Money, money, money: The RBI Monetary Museum in Mumbai

A short distance away from the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) buildings in South Mumbai is its Monetary Museum. The museum, which is the first (and perhaps the only one) of its kind is all about something that is an intrinsic part of our daily life — money. The Monetary Museum is not very well-known, but having visited it I can say that is one of Mumbai’s, and perhaps India’s, best curated museums.

Though I had been aware of the Monetary Museum’s existence for some years now, I had never gotten around to actually visiting it. Which is kind of strange as the Museum is located in an area that I visit quite often. And when I did actually visit it earlier this year, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision that led me there!

RBI Monetary Museum, Museums of Mumbai, Money
Mural at the entrance lobby of the RBI Monetary Museum. Please click on the picture for the source of this image

A 10-15 minute walk from CST or Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the RBI Monetary Museum is a high security museum, with no photography and no bags inside. Entry is free and after depositing my bag and cell phone in the locker provided, and a security check later, I was inside the first of the 6 galleries of the Museum.

The Monetary Museum was set up by the RBI to showcase India’s rich monetary heritage. It has a representative collection of “over 10,000 exhibits of Indian coinage, currency, financial instruments and monetary curiosities” spread over its 6 galleries.

The Ideas, Concepts and Curiosities Gallery is the first one a that a visitor to the Museum will enter. It sets the context for understanding the concept of money and how it has “changed in appearance and substance and evolved from barter to coins to present day bank notes and e-money.” It was interesting to see the different names for money (boat money, bracelet money) and also the use of cowrie shells as an indicator for money.

The Coinage Gallery is up next. I came to know here that, among other things, India was one of the earliest issuers of coins in the world. The earliest documented coins were punch-marked silver coins issued around 6th century BCE. This gallery documents over 2,000 years of history through the aforementioned punch-marked coins, dynastic coins, coins from the Medieval period, British India coins, Republic of India coins, and contemporary coins. I think I was more fascinated by the designs on the coins than the coins themselves — from animals like horses, elephants and lions, to human figures to calligraphy to decorative motifs… The largest and the smallest coins ever produced in India were also on exhibit in this gallery.

The Coins to Paper Money Gallery is next and this is where the transition from actual money to tokens of money are on display. Promissory notes, bills of exchange, and cheques are displayed. An introduction to the concept of banking is also presented here.

Indian paper money, as we understand it today, was first issued in late 18th century. The Paper Money Gallery displays notes issued from the early 19th century onwards. The entire range of notes issued by the Republic of India is on display here and once again I was fascinated by the changes in design over the decades. Also on display here was something that I was not aware of — the Haj notes. Indian currency was accepted in the gulf countries till the late 1960s and RBI used to issue a special series for use there.

The fifth gallery, Know Your Currency, is aimed at spreading public awareness about currency in India and how it is managed. There are flow charts and diagrammatic representations of where money comes from and how it is distributed through the 19 RBI Issue Offices to over 4,000 Currency Chests and then to the public through the banking system. The reverse procedure for destroying/withdrawing soiled notes and unfit coins is also explained in detail as are security features introduced in identifying genuine notes.

The last gallery is aptly titled RBI and You for it outlines the functions, role and responsibilities of India’s central bank in monetary policy, currency management, foreign exchange, and financial regulation and supervision, among others. I particularly liked the photo gallery of all the RBI Governors from the first, Sir Osborne Smith to the 22nd RBI Governor, D. Subbarao. Information on the current and 23rd RBI Governor, Raghuram Rajan, is missing.

The Monetary Museum is one of the best museums that I have visited in India. It is compact and the information is presented in a succinct manner that is designed to inform and educate rather than overwhelm. The exhibits are tastefully displayed and the information flow is logical. When I exited the Monetary Museum, it was with a sense of pleasure of having gained knowledge about something I had known nothing about.

I took my time to go through the exhibits at the Monetary Museum as the topic was new to me and I wanted to understand what I was seeing. I was, therefore, not too surprised to find that I had spent almost 2 hours at the Museum. I was, however, surprised that there was no one else at the there, apart from a group of office-goers who were in and out of the Museum in 10 minutes !

The RBI Monetary Museum is an absolute treasure trove and it is a shame that there aren’t more people visiting it, especially students. While I admit that there is a lack of culture/ habit of visiting museums among Indians, I don’t think that alone is to blame here. The Monetary Museum is not well-publicised and apart from an occasional write-up in a blog, there is no sustained publicity whatsoever.

Why talk about publicity, when the Information Desk at the Museum did not even tell me about the brochures (in the picture below) they had till I asked for it.

RBI Monetary Museum, Museums of Mumbai, MoneyWhen I went to collect my bag after my tour of the museum, I gushed to the security guard as to what a wonderful place the Monetary Museum was and what a good time I had. I casually asked him if there was a brochure or booklet or anything on the Museum that I could buy as a souvenir.

The guard reached under his desk and pulled out a set of information brochures and handed them to me. “That’ll be Rs. 20/- for the set.”

“Why didn’t you tell me of this before?” I asked the guard.

“You didn’t ask me,” was the simple answer. “Besides not everybody is interested in them.”

I just shook my head with disbelief at this logic as I purchased the set of Information Brochures and left.


Note:

  1. All text in quotes in this blog post have been taken from the Information Brochure of the RBI Monetary Museum.
  2. Please, please, please visit the Monetary Museum. It will be worth the time you’ll spend there.

20 thoughts on “Money, money, money: The RBI Monetary Museum in Mumbai

  1. Ah never actually herd of the same..and I guess they have reasons to not allow photography inside the museum..of Money…. My 2 Annas: Cash the universally accepted word for money in English is actually from Old Tamil / Malayalam ::: Kaas or Kaash denoting hard currency… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m perfectly okay with photography not being allowed if the reasons are valid and are stated explicitly. I hate it when when rules are made up on the spot and the security try to intimidate. The latter happened when I visited the iconic Prithvi Cafe recently and the people were extremely rude about it.

      The Monetary Museum is an absolute delight and whenever you are in Mumbai next do take some time off to see it. It’ll be worth you time.

      Many English words have been derived from Tamil words, like cash from kaasu; victory from vettri, and catamaran from kattamaram. 🙂

      Like

  2. Coming after a long time! This is indeed a treasure of a post, pun intended 🙂 Only if you had been allowed to take photographs, we would have had a piece on Museum Treasure too 😦

    It is indeed a pity that students of finance and commerce don’t visit it. It of course has to do with the fact that the syllabi are all so theoretical. Also perhaps Indians as a people are not avid museum goers which can be partly explained as being the result of the state run museums being so badly maintained, dingy, dusty and whatever not. Thanks for bringing out such museums to light.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yayyy ! Good to see you back, Alrmelvalli. I was thinking of mailing you and finding if all was well. 🙂

      While I agree with you that we are not a nation of museum goers, I disagree with you that our museums are not well maintained or organised. I visit a lot of museums and most are well curated and maintained. Sure, there are some which are not taken well taken care of, but the days of dusty, dingy museums are over.

      I think the problem is we have lost the ability of appreciate anything that is not in your face. Also, schools don’t organise just amuseum visit – it is a museum-cum-zoo-cum-aquarium-cum beach-cum… Why would children want to be indoors when they could be outdoors. As for families, a day out is means a mall, and not a museum.

      Museums, like art galleries, require time and effort on your part. Many museums have interactive displays and excellent information boards put up. But if the visitor is not willing to read it, the museums are not to be blamed.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Never heard of the monetary museum at the RBI before. My only experience of viewing coins are the old historical ones displayed at other museums located elsewhere. Can understand why photography is banned here. I guess if it was located outside the RBI premises, they would have allowed photography by charging a nominal fee.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I doubt if photography would be allowed within the RBI premises even for a fee. One is not allowed to take a picture of the building from the road. I once had a guard chasing me for taking a picture of the RBI building from across the road !

      As for visiting the Museum, next time you’re in town, go see the Monetary Museum. 🙂

      Like

  4. I have lots of old coin that which is around 3000 BCE of panchal dynasty of during mahabharat era and so many old coin that to rare commumerative coin. A huge collection. I think very few people in india who have this type of coin. I am also a collection collection award winner.

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    1. Welcome here, NC Das. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting and letting me know of your collection. If I ever decide to sell the coins, I will consider contacting you.

      Like

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