Following is an analysis, by John Deyell, of the incuse punched marks (shroff marks, test marks) found on many issues of the Sultans of Bengal. Input is sought by the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Under the practice of batta noted by Abu'l Fazl as originating in
Bengal, the silver tankas of the sultanate were heavily discounted
in circulation by currency traders and exchange brokers. This
historical observation appears to be confirmed by the numismatic
evidence: the vast majority of the surviving silver coins of the
Bengal sultanate bear numerous 'shroff marks', i.e. chops or punches
presumably applied by sarrafs or bankers. This name for the marks,
in common use by numismatists, is an Anglicism which arose during
the pre-independence period. A more objective term would
It is actually difficult to find a specimen of the Bengal silver
tanka which is totally free of these countermarks. The 'shroff
marks' are of three principal kinds or classes, which appear to have
had different but related functions:
* identification marks, which are small light punches bearing
pictorial devices or geometric patterns;
* cancellation marks, which are large deep chisel gouges; and
* test marks, which are shallow circular holes.
The first two types of shroff marks, the identification and
cancellation marks, are typical of the coinage of the Bengal
sultanate, and quite unique to that coinage, not being remarked on
the profuse silver coins of the contemporary Malwa and Gujarat
sultanates of central and western India. The latter type, the small
circular holes, did however appear on the coins of the contemporary
sultanates, and also survived into the Mughal era.
The coins catalogued above were all produced by a process of hand
minting. Although there is no direct historical testimony as to the
manufacturing technique of the Bengal mints during this period, the
first book of the `Ain-i-Akbari, written at the end of this period,
contains a full description of the hand minting process. The mint
itself was a regulated venture, meaning it was a either royal
factory or a royally licensed private venture. The minting act
started by placing a coin flan or blank of standard weight between
two dies or tools engraved with a countersunk design. The upper die
was struck by a hammer, causing the dies to compress the flan
thereby imparting a raised design. These dies were at least equal
in width to the flan being struck, so every part of the coin's
surface was covered by the coin design. The design imparted the
message of the coin, in effect making it legal tender through royal
sanction. The coin design was an official impression.
In contrast, the mini dies or punches used to impart the 'shroff
marks' were much narrower than the coin flan, and the countermarks
they left obscured only a fraction of the coin's surface, leaving
much of the original design visible. Close inspection always
reveals that the 'shroff marks' were struck over the original
design, hence were applied after the original design. Some 'shroff
marks' are struck over others, meaning they were struck in sequence,
conceivably at different times. Observation of a number of coins
leads to the observation that the 'shroff marks' were not placed on
the coins in the mint itself, since coins of the same type, mint and
date seldom bear the same countermarks. For these reasons, G.S.
Farid in his study of these countermarks came to the conclusion that
they did not represent either mint marks or treasury marks, i.e.
they were not imparted officially either at the time of manufacture
or of release into circulation. Rather, the 'shroff marks' appear to
have been placed on the coins while in circulation, most often in a
chronological sequence rather than concurrently. Some of
the 'shroff marks' may well have been placed officially, for example
by revenue officials testing the quality of coins tendered as
taxes. But it would seem from the great diversity of marks and the
rarity of duplication or redundancy, that they were usually placed
by many private individuals each handling relatively small numbers
of the coins. Farid classifies them as hallmarks, owners marks or
The chronological relationship between the date of manufacture of a
coin and the dates when it was countermarked cannot be determined
with any precision from the internal evidence of the coin itself. A
terminus ante quem may be deduced by identification of the
underlying coin bearing the mark. It is patently obvious that
a 'shroff mark' appearing on a coin bearing a particular date of
issue, could not have been applied prior to that date. The internal
evidence of an intact treasure trove hoard may sometimes be able to
provide a terminus post quem for any particular 'shroff mark', if
relatively unworn specimens of late dated coins without countermarks
Direct witness or testimony about these medieval countermarking
practices is hard to come by. But the pattern of 'shroff marks' on
late Bengal sultanate coins is distinctive and consistent from hoard
to hoard, permitting some general observations to be made:
* 'Shroff marks' applied during the era of the Husain Shahis (1493
to 1538) are only impressed on one face of the coin. Punches
leaving different types and varieties of impressions always appear
on the same side. So they were applied by persons who followed a
* On coins of secular legend, the 'shroff marks' are virtually
always applied on the face of the coin bearing the ruler's laqab or
titles of honour. On coins bearing the kalima, the 'shroff marks'
are always placed on the kalima side of the coin. So they were
applied by persons who were aware of the message content of the
coins. They may have been placed by persons for whom the Muslim
profession of faith engendered less respect than the royal titles,
i.e. by Hindus.
* Of the first two types of marks (pictorial marks and chisel
marks), the pictorial were the first applied to any individual
coin. This is deduced from the fact that pictorial marks are often
found alone (without chisel marks), but not vice-versa. Chisel
marks are never found alone. Chisel marks may have been 'the end of
the road' for old coins, i.e. were used to de-monetize the coins and
relegate them to bullion status.
* The pictorial marks were clearly intended for identification.
They were small, neat and carefully placed around the periphery of
each coin so as not to obscure the original legend. They consisted
of simple fauna, floral or geometric forms, as well as Bangla
aksharas. It can be deduced that these identification marks were
placed by individuals for whom recognition of the mark was vital.
Most likely these were revenue officials or exchange dealers and
bankers. The identification marks must have been unique to each
owner, and they probably served to alert the owner that he had
previously tested the weight and fineness of the marked coin, and
found them satisfactory.
* In contrast, the chisel marks were large, deep and numerous on
each coin on which they are found. They radiate in a circular
pattern from the centre of each coin to the rim, obscuring most of
the original legend. They are so deep as to expose the bare metal
of the interior of the coin. It is evident that these were
cancellation marks, intended to negate the monetary acceptability of
the coin and relegate it to bullion or raw metal status.
* The test marks were small and neat, and applied to both faces of
the coin. They were applied in such a way as to leave the coin's
legend clearly visible, and were thus intended to be unobtrusive.
Their function was primarily to test the silver content of the coin
by exposing the core to view. This was an effective defence against
fraudulent coins made by silver-plating base metal flans.
* These test marks are found in varying numbers on the coins. As a
coin so marked circulated, the test marks would have oxidized or
become dirty, necessitating a fresh test mark to determine the
All three types of 'shroff marks' bear witness to a dynamic process
of coin exchange, testing and discounting at work in sixteenth
century Bengal. Indeed, Abu'l Fazl notes how during this period
slight differences in weight due to the normal wear and abrasion of
coins in circulation, could affect the exchangeability or currency
of coins, and hence their market value. Worn or underweight coins
were discounted in the market or at the treasury to become bullion,
a commodity, rather than money, a circulating medium. The 'shroff
marks' are a physical confirmation of this process.