Posted on: 19 November 2016

Shroffs, Money Changers - 1863

Studio portrait of shroffs or money changers at Delhi in India, taken by Shepherd and Robertson in c.1863. This image of two men, seated with account books and piles of coins, is reproduced as illustration number 185 in Volume IV of John Forbes Watson's 'The People of India' (1869). The accompanying text states, "Shroffs are not always Bunneas (small traders), although the person illustrated may have been one. They are not unfrequently Brahmins, who have adopted a secular calling, and deal in money - Khutris, and other castes, Vaisya and Sudra. Their trade is the exchange of money, the giving change for rupees in pyce or copper coin, and for pyce in cowries. In the higher branches of his calling, the Shroff discounts hoodees, or bills of exchange, bonds, and promissory notes. He deals also in bullion, in small or large quantities, buys and sells ornaments, old and new pearls, and precious stones of all kinds. Finally, he lends money, generally on pledges of gold and silver ornaments, in small proportion to their value, but at moderate interest."

Text and image credit:
Copyright © The British Library Board

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Money changers encashing coins with Cowri, which was demontised by Government in 1860

Cowri and Coins in 1840 from Anglo Indian Domestic Life by Colesworthy Grant

they use to punch mark the silver coins to test the purity.

So, that is how the shirts looked like in pre-button era!

Cowries as Money in Seychelles

They are banks or bankers going through evolutionary process. In olden days there were no banks like they are today no trains or aeroplanes to go from one part of the country to another part of country (i m not talking of international travel which was even harder). Travelling so was perilous not just because of bad weather or dunes or wild animals there was always danger of theives and day light robbers. People avoided carrying precious stuff like gold, silver etc. So they deposited it (after assessment of its value) with these shroffs and in return they gave a bill of exchange or hundi alongwith contact info of Shroff in the destination city. Once the travellers reach their destination (usually in weeks or months) they would contact the Shroff who would gladly accept B/E upon presentation and give the gold or whatever precious stuff had been deposited with their counterparts at origin. Of course it involved charging a small fee (discount) as agreed with Shroff at origin.