The anna, together with the rupee and the paisa, formed the basis of the Indian currency system (1 Rupee = 16 anna = 64 paisa) till 1957. Higher denomination coins such as the rupee, half rupee were minted in silver while lower value coins such as one-quarter anna (1 paisa), 1/12 anna (one pie) or ½ pice were minted in copper and bronze. The half anna (1/32 rupee or 2 paisa) was the highest of these lower value copper/bronze coins.
The first pan-India half anna coin was introduced in 1835 by the East India Company – this was a large coin about 30 mm in diameter and 12.95 grams in weight – slightly larger than the silver rupee and the largest coin in mainstream circulation. The obverse carried the coat of arms of the East India Company – two lions holding a shield with St. George’s Cross in between, with the date below and a Latin inscription underneath. These coins were minted in Bombay and Calcutta mints.
After 1857, the governance of India passed on to the British crown, and the change was also reflected in the coinage. The next minting of half-anna was in 1862, with an image of Queen Victoria on the obverse. In 1877, Victoria was awarded the title Empress of India, and the legend on the coins changed to ‘Empress Victoria’ – to reflect this change. This was the last issue of half-anna coins for over 75 years – no half anna coins were minted for nearly three-quarters of a century.
The next half-anna issue was in 1942, durign the reign of George VI. A square coin with rounded corners made of nickel-brass and later copper-nickel. Post 1947, independent India continued the denominations – identicial in size and composition, but with changed design with India’s emblem rather than an Emperor’s portrait. These coins were minted from 1950-55 – and were the last half anna coins minted in India. in 1956, India shifted to a decimal currency system – with one rupee comprising 100 naya-paisas. The half anna was replaced by 5 paisa.
British India wasn’t the only issuer of currency in the pre-1947 period. A number of Indian princely states also issued their own coinage, and some of the larger ones such as Gwalior, Indore, Baroda and Udaipur had a full range of currency, including their own half anna (or two paisa). The Portuguese posessions in India, centered around Goa, had their own Rupia (equal to 1 Rupee) and Tanga (equal to 1 anna) – and had their own half tanga coin (minted in the Calcutta mint).
This large range of half anna coins of British India and Indian princely states are a challenge for any collector - requiring a lot of effort but a relatively small amount of money. Luckily for Indian collectors, while these half anna coins and their equivalents are scarce compared to other denominations, their prices continue to be very affordable.