• The British East India Company

    These silver coins were made, or 'minted', in Madras, India, in 1807.

    They were made for the British East India Company, the biggest trading company in the world, which then controlled much of India.

    The Company had its own army, and a fleet of sailing ships with cannon ('East Indiamen') that carried tea, cotton, spices and other goods to Britain.

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  • New coins

    India had its own coins, such as the rupee and the pagoda, issued by the princes who ruled the various Indian states.

    The East India Company wanted new coins, machine-made with 'milled' (cut) edges, like those we use today.

    Milling the edges of coins made it harder for people to 'clip' bits off the edges, for the precious silver.

    The new coins had to look Indian, so people would use them.

    The Company decided to 'recycle' Spanish silver dollars, stamping each coin with a new design.

    The Spanish coins, known as 'pieces of eight', were used by traders (and pirates) all over the world.

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  • Silver

    The silver in this coin has its own story: it probably came from a silver mine at Potosi in Peru, South America.

    Spanish 'conquistadors' (conquerors) looking for gold and silver captured Peru from the Incas in the 1500s, and Spanish ships carried Potosi silver across the high seas to Europe.

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  • Two sides to the story

    Like most coins, the East India Company 'silver half pagoda' coin has two sides; an obverse (front) and a reverse (back).

    On the obverse is the image of a temple (a pagoda) and stars.

    Around the edge is the coin's value, written in English and Persian.

    The reverse of the coin shows Vishnu, the Hindu god of creation, inside a circle of dots.

    The coin's value is given again, in the Tamil and Telugu languages. The coin was struck between two dies to stamp the design onto the metal, over the old Spanish design.

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  • The long history of coins

    The history of metal coins goes back more than 2500 years, though people have used many other forms of money, such as shells and stones.

    The East India Company was set up in 1600. It went on issuing coins in India until 1858, when the British government took over directly control of India.

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Fun Facts
  • Europeans began visiting India by sea in the 1400s. First to sail there was Vasco da Gama, from Portugal (1497-98).

  • The British East India Company was set up in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, in 1600 as a 'Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies'.

  • By the 1600s, Europeans were building trading posts in India. In Britain, these places were called 'factories'.

  • In 1661, Bombay (Mumbai) was 'given' to King Charles II as a wedding gift by Portugal. He'd married a Portuguese princess.

  • Young men went to India to work for the East India Company. They hoped to get rich, and return home as 'nabobs'.

  • London's East India Docks were built to handle ships trading between Britain and India.

  • The ships that sailed between India and Britain were called 'East Indiamen'. They had lots of cannon to fight off pirates.

  • Some Indian soldiers were very good at shooting muskets (guns) from horseback. The East India Company paid these and other Indian soldiers to fight for it.

  • Robert Clive was the East India Company's best English soldier. He won a battle at Plassey (1757) against the Indian leader Suraj-ud-Dowlah.

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