In a remarkable tale of resilience and intrigue, two Indian banknotes that defied the odds and survived the depths of the English Channel for over a century are set to captivate the attention of collectors and enthusiasts at an upcoming auction in London. These rare notes, issued in 1918, bear witness to a historic event that unfolded during the tumultuous times of World War I.

The Fateful Voyage and Tragic Sinking

On July 2, 1918, as the Great War neared its end, the British ship SS Shirala fell victim to a German U-boat attack in the English Channel. Among its cargo were precious boxes containing unsigned Rs 5 and Rs 10 banknotes destined for British India, along with the recently introduced signed Re 1 notes. As the ship sank beneath the waves, its precious cargo scattered, with some notes miraculously finding their way to shore.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Noonans Mayfair (@noonansauctions)

A Rare Survivor’s Tale

Fast forward to the present day, and two of those Rs 10 notes, bearing consecutive serial numbers and issued on May 25, 1918, have emerged as rare survivors of that fateful voyage. These banknotes, remarkably preserved in a tightly bound bundle that protected them from the ravages of seawater, are set to go under the hammer at the prestigious Noonans Mayfair auction house in London on May 29, 2024.

Thomasina Smith, Worldwide Head of Numismatics at Noonans, expressed her amazement at the condition of these notes, stating, “They must have been in the centre of a tightly bound bundle, preventing contact with seawater. It’s also notable that they have consecutive serial numbers.”

A Glimpse into History’s Footnotes

The allure of these banknotes lies not only in their rarity but also in the intriguing historical narrative they represent. As Thomasina Smith explains, “Entire blocks of these notes, along with various supplies from marmalade to ammunition, were being shipped to Bombay from London when the vessel was torpedoed by a German U-boat.”

While many of the notes that washed ashore were retrieved and subsequently destroyed by authorities, a handful of these survivors managed to find their way into private collections, preserving a piece of history that might have otherwise been lost to the depths of time.

A Collector’s Delight

In addition to the two Rs 10 notes from the SS Shirala wreck, the Noonans Mayfair auction will also feature a rare Government of India 100-rupee note from the British colonial era, dated between 1917 and 1930. This note, expected to fetch between £4,400 and £5,000, bears the unique distinction of having the denomination written in various Indian languages, including Hindi and Bengali.

Furthermore, a “Reserve Bank of India, Persian Gulf Issue” 5-rupee note from 1957-62, adorned with the iconic Ashoka symbol, is also set to grace the auction block, with an estimated value ranging from £2,200 to £2,800.

A Celebration of History and Numismatic Passion

As these rare banknotes surface at the London auction, they serve as a testament to the enduring fascination with historical artifacts and the passion of numismatic collectors worldwide. The allure of these notes lies not only in their monetary value but also in the stories they hold within their intricate designs and weathered surfaces.

For collectors and enthusiasts alike, the opportunity to acquire these banknotes represents a chance to own a tangible piece of history, one that has weathered the tides of time and emerged as a symbol of resilience and enduring legacy.

As the gavel falls on May 29, 2024, these banknotes will embark on a new journey, finding their way into the hands of those who appreciate the stories they tell and the historical significance they represent.


Follow Us on Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | Flipboard | Google News