Banknotes are known for having intriguing backstories whether its specific traditional monuments, public figures or cultural details that are directly on the banknote. But for this banknote of the day, we will be focusing on the one of a kind backstory of the India 5 rupees uncut sheet from 1937. Several hundred of these uncut sheets were traveling abroad the historic SS Breda, when a bombing caused an unforeseen shipwreck. This caused the ship to sink in ruins rapidly, along with the banknotes. Not much survived the travesty, however, pieces of the uncut sheet were gathered from the remains of the ship. What divers found was incredible.
What happened to the SS Breda?
“On December 23rd, 1940 the SS Breda was laying off Oban, part of a convoy being assembled that was bound for Bombay. The ship carried a mixed general cargo that included 3,000 tons of cement, 175 tons of tobacco and cigarettes, three Hawker and 30 de Havilland Tiger Moth biplanes, Army lorries, NAAFI crockery, copper ingots, rubber-soled sandals, banknote paper, 10 horses and nine dogs.”Wikipedia, 2011
Bombers flew from Stavanger, Norway and swept across the anchorage, straddling the SS Breda with four 550-lbs bombs. The force from the explosions ruptured a water inlet pipe, and the engine room was flooded immediately and the ship was stripped of power. The SS Breda was quickly taken under tow, and was beached in shallow water in Ardmucknish Bay, United Kingdom. The following day the tides took the last of the ship to deeper waters.
Not much was recovered from the shipwreck, however, watermarked 5 rupee uncut sheets intended for the Reserve bank of India that show the profile of King George VI were found. The edges of the sheets had been eaten away but you could still make out significant banknote details, King George VI himself.
India 5 rupees, 1937 uncut sheet
On the original banknote, on the obverse we see George the VI who was king of the United Kingdom from December 11th, 1936 to February 6th, 1952. He is shown wearing the Imperial Crown and the robes of Star. At this time in history, the United Kingdom controlled India, so it wasn’t uncommon to see United Kingdom rulers on their banknotes. On the reverse, there’s the Reserve Bank of India logo in right window, and in the middle, Hindi writing.
Historians were able to make out the remains of the uncut sheet by the hidden watermark, a small image of the late King George the VI and the Reserve of India stamp. Watermark images have been used for years to verify banknotes as a security feature. This time it was used to verify the missing uncut sheets of the SS Breda Shipwreck from 1940; absolutely amazing.