Monday, February 04, 2013

Exchange rates: 1800 - 1850

In [1], Edney tells us that one pound sterling (£1) contained 20 shillings, and one shilling contained 12 pence. A rupee, as Indians know, is made of 16 annas.

Edney tells us that in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century, rupees were coined in silver. The freshly minted version was the sicca, and the coins with wear and tear were sonat, worth only 15 sicca annas (instead of 16).

Edney tells us that the conversion of rupees to pound sterling equivalent depended on the going rate for silver (with respect to gold, I suppose) in London. He tells us that Coins, Weights and Measures of British India, part one of Useful Tables, forming an Appendix to the Journal of the Asiatic Society (Calcutta, 1834) gives an approximate conversion of one shilling, ten pence (£0.092) to a sonat rupee and two shillings (£0.1) to a sicca rupee.  Unfortunately, he ruins my confidence in him by confidently stating that "one lakh contained ten thousand rupees"; this in the second edition of his book.  Sorry, one lakh is one hundred thousand.

In [2], we are told that around 1806, the East India Company fixed the sikka rupee to be 180 grains troy of silver, 11/12 fine, 1/12 alloy. That is, they tell us: one rupee was 165 grains fine silver and 15 grains of alloy.  The Wiki article [3] on the great recoinage in Great Britain in 1816, tells us at at that  1 Dtroy pound which is 5760 grains of silver (0.925 fine silver) was set by definition to 66 shillings.

You can do the arithmetic, it turns out that 1 rupee =  £0.1 is reasonable based on the weight of silver.  In various other documents of the time, 1 rupee = 2 shillings (i.e.,£0.1) is the exchange rate that is used, so Edney is validated.

[1] Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India 1765-1843, Mathew H. Edney, (1997)

[2] Note on the history of the East India Coinage from 1753-1835, Edgar Thurston,  (1893).

[3] Wiki: Great Recoinage of 1816