The Rupee: The Making and Unmaking of a Global Currency | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online


This paper examines the broad dissemination of the East India Company’s rupee currency at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. It explains why the rupee became the dominant means of exchange in much of India and why, despite some promise, it failed to become a global currency. The paper uses Helenus Scott’s The Adventures of a Rupee wherein are interspersed various anecdotes Asiatic and European (1782) as an analytical focus to explain how the East India Company’s burgeoning military campaigns, trade networks, and land administration led to a rapid circulation of the Company’s currency within India and as far afield as Britain and Southern China. Scott’s so-called “novel of circulation” is written in the first-person and from the perspective of a rupee. The narrator takes the reader on a global journey of exchange, from his minting in northern India to the harem of an Indian Muslim king, to the pocket of a sailor traveling to China and, finally, to a pawn-broker’s shop in London. The novel illustrates the strengths and the limitations of the Company’s currency – its growing ubiquity in colonial military, trade, and revenue networks, but also its ultimate relegation, as a colonial currency, to regional prominence.


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