Saturday, 16 April 2016

Growth of Mint, Calcutta - British India 01

1915 George V King Silver Rupee Calcutta Mint.

When the British East India Company arrived in Bengal, India in the late 1600s it was governed by the Mogul Emperor from Delhi through an appointed official designated as the financial minister or Governor.

In 1701 Murshid Kuli Khan was appointed to this position, at a time when the power of the Mogul Emperor had begun to decline. In 1704 Murshid Khan became Deputy Governor of Bengal, Bihar and and other regions and moved the capital to Murshidabad (named after him). Later as happened in some places, the Governor of Bengal became  an independent ruler.

The East India Company established its settlement at Calcutta  on 24 August 1690, subsequently  its factory was fortified in 1696.  A  major fort, named after King William III,  came into being  in 1700. It was in  1715 the Company's lands in Bengal were declared an independent Presidency of the Company and  was responsible directly to London. The British emperor gave the company the legal rights to trade in that region, however the company had to depend  on the trade  agreement with the  Nawob as mentioned before, originally he was the the Governor -  representative of the Mogul ruler, later he became an independent ruler  of Bengal when the power of Mogul ruler declined.

Prior to 1757 the East India Company had no right to have its own mint officially and had to depend on  the Murshidabad mint. They had to send the gold and silver to the mint at a distant place to get the current coins, and for the mint services the company had to pay standard duties and mint charges. This was not a good business proposition because the middle men like Seths took advantage over East India company's deal with   Murshidabad mint. Further, the company had difficulty in getting the coins at the right time. So, it was a frustrating situation for the money minded British company. When the relationship between the company and the Nawob of Bengal soured, it led to major confrontation. Ultimately after taking control over Bengal  under Robert Clive on 2 January 1757, a deal had been struck as part of the treaty in which  the Company could operate its own mint where gold and silver coins struck on the standard of the Murshidabad mint could be made. Further, these coins would be permitted to circulate in the region without additional charges. The Nawob was not happy about the deal, however the mint production began only after the British victory over the Nawob at Plassey.  A formal documentation of the authorization was issued.  (Pridmore, 1975, pp.185-186)..

 'A mint is established in Calcutta. You shall coin silver and gold of equal  weight and fineness with the ashfarees and rupees of Murshidabad in the name of Calcutta. They shall pass current in the province of Bengal, Bahar and Orissa and no person shall demand or insist upon a discount upon them' (Thurston, 1893). Pridmore records that after the word Orissa the document read 'and shall be received into the Codganna; there shall be no obstruction or difficulty for Cussor' suggesting a second form of authorization.

The First Mint:

Holwel's Monument - Calcutta (Kolkata) c1910
First mint  in Ft. William. Holwell Monument Source: Recoll. of Calcutta by Montegue Massey, 1919)
The  East India Company established its first mint  in 1757 in a  building close to the famous  site where the Black Hole incident took place  in the old Ft. William fort.. The site was on  the opposite side of the then Writers’ Buildings. To day GPO - General Post Office is functioning in that building. It was called the Calcutta Mint and used to produce coins with the mint name Murshidabad.

The Calcutta mint quickly made changes to the mint’s name struck on its coins. The mint name Alinagar Kalkatta had been there for some time since its first issues in April 1757; then from July simply Kalkutta. When the East India Company became the  Diwan of Bengal in 1765 their mint at Calcutta had  begun to use the name of the capital, Murshidabad, thus  making its coins look similar in many  way to those from Murshidabad itself. This caused lots of confusion regarding the correct identity of the mint where the coins were struck. The utter chaotic condition continued till  1777 when the mint at Murshidabad was closed and the Calcutta mint was the only mint in operation.

The Second Mint: 

The second Calcutta Mint was established with the modern machinery brought in 1790 from England. The second Mint was located at the Bankshall, opposite to the western entrance of St John’s Church. It was on the site of Gillet Ship building establishment which had been taken over by the Stamp and Stationary Committee in 1833. . The Governor General specially appointed two engineers from the Bengal Army to supervise the construction of the machinery for the Calcutta mint and other mints to be established. New minting machinery did not have any additional changes and the same old screw principle invented locally was used to run the hand operated machinery. The Calcutta Mint was moved over to a new location on the Strand street in 1829 and the old dock yard building came under the control of  Indigo brokers,  Messrs. Moran & Co.

The Third Mint:

2 Annas Restrike, 1877. Calcutta Mint.
In March 1824 the third Calcutta Mint, better known today as Old Silver Mint, was founded, ready with over 300 tons of equipment freshly arrived from England in October 1823. Until 1835 the coins issued at this mint continued to be in the name of the Murshidabad Mint.

The East India company owned a land near a quay on the Hoogley where they had a plan to build the proposed Mint.  From 1 August 1829 the mint opened for production; in 1830 the new silver rupee coin was struck and in the following year (in January 1831)  the new coin went into  circulation in January 1831. The Mint building, it is believed, was  actually  in Burdwan Raja’s Bazar. In 1860s  new Mint buildings came up on  what was called Calcutta mint grounds. It was popularly known as the Copper Mint and the coin production began in April, 1865. From 1889 until 1923 the Calcutta Mint provided copper and bronze coins, and initially prior to 1878 there was not much demand for the copper coins. In the later period the demand for copper coins increased and correspondingly the production of copper coins also went up. The production capacity of coins  varied between 3,00,000 to 6,00,000 pieces per day. Besides coins, the mint was also producing medals and decorations for the the British rulers.  Because of WWI  between 1916 and 1918,  the Calcutta mint was used to produce  bronze penny and   

Rare 1917Australian Penny Calcutta Mint
½   penny  coins  for  Australia;  these  denominations had been struck in Britain previously. After the World War I the master tools from Calcutta were shipped  to the Melbourne Branch of the Royal Mint where they were used to produce the first ever bronze coin struck in Australia in 1919.

Govt. of India mint, Alipore
On 19 March 1952, the Government of India opened the Mint at Alipore and, as for the old gold and silver mint building, it fell into ruin due to negligence on the part of the Indian government.


Pridmore, F 1980, The coins of the British Commonwealth of Nations to the end of the reign of George VI, 1952. Part 4: India. Vol.2, Uniform coinage East India Company, 1835-58, Imperial period, 1858-1947, Spink & Son, London