Hundi (Indian bill of exchange)

Bombay, India, late 19th century AD

A note with a special, coded message

A bill of exchange is a written note given by one person to another, instructing a third person to pay whoever presents it to them a sum of money. The Indian name for a bill of exchange is a hundi. This one contains a request by a Bombay merchant for the payment of 300 rupees, and bears a revenue stamp of Queen Victoria (empress of India 1876-1901) for one anna (1/16th of a rupee).

Bills of exchange appear to have been in use in India from at least the sixteenth century. Banarasi Das, an Indian merchant born in 1586, records that his father gave him a hundi for 200 rupees to enable him to borrow money in another city and start trading there. As a safety precaution, the bills were usually written in an elaborate script which only bankers knew how to read and write. Like the bill of exchange in European banking, the hundi is still used in India today, even though the resources of modern banking are available for most commercial transactions.

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More information

Bibliography

C. R. Bruce, J. S. Deyall, N. Rhodes and W. F. Spengler, The Standard guide to South As (Iolo Wisconsin, Krause Publications, 1991)

J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

Dimensions

Length: 1107.000 mm
Width: 191.000 mm

Museum number

CM 1983-6-30-7

CBA4087

Location

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