Imagine a one rupee coin, not even one that is too old, made of silver fetching Rs 6 lakhs in an auction. In December 2015, there was a fair bit of excitement in the numismatics circles in India when a 1939 King George VI became the most valued rupee coin in India. Why it topped the charts is interesting - it was thanks to some perfect timing!
The one rupee silver coin of George VI issued in 1939 is one of the rarest rupee coins available. Before the Revolt of 1857, the rupee coins were issued by the East India company. After the transfer of the Indian administration to the British Parliament, the British Imperial Government issued coins in India, under the name of their monarch Queen Victoria. The first such British silver rupee coins was issued in 1862 and this continued till the beginning of World War I.
In 1914, when the First World War began in Europe, there was a massive rise in the prices of silver and gold , due to an overall shortage in supply. As a result, all silver coins were withdrawn from circulation. In 1917, the British Government issued one rupee and two & half rupee notes instead of coins.
As the demand for silver eased after 1922, the British Government reintroduced half and quarter rupee silver coins, but there were still no one rupee silver coins issued.
It was only in 1938-39, that a silver one rupee coins were issued in the name of King George VI, father of the current Queen of England, Elizabeth II. He had succeeded to the throne of Britain after the abdication of his brother. However, the time was quiet prophetic. The World War II would begin in Europe in 1939 and all silver coins would again be withdrawn from circulation.
As guns went off across Europe, once again the value of silver went through the roof. So much so that the value of the silver in the coin was greater than the actual value of the coin. It was only a matter of time before people began to melt silver coins in circulation, to extract silver.
The pressure of the Second World War also led to some experiments in coinage. The Silver rupee coin was replaced by the ‘Quaternary Silver Alloy’. To replace the earlier currency, the new rupee coins were minted with only 50% silver as against the earlier issue of 97% silver. The silver one rupee coins were discontinued completely in 1945 due to the shortage of metal and in 1946 these coins were issued in nickel.
Thus, the silver one rupee coin issued by King George VI in 1939 was the last pure silver one rupee coin issued in India. What makes the coin so rare and a collector’s delight is that there are very few specimens of this one rupee silver coin issued in the of year 1939, known today. Only a handful survive, outside the public eye, in private collections today.
Cover Image Courtesy - Todywalla Auctions