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