Breathing new life into its coin gallery, both by increasing the number of coins on display from 100 to 400 and by better arrangement, lighting and more informative and attractively presented notes, is the colonial coin gallery of the Fort Museum, which now calls itself ‘Pagodas to Paise’.
Pagodas were the currency of South India in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Struck in gold, they were also called the hun and varaha and weighed 50-60 grains each. Also struck in gold were the fanam (from the Tamil panam), 3-5 grains in weight. Kasu (from which the English ‘cash’ is derived) were struck in copper. There were also coins known as duddu, a term still in use for ‘money’.
It was 1626 that the East India Company’s factory in Armagon (Durgarayapatnam) was granted permission to strike pagodas and fanams in gold. It was the first English settlement to receive such permission. It was, however, 1629 before the mint in Armagon began putting the permission to use. Madras, founded in 1639 under a grant which also permitted the minting of coins, established its mint in Fort St. George in 1643. Originally leased to Indian merchants, the Madras mint became Company-run in 1647. During the 1640s, 6 kasu equalled 1 fanam, 32 fanams 1 pagoda, and 1 pagoda 8 shillings sterling. From 1676 until the early 19th Century, the valuation was changed to 80 kasu (or cash) equalling 1 fanam, and 36 fanams 1 pagoda. In 1816, the valuation was changed again with the introduction of the star pagoda to 3600 kasu = 45 fanams =3 1/2 rupees =1 star pagoda.
The Madras mint started with gold coining, added silver to its range, introduced a silver fanam, and, in the 1660s, added copper to its coinage. In 1695, the mint moved out of the Fort and in 1711 was reserved for gold while a new mint was established for silver and copper. The mints were destroyed by the French during the 1746-49 occupation and rebuilt in 1754. New machinery was introduced in 1807 and was in use even after common Indian coinage was introduced in 1835.