By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..
Starting in 1903, the British mint in Calcutta was making plans for the eventual production of the one Anna denomination–which, prior to the decimalization of the Rupee in 1957, was equivalent to 1/16th of a Rupee. So over the next three years, the Calcutta mint produced a series of pattern coins that represent a stark departure from standard Imperial British coinage. The progression in early pattern design from 1903 to 1905 shows that since the coin was to be struck in nickel, it would therefore need to be easily distinguishable from the more prevalent silver coinage.
In 1904, the Calcutta mint released two Proofs. The first was holed and proudly declared the INDIAN EMPIRE on the obverse. On the reverse was a seascape and palm tree set off by a series of sun beams emanating from the central hole.
The second, as seen below, was relatively standard in numismatic terms, with the obverse dominated by the right facing bare head of Edward VII and reverse by the date and denomination.
A plain circular design was however quickly abandoned, and in 1905 the mint produced a second holed pattern. The first has a similar obverse to the 1904 holed pattern, but the reverse has a decorative diamond surrounding the English denomination, which is then translated into four native languages. This coin was the first coin of British India to have five different languages: English, Urdu, Telugu, Nagri, and Bengali.
Since George V did not approve of any coin that did not have his bust on the obverse, the Mint had to scrap both this pattern and the general idea of using a holed planchet. Instead, they decided to use the ¼ cent dies of the Straits Settlement and placed the reverse design of the second holed pattern type on a standard round planchet.
Unfortunately, this would not be easily distinguishable from the silver coinage of the day and Captain A.L.C. McCormick, head of the Calcutta mint, suggested that they employ an innovative scalloped edge. Thus was the one Anna coin born.
Once the design was settled, the Indian Coinage Act of 1906 was passed, and the Mint begin striking the coin for circulation. These coins were struck for four years for a total mintage of nearly 125 million coins.
A slightly controversial incident occurred when the first George V Indian coins were struck in 1911. One of the ornaments on the king’s robes looked like a pig, and not an elephant as intended. Not only was the coin be rejected by India’s large Islamic population, but it even had the possibility of sparking widespread social unrest. These coins (the issue was the same on all denominations with the same obverse type) were labeled the “Pig Style“. Production was halted, and the coins were recalled. Today Pig Style Anna coins are extremely rare, and rarely seen at auction. As a result, the George V Anna was not released into general circulation until 1912.
While the Calcutta mint would experiment with shifting towards a square shape with rounded corners, as was used for the two Anna coins, this design was not adopted, and all circulation strikes during the reign of George V were of the standard scalloped edge variety.
George V reigned for 26 years and passed on January 20, 1936. His son Edward VII came to the throne briefly before abdicating after less than one year. As his reign was so brief, no coins were struck in his name for the British Raj. His brother George VI would resume striking one Anna coins in 1938. Besides replacing the George V bust with that of George VI, the only significant design change was to the numerical denomination on the reverse when the Calcutta mint engraver used a slightly thinner “1”.
As with all nations, Great Britain needed to adjust during World War II. Like the U.S. Lincoln cent, the composition of the one Anna coin was changed. Instead of the original cupro-nickel alloy, from 1941 to 1945 they were to be nickel brass (75% copper, 20% zinc and 5% nickel). The design, however, stayed the same. In 1946, after the war, the coin was returned to the original composition.
This coin was resilient, and despite the Indian subcontinent successfully overthrowing British colonial rule in 1947, the one Anna coin continued to be used.
The new country was undergoing a period of intense change, and the government decided to allow the previous British types to circulate until 1950. But by 1949, the Calcutta mint was ready to release a newly designed pattern set that retained all existing denominations. This new one Anna pattern design replaced the obverse King’s bust with the Lion Capital of the famous Ashoka Pillar and the reverse design with a water buffalo.
One year later on August 15, 1950, India released its first new coins: the Anna Series. The Anna was slightly changed from the recent 1949 pattern. The obverse was kept the same, but the reverse now displayed a zebra bull and had slightly simplified legends. According to the Reserve Bank of India, this new design was intended to denote a break with the country’s colonial past and designate “a shift in focus to progress and prosperity.”
A short-lived series, this new Anna coin was only released in two distinct issuances: 9,944,000 pieces in 1950 and 20,388,000 in 1954. Shortly thereafter on April 1, 1957, India decimalized their currency. As a result, the Anna became worth 6.25 paise instead of the previous four and the denomination was demonetized and replaced with the square 5 paise coin.
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About the Author
Tyler Rossi is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management and studies Sustainable International Development and Conflict Resolution. Before graduating from American University in Washington D.C., he worked for Save the Children creating and running international development projects. Recently, Tyler returned to the US from living abroad in the Republic of North Macedonia, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. Tyler is an avid numismatist and for over a decade has cultivated a deep interest in pre-modern and ancient coinage from around the world. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).