A History of Indian Paper Money
Paper Money, as we know it today, was introduced in India in the late Eighteenth Century. This was a period of intense political turmoil and uncertainty in the wake of the collapse of the Mughal Empire and the advent of the colonial powers. The changed power structure, the upheavals, wars, and colonial inroads led to the eclipse of indigenous bankers, as large finance in India moved from their hands to Agency Houses who enjoyed state patronage. Many agency houses established banks.
Among the early issuers, the General Bank of Bengal and Bahar (1773-75) was a state sponsored institution set up in participation with local expertise. Its notes enjoyed government patronage. Though successful and profitable, the bank was officially wound up and was short lived. The Bank of Hindustan (1770-1832) was set up by the agency house of Alexander and Company was particularly successful. It survived three panic runs on it. The Bank of Hindustan finally went under when its parent firm M/s Alexander and Co. failed in the commercial crisis of 1832. Official patronage and the acceptance of notes in the payment of revenue was a very important factor in determining the circulation of bank notes. Wide use of bank notes, however, came with the note issues of the semi-government Presidency Banks, notably the Bank of Bengal which was established in 1806 as the Bank of Calcutta with a capital of 50 lakh sicca rupees. These banks were established by Government Charters and had an intimate relationship with the Government. The charter granted to these banks accorded them the privilege of issuing notes for circulation within their circles.
Notes issued by the Bank of Bengal can broadly be categorized in 3 broad series viz: the 'Unifaced' Series, the 'Commerce' Series and the 'Britannia' Series. The early notes of the Bank of Bengal were unifaced and were issued as one gold mohur (sixteen sicca rupees in Calcutta) and in denominations deemed convenient in the early 19th Century, viz., Rs. 100, Rs. 250, Rs. 500, etc.