Recently we republished a major article on this subject. Since that article was written a researcher in Ahmedabad, Amit Mehta, has worked on a number projects including the various copper coins of the western regions. He ahs also co authored ( with Sameer Panchal and Vinay Vadke) a book in a series “Heritage of Gujarat Through Coins” “The Princely States of Chhota Udepur, Deogarh Baria, Lunavada and Sunth.”
It was a privilege for me to be recognised as a contributor to this book. However copper coins in India have never really had the research they have deserved. From the times of the great Victorian era numismatists it seems that copper coins of the great subcontinent have been under researched. Then again with the great number of coins , empires and rulers within the region there is still much work to be done on the precious metal coins but copper coin collecting and research will uncover great secrets.
So we attach Amit’s article. It has been a great pleasure working with Amit. The methods of crop funding in the western areas especially that of poppy (opium) growing could yield some surprises as suggested by Amit. It is time for a greater depth of research and collecting. These copper coins are still extremely cheap. Who knows what might be discovered.
Arthur Needham for the team.
Kachha Paisa: A re-look at the humble coin of the masses
in the rural interiors of India; By AMIT MEHTA
I have been fascinated by the ‘unofficial’ currency that circulated in India in themid19th century but at the same time peeved by the name Kachha Paisa which gives an impression of it being not too welcome or possibly, an illegal currency.This unofficial currency or ‘commodity coinage’ was denounced by the colonial officials as ‘counterfeits’ giving them the ‘Kachha Paisa’ tag. They were the equivalent of the Civic Coppers which circulated in Afghanistan and Iran at around the same time. I have penned these thoughts to help increase awareness amongst collectors that Kachha Paisa’s are not only collectible but are in fact more fascinating than the official mint issues.
Kachha Paisa can be defined as a coin or a currency which circulated at a given point of time and was acceptable in the market for regular trade but at the rate of exchange arbitrarily determined by the local shroff based on a number of factors including acceptability. This means that the number of paisa / pice that could fetch a rupee or may be other paisa / pice was determined by the local trader, Shroff or Money lender. There was no fixed rate of exchange like the official mint issues which traded at fixed rates. Silver was used only for large value transactions and Copper was required for petty daily transactions. Farm labour including opium and cotton workers were paid using copper. Each crop of opium and cotton, which were in great demand by the trading houses for export, needed multiple progressive advances from the buyers. These advances were necessary to pay for seeds, farm labour and to meet the daily needs of the farming community. This was invariably paid in copper because silver was a high value currency – way too high for the ordinary peasant or labour for everyday use. Minting Silver was the prerogative of the state whereas there was little or no control on minting copper. The cost of transporting copper over long distances from mints was much higher per unit as compared to transporting Silver. It appears that minting rights were farmed out and anyone could get a license to mint copper by paying a nominal fee to the authorities. The population in the areas where these Kachha Paisa circulated was mostly illiterate and for accepting a coin, relied only on the symbols. Since these coins were struck with very low margins, the possibility of the mint workers cutting corners during minting cannot be ruled out. This would have resulted in a poor strike / double or multiple strikes etc. – features very commonly found on these coins.
Over Struck coins also point to the use of previous issues without melting or heating to cut costs. The main feature used to label a coin as a Kachha Paisa and differentiate it from an ‘official’ coin is the presence or absence of specific symbols associated with the issues of the official mints. Absence of such symbols or finding the symbol/s which differ from the official issues or the presence of multiple symbols associated with multiple ‘official’ mints are cited as reasons to label a coin as a Kachha Paisa. Presence of symbols associated with two different states has also been attributed to minting during skirmishes or invasion with the invader adding his symbol to the locally recognised symbols. However, I do not find this line of thought convincing. A study of coins termed Kachha Paisa throws up another interesting fact. Most such coins, especially those minted in Central India where opium was the chief produce, have, besides the symbols associated with mints in the surrounding states, one or the other of the following symbols:
a) A device with 3 or more prongs (often called ‘Trisul’ ) which is interpreted as a ‘standard’ coin marking of the Central Indian region. It is in fact an implement that is / was used to score poppy to produce the opium containing liquid and hence easily identified by the local population.
b) A four-petal flower often appears on a number of such coins. It should be noted that the poppy flower is very often drawn as a four petal flower.
Most, if not all Kachha Paisa’s were struck privately with or without permission from any political authority by local money lenders / village heads / large traders / trading houses in the major cities for consumption in the rural or far away areas. The crude minting, some which look like deliberate attempts to avoid the mint name coming on to the coin ensures that most coins do not shoe the mint name on them making it impossible to attribute them to ‘states’. An error that a collector makes today is trying to attribute these coins to specific states. Since these coins are not state issues but local area specific private issues – akin to tokens of today. Unscrupulous dealers brand these coins as rare or unique coins and demand unreasonable prices. It is necessary to keep in mind that the economy then was more like a barter trade economy, often using copper to trade, than the trade in monetary terms that we have today.
Kachha Paisa’s circulated in the market just like official copper currency but since it would have been costly to transport copper in large quantities over long distances, they would have been minted locally in the area where they were used. This humble currency was mainly used by the population to meet their daily needs. A symbol or a mark was placed on the coin which the illiterate population could easily recognise or relate to. These coins were generally used in a small area surrounding the ‘mint’ place though some may have travelled long distances. To make the coins acceptable for use in a little larger area, the ‘minter’ may have used symbols acceptable in the surrounding areas. Since the value of the coin was generally determined by the weight of copper and the symbols, it actually would not have caused much hardship to the consumer –who, in any case had little choice since the ‘official’ coinage would not be available in the interior areas.
Unfortunately no records of this minting including the farming of minting rights or licensing of the minting have been found and hence it is not exactly possible to confirm. Discussions with other collectors have thrown up an interesting fact that such parallel currencies have existed and been in use since ages. These were not the normal forged coins meant to deceive but actual circulating coinage for use in a restricted area with a suitable small mint run. The Kachha Paisa phenomenon is not confined just to Central India but is widely spread from the North of India to the Berar area in South Central India and from the borders of Gujarat to a fair distance inland in to Malwa in Central India.
Though a lot of people view the Kachha Paisa’s as not collectible, I believe that these are very short run issues – which changed with passage of time – and sometimes, some trade houses had a different design for every crop. These unscrupulous traders who had minted these coins may have agreed to pay higher value than the shroff if the coins were exchanged for goods from them giving them an added profit. It is very clear that these pieces circulated and functioned as money. They played an important part in the daily activity of the common man. Thereby, they should be included in the border of the concept of the word ‘coin’ and command the same respect. These coins are actually found from very small or localised areas and if the hoards / finds are properly documented, it may still be possible to have more information on them. Unfortunately, Indian find laws being what they are, no one in his right mind would like to report a find. These are very scarce coins and it is only a fortunate collector who is able to lay his hands on them. For coins minted using just one or two dies, not more than a few thousand would have been minted and only a few would have survived.
I thank Barry Tabor who did pioneering research on these coins for having guided me in my formative years and Arthur Needham for all his help in making this subject easier to understand. I also thank members of the forum‘World of Coins’ for their valuable suggestions on the subject. Copyright 2017