GOING towards Merewether Clock Tower on I. I. Chundrigar Road, Karachi, you pass many tall and impressive buildings. And why not, it is our very own Wall Street with the head office of most of the major banks and other institutions. Among these buildings, towards the end of the street on the left, is an impressive, brown stone building with massive pillars flanking the entrance. This is the State Bank of Pakistan’s Money and Monetary Museum and Art Gallery, situated in the premises of the State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) main building.
The purpose of the museum is to collect historical material that would enhance people’s knowledge about money and the monetary system from ancient to modern times. The journey of SBP Museum began in 2006, when the then governor, Dr Ishrat Hussain, first proposed the idea of the establishment of such a museum in the central board meeting, and the board approved of it.
Formally known as India House, this building housed the library of SBP and it was converted into a suitable site for the museum that now holds priceless antique pieces related to the monetary system, besides an art gallery.
The museum took shape under the guidance of the Director of the Museum and a renowned archaeologist, Dr Asma Ibrahim. On July 1, 2011, the then Governor of SBP, Dr Ishrat Hussain, inaugurated the State Bank of Pakistan Museum that is separated into many galleries, such as the governors’, coins, stamps, currency, SBP history and art galleries.
In the main hall there is an introductory visual tour of the museum on a big LCD screen. There are SPB officials there too, to take you on a tour of the museum, telling you all that you would like to know about the exhibits there and much more.
Generally a tour starts from the left side of the main hall, where there are items depicting the barter system and next to it is a small glass case with the punch marked coins belonging to the period 6000BC. These coins are placed here for an introduction of the time when the use of coins started, but a separate gallery of these coins exists in the museum. Huge posters of pictorial coins, postage stamps and currency notes are also seen on the walls along each showcase for visitors’ convenience.
The first gallery is the Governors’ Gallery where the furniture used by the first Governor of SBP, Zahid Hussain, is kept and the walls are adorned with portraits and biographical citations of all the governors of SBP in chronological order. There is also the photograph of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah inaugurating the former State Bank building (now Supreme Court).
The Coins Gallery-I carries exhibits related to pre-Islamic times, such as of 2000BC, punch marked coins of 6000BC, Indo-Greek coins of the era of Alexander the Great, coins of Indo-Sassanid and Indo-Parthian periods, normal and gold coins of Hindu Shahi period and coins of the Gandhara period.
The Coins Gallery-II has the coins of the early Arab rulers of the subcontinent, starting from the period of AD712, the Sultans of Delhi such as Razia Sultana, Shamsuddin Altamash and Ghiyasuddin Balban, and other Muslim rulers such as Tughlaqs, Khiljis and Lodhis. The coins of the Mughal era begin from the founder of Mughal dynasty Zaheeruddin Babar, then Sher Shah Suri (a non-Mughal emperor) Jalaluddin Akbar, Nooruddin Jahangir and his queen Noor Jehan, and also of Nadir Shah and Ahmed Shah Abdali.
Coins of Indian states such as Mysore, ruled by Haider Ali and then Tippu Sultan, Hyderabad Deccan and Bhawalpur are also exhibited. There is one dedicated showcase displaying coins used by the East India Company and another one houses Pakistani coins from 1948. Also on display are glorious civil and military medals of Pakistan which are cast in the mint in Lahore.
The Stamp Gallery is an awe-inspiring place that is sure to fascinate even those who are not too interested in stamps. Among the exhibits is the first postal stamp of the world issued by Britain in 1840, as well as those that were once used as money. Yes, stamps were once used as money and it is therefore logical to have stamps displayed at this monetary museum. These stamps were used as money during the Second World War. A replica of the sacred seal of the Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) is also on display.
The Currency Gallery exhibits currency notes of the British rule in the subcontinent, including those that were used during the initial period after independence in 1947, until September 1948. Later, the Government of Pakistan issued its currency in the forms of Rs5, Rs10 and 1000 rupees notes. After a decade of independence in 1957, the picture of Quaid-e-Azam began to be printed on the notes. At the end of the gallery are displayed present-day currency notes in polymer.
The coins collection has coins made of different kinds of metals such as iron, copper, silver, gold and have different sizes and shapes, such as circles, squares, rectangles and so on. The secretary of The Stamp Society of Pakistan, Rafiq Kasbati, has been collecting stamps since 1952 and he had a huge collection of postal stamps, currency notes and so on. His treasure of currency notes collected between 1947-2011 was purchased by the SBP museum and is among the exhibits.
The SBP History Gallery exhibits the record of SBP’s foundation, including the first General Ledger of the Bank written in 1948. Near the exit of this gallery is the first Automated Teller Machine (ATM) of Pakistan installed at Habib Bank in 1988. The Art Gallery, also called the Sadequain Gallery, located on the mezzanine floor, houses the artist’s remarkable murals that really catch the eyes. The mural titled ‘Treasure of Time’, presents images of notable philosophers, thinkers and scientists of the world, starting from early times to Pluto, Galileo, Newton and Einstein, to name a few. There is also a section displaying the works of younger local artists.
The museum also has a non-profitable souvenir shop selling art work of famous indigenous artists and historical art work made by the bank modelers. Besides, the museum also conducts healthy informative activities, such as competitions for school goers occasionally in the museum. Visitors can record their thoughts in a Visitor’s Book at the main exit.
The building of the museum itself is a historical asset, as it once used to be the Imperial Bank of India. One can easily detect ‘Imperial Bank of India’ inscribed in the stone wall on the head of the central entrance of the building, as a witness of its historical value.