The Portuguese were the first European power to reach India by sea, when Vasco da Gama landed on the cost of Calicut. They were also the first ones to build up a substantial colonial empire in the Indian Ocean – in Goa, parts of Indian coast, Sri Lanka and Malacca. While they lost most of their colonial possessions to other, later martime powers, their rule over Goa, Daman & Diu continued up to 1961 – well after India’s independence in 1947. Thus, the Portuguese colonial presence lasted longer than that of any other colonial power.
Upto the mid-19th century, each of the Portuguese territories minted its own coinage – and these coins are uneven in quality. In 1878, the Anglo-Portuguese treaty was signed – this was an economic alliance between UK and Portugal with respect to their colonies in India. The treaty allowed for open movement of goods between the two territories and uniformity of customs duties. A uniform system of currency, weights and measures was also introduced to facilitate free movement of goods between the two territories as provided by the Treaty. Since most of the trade relations of Portuguese India were with the British India, it was inconvenient for Portuguese India to maintain a different system of currency, weights and measures.
After the 1878 Anglo-Portuguese treaty, coins used in Portuguese India were minted in British Indian mints – and were equivalent in value to their British Indian counterparts. The Uma Rupia coin of Portuguese India was 11.66 grams and 0.917 silver – same as the British-Indian rupee. The design was also similar, with the head of the ruler on one side and denomination on the other. The Uma Rupia was divided into 16 tangas, and 1 tanga was equal to 1 anna.
Two coins featuring Portuguese rulers were minted:
- Luiz I for the years 1881, 1882 and 1885 (1)
- Carlos I for the years 1903, 1904 (2)
In 1908, Carlos I and his eldest son, the heir apparent Luis Fillpe were murdered by Republican assassins. The next ruler – Manuel II, the second son of Carlos, took the throne but ruled only till 1910 – after which the Portuguese monarchy was dissolved following a revolution. Subsequent coins of Portuguese India also reflected this change. New coins had the Liberty Head, instead of the ruler’s portrait (3).The First Portuguese Republic was overthrown in 1926, and replaced by a dictatorship. The design of the coins also changed (4). However, over this entire period (1881 to 1935), the weight and the purity (silver content) of the coins remained unchanged.
An interesting feature in some of the Indo-Portuguese coins are the initials 'V ALVES' - visible under the bust on the obverse. These are the initials of Valencio Alves, who had designed these coins. The text is small and delicate - if it is still clearly legible, the coin can be considered to be in good condition.
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