage deductions on coins of two and more years old. Attempts to introduce this were not immediately successful.

Figure 26.      Figure 27.      Figure 28.

Figure 29, shows the obverse of a rupee from the Murshidabad mint in Bengal, which was minted in the third year of “san sicca” rupees. “Sicca” was a bazaar weight standard, but when applied to coins it could mean a die or new money and was used for rupees under two years old. Warren Hastings introduced new regulations in 1777 and this rupee is dated AH 1193 (1778/9) and has the couplet for Shah Alam. On the reverse, is the regnal year 19 and this became the “fixed regnal year” see Figure 30. All rupees were now struck in the native style of the Murshidabad mint with “frozen dates. The problem stemmed from the law that taxes had to be paid in sicca rupees. There was no batta applied to coins for the first year; 3% was deducted for the second year and 2% for the third year. Older coins were bought at bullion value and recoined. The system was estimated to support between thirty and forty thousand shroffs in Bengal!

Figure 29.      Figure 30.

Mughal copper coin had no fixed value and was minted for the convenience of the owner. Bengal used Cowrie shells for small change at over 5000 to the rupee. John Princeps a prominent Calcutta merchant obtained a contract in 1780 to produce 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 and 1/16 Anna coins, Figure 31. He set up his equipment at Fulta a village 22 miles from Calcutta. It was more advanced than they had at the Calcutta mint, but their workers were used to strike these neat coins. The 1/4 Anna (top right) and 1/16 Anna (bottom left) are obverses and the 1/2 Anna (top left) and 1/8 Anna (bottom right) are reverses. There were two issues, one with broad flans the other with smaller and thicker flans, struck without collars (though the 1/2 Anna shown appears to have a collar). The 1/16 Anna is on a broad flan the others on smaller flans. Despite or perhaps because of their superior appearance they were rejected by the public. It is of interest that Princeps’ son John became Assay Master for the Calcutta Mint.

Figure 31.

Finally an issue near the end of the 18th Century, which introduced European minting of the highest standard. By 1788 Bombay had a serious shortage of copper and resorted to countermarking native coins. An urgent order was placed with Boulton’s Soho mint in Birmingham, for 100 tons of copper coins. Figure 32 shows clockwise from bottom right the two Pice, one and a half Pice, one Pice and half Pice. The common obverse is the balemark with 1791 under and the Scales with Arabic between, (justice) is the reverse. Struck by steam powered presses, without collars, it took nine months and could have been quicker if Thomas Williams’s Anglesey mines had been able to supply the copper faster. They must have been accepted because a second order was placed with Soho. It excluded the one and a half Pice, which must have been too close in size to the two Pice. The second order was dated 1794 when over 8.6 million coins were delivered. The 1791 issue amounted to over 17million pieces.

Figure 32.