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It’s all about the money

You’d never think you’d be interested in trivia about money...unless it helps you mint it. That is until you walk into the Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Museum in Fort, and are struck by a few remarkable nuggets, reports Mini Pant Zachariah.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2009 01:29 IST
Mini Pant Zachariah

You’d never think you’d be interested in trivia about money...unless it helps you mint it. That is until you walk into the Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Museum in Fort, and are struck by a few remarkable nuggets.

For instance, did you know that before India started producing the paper on which our currency notes are printed at the Security Paper Mill in Hoshangabad in 1967, paper was actually imported from M/s Portals Ltd, Hampshire?

One such consignment of paper of Rs 5 denomination notes with the distinct watermark was on its long voyage from London to Mumbai enroute the government mint at Nashik. But the vessel carrying it was shipwrecked in December 1940. The cargo remained under water for 50 years. But when it was found, the paper was unharmed. A piece of that paper is one of the newest treasures on display at the museum.

Money is something universally accepted as a means of payment or settling debts — borrowing or lending. Well, if you didn’t know this, the first plaque will tell you so as you enter the clean, quiet, almost antiseptic precincts of this museum. Whoever said money was dirty never visited this museum. Here, not a speck of dust can touch the exhibits tastefully displayed behind glass cases.

It is known that man bartered his surplus produced in exchange for things that he needed but did not have. And he bartered in what he had — cattle, grain, implements. Across the world, they bartered in bracelet money (West Africa), knife money (China) and bullet money or Baht (Thailand).

Check out the exhibits from the Neolithic stone axes to store value cards that document the transition of money from bulky currency to plastic money.

Apart from the dope on money, there is also a wealth of information provided by the museum — the size of a three-bedroom flat — that will easily rob you of two hours but enrich you if you care to step in.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is responsible for the monetary policy and issuance of notes in the country. But before the RBI took over the charge in 1935, currency notes were printed by the Government of India. The RBI is the custodian of the country’s monetary heritage. Hence it was natural for RBI to document and present this heritage to students, scholars, numismatics and the general public alike.

Over the centuries, India has had the distinction of having the smallest and the biggest coins. One display here is the ‘fanam’ or 8 mm in diameter coins in gold from south India as well as the 21 cm in diameter gold ‘mohur’ minted during Emperor Jehangir’s regime.

These were only to be gifted to the favoured few — the visiting dignitaries to his court. And if you are wondering how they handled the tiny ‘fanams’, the museum has on display a measuring tray with 500 dents the size of a ‘fanam’. The ‘fanams’ were spread over the tray and the filled dents made for ease in counting.

There are Indian coins set against a time line. Many, like the ‘ek paisa’ in nickel and bronze and the ‘ek naya paisa’ in bronze that one has heard of but perhaps never seen, are on display here.

And if you think half notes had something to do with shady hawala deals, there was actually a time when notes were cut into half and posted separately to ensure that they were not stolen enroute. Half of the note was not honoured. The two halves had to be pasted to get the value of the whole, so to speak.

Which brings us to soiled notes, always a grave concern with RBI as it receives thousands of such notes every day from across the country. What does it do with them? Check out the brief case, tray and paper weights made out of recycled shredded notes at the museum.

As part of RBI’s platinum jubilee celebration, the entry to the museum is free until April 1, 2010.