At the end of this year, Bangalore will have the country’s first Indian Currency Museum — the result of a lifetime of effort by Bangalorean collector Rezwan Razack. Of all the memorabilia and historical tchotchkes we have on display in museums around India, a museum about the rupee will touch Indian hearts in a special way, because no matter what the the dollar to rupee conversion rate may be, the value of the Indian rupee is immeasurable in sentiment.
Designed to spread across 6,000 square feet and nestled in leafy Brunton Road, the Indian Currency Museum will showcase the pride of Razack’s collection – every one rupee note from its first avataar to the latest.
Razack began to collect Indian currency in 1971, over 40 years ago. And in this time, he has collected notes as early as from 1770s. Visitors to the museum will be able to see the one-sided rupee notes, notes that started to have portraits on them, notably that of kings George V and VI, cash of the pre-independence royal states, special notes issued the Haj pilgrims and all sorts of modern notes including the ones demonetised.
Razack’s chronology of rupee record, tells a story of the Indian subcontinent through the evolution of the rupee. “Unlike coins, paper currency has no intrinsic value. Once destroyed, it is worthless,” Razack told Explocity. Yet, money in any form – first metal, then paper, and now digital – is still important to the world. And this makes the Rupee Museum all the more intriguing.
While Razack’s collection includes almost every currency note printed or minted, it is the one rupee that emerges as the cornerstone of India’s financial history. The one rupee has always had a strong and deep religious and otherwise ceremonial and cultural significance in Indian custom.
To be a collector – indeed, a completist (one who has collected everything there is to be added to a collection) – is to be dogged and driven by conviction and passion. Razack is all of these. He is probably among the world’s most prolific collectors of currencies and, as is the hallmark of an excellent collector, there is provenance with every note in his collection. For example, he said that the oldest note in his collection is from September 1812. It is clearly the earliest known surviving note in India. It bears the number 108 making it among the first 110 notes every issued.
Razack scoured the world to collect a version of every printed one rupee note, carefully sifting the originals from the fakes and studying the story hidden within them. His collection also includes drafts of various rupee notes before they were approved for printing and circulation. One such draft included a one rupee note with the imprint of King Edward III. However, at the time of creating the draft in 1936, England was under turmoil following rumours of Edward abdicating the throne to his brother. The rumor prevailed and designers of the note immediately replaced the picture of Edward with that of his brother King George VI, bringing it into circulation.
Razack walked us through the evolving versions of the note, some specifically made for circulation in Pakistan soon after the partition, some stamped to be used only by the prisoners of war in the immediate years after Independence, a few printed for Bangladesh and few others for Burma. Each of these were differentiated by serial numbers and a stamp that denoted the country it belonged to. He regaled us with stories of people scraping away the stamping to use these notes in neighbouring countries.
The first record of a printed rupee note was that of the Sicca Rupees Four which was issued sometime in the early 1880s. Hand painted in intricate designs, the paper currency represented the Ganga as a goddess and the elephant – two important aspects of Indian culture of the times. The World War II in 1939 resulted in a severe shortage of metal supplies to mint coins. In order to overcome this shortage, the British government permitted 36 princely states in undivided India to print currency stamps worth 1 anna each. Then there was the one rupee Osmania Sicca note issued in the princely state of Hyderabad in 1919 and withdrawn the subsequent year owing to the use of black print.
Remember the emblem of the BCCI and the Royal Bombay Yacht Club? These are said to be variants of the Star of India, the insignia used by the British raj in India between 1857 and 1947. The Star of India medallion was presented to 178 Indians in an honour similar to knighthood during the British rule, Razack explains, while showing us the imprint of this insignia on a currency note, comparing it to a medallion that he has acquired. Stories as fascinating as these and much more will be showcased in an interactive environment in Razack’s rupee museum.
The evolution of Indo-Portugese notes and Osmania notes with all their hand-painted intricate designs and imagery, and their later integration with the Indian rupee used elsewhere – these are just snippets of a vast encyclopedia that Razack intends to include in the Rupee Museum. Bangalore is sitting on the threshold of becoming the one stop destination for all historic information of the country’s evolution – from commerce to political changes – all through the eyes of currency notes. Until then, Razack has piqued our interest in assessing the colourful post-demonetization notes, comparing them with the subtle, yet intricately designed notes of the century gone by.
Such is the story behind each note that the Rupee Museum will showcase, Deepthi Sasidharan, Director of Eka Resources and a member of the team designing Razack’s gallery told Explocity. “Developing a museum is a thankless job, and it is commendable of an individual like Razack to create one for the public. This is the finest solo collection of the Indian rupee notes, especially that of the one rupee, in the world,” Sasidharan said. “There is much thought being put into the making of the museum,” she said about her interaction with Razack.
The museum will not merely feature a collection on display, but will leverage technology to make it a interactive and a holistic learning experience.
“At a time when the rupee is metamorphosing from a physical coin and note to a digital one, the rupee museum aims to explain the significance of money in the country’s growth and development over the last century. It will showcase the passing of the chronology of time and the evolving intrinsic value of money. Soon enough Bangalore will boast of a resource centre for such a study of history,” Sasidharan added.
The Rupee Museum is expected to include a library; but visitors will also be able to view more dynamic information of every exhibit via a smartphone application. Razack added that the museum will also be made student-friendly, with locker rooms and with ample walking space between exhibits.
In all, this is possibly the only time that there will be an honourable and positive answer to the otherwise unctuous obiter dictum, “Boy, what some people will do for money…”
About Rezwan Razack
Rezwan Razack is Joint Managing Director of Bangalore real-estate company, Prestige Group. He has, since a long time, written about interesting currency notes on his blog (http://indianbanknote.blogspot.in.indianbanknote.com/). He authored the book, The Revised Standard Reference Guide to Indian Paper Money with Kishore Jhunjhunwalla. Read our review here: https://executivetraveller.in/people/every-rupee-ever-printed-in-history/