Monday, April 20, 2020

Star of India

When you inspect an antique share certificate then there is a good chance that you discover a seal on the document. Here's an example of a dry seal, also known as an embossed seal, hardly noticeable but surprising at a closer look.

Seals are security features used to enhance protection against counterfeiting. There are many ways by which seals can be produced, e.g. as a dry seal like the one in the example, as a stamp imprent with ink, or as an impressed relief in wax. Even holograms are used on modern certificates. 

embossed seal with the Star of India

Dry seal with in the circumference the text THE SCINDIA STEAM NAVIGATION CO. LD. - BOMBAY 

Dry seals are created on the document by means of an embossing press. An embossing press consists of two plates, one bearing the image in relief and the other one bearing the mirror image. By pressing the document between the plates, the seal image is produced forming a raised image in the paper. 

Seals on certificates can show the name of the issuer, an emblem or a coat of arms, an incorporation date, or a picture of the kind of activity that was involved.

Our seal was embossed on a share from The Scindia Steam Navigation Company, Limited. It shows a star surrounded first by some lettering and then by sun rays. Not all letters are readable but you can recognize ..EAVEN'S LIGHT OUR G..

share certificate from The Scindia Steam Navigation Company

The Scindia Steam Navigation Company, Limited was founded in 1919 by Walchand Hirachand, Narottam Morarjee, Kilachand Devchand and Lallubhai Samaldas. Back then the sea routes in the British Empire were controlled by British companies. In April of 1919, the company's ship SS Loyalty sailed to the United Kingdom. Much against the will of the British, it was the first Indian ship to do so. The vignette on this share from 1920 depicts the company's flag ship, the SS Loyalty. 

All-wise Google tells me that the star and the lettering in the dry seal matches the emblem of the Order of the Star of India. It was Queen Victoria who created in 1861 this order of knighthood to honour (loyal) Indian Princes and Chiefs, as well as British officers and administrators who served in India.

The order's motto was HEAVEN'S LIGHT OUR GUIDE and can now be recognized on the seal above. With HEAVEN referring to the stars, this neutral motto had to appeal to people of different faiths. The star did not have Christian connotations, and was so accepted by the Indian Princes.

Maharaja Madho Rao Scindia of Gwalior with the Star of India

In  1886 Maharaja Madho Rao Scindia of Gwalior succeeded his father Jivaji Rao Scindia and ruled until his death in 1925.  Note the Star of India on the chest. image (clipped) : Internet Archive Book Images / No restrictions via Wikimedia Commons

At first it was unclear to me why we see the Star of India in the seal from the Scindia Steam Navigation Company. However my friend David had an interesting theory. What he came up with can also explain why the name of the company, despite being founded in Bombay by Gujarati businessmen, includes the word Scindia, the name of a dynasty that ruled the State of Gwalior

David pointed out that the company's first ship, the SS Loyalty, was purchased from Maharaja Madho Rao Scindia of Gwalior. Madho Rao became Commander in the Order of the Star of India in 1895. The Maharaja in turn had bought the ship, then known as the RMS Empress of India, from the Canadian Pacific Line in 1914. According to The New York Times of Dec 20, 1914, he was the richest Prince of the Indian Empire.

Royal Bombay Yacht Club debenture with company seal

Royal Bombay Yacht Club, 6% Rs.100 debenture, 1898 
Note the Star of India in the emblem's lower right quarter, click image to enlarge 
image: Barry Collection, via 

Are there more scripophily items illustrated with a Star of India ? Almost none, but there is a bond from the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, see imageThis exclusive membership club, founded in 1846, was awarded its blue flag with a Star of India surmounted by the Imperial Crown of India.

A regular customer of the RBYC was politician Freeman-Thomas, aka Lord Willingdon (1866-1941). As Governor of Bombay he ruled from 17 Feb 1913 through 16 Dec 1918 over the Bombay Presidency. This administrative subdivision of British India, more or less the size of today's Germany, counted then nearly 30 million people.

While in office Willingdon maintained good relations with the Indian Princes and important business men. He met Narottam Morarjee, one of the founders of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company, to discuss the shipping business. Another founder of that company was Lalubhai Samaldas who had served as an Executive Councillor to the Governor.

statue of Lord Willingdon in Delhi

Lord Willingdon's statue in Coronation Park, Delhi, India. Note the Star of India 
image (clipped) : Nvvchar / CC BY-SA ( via Wikimedia Commons 

On the 3rd of June, 1918, Lord Willingdon was appointed by King George V as a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India.  He often visited the Royal Bombay Yacht Club with important British officials and officers.

One one occasion in 1918 Willingdon invited some Maharaja's, possibly including the Maharaja of Gwalior, to the club. The Governor and his Indian guests were denied access. The RBYC only accepted European members. Willingdon then founded his own Willingdon Sports Club with membership open to both Indians and British.

coat of arms of the British Empire

detail from the Post Office Cash certificate, see below, showing the coat-of-arms of the British Empire

There was one celebrity that Willingdon did not get along with. That person was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. When Gandhi returned in Jan 1915 to India from South Africa, both met at Gandhi's welcome reception in Bombay. They would later meet each other again under different circumstances.

In 1917 a famine broke out in the Kheda region of the Bombay Presidency ruining the local economy. Peasants were not able to pay their taxes anymore. Under Gandhi's influence the people sent a petition to Willingdon, asking that he cancel the taxes for that year. Property confiscation and arrests was the government's answer.

Gandhi with the help of his followers organized the people to start a non-violent resistance, with success. Taxes were cancelled, property was returned and prisoners released.

Here's another "Star of India" certificate, a [India] Post Office 5-Year Cash Certificate, issued in 1935 while Lord Willingdon was India's Viceroy. However, the star is not immediately visible.

Indian Post Office 5-Year Cash certificate issued 1935

During the British rule of India several acts were approved to expand and regulate the Indian Posts and Telegraphs service. After the Government Savings Bank Act 1873 was ratified in 1881, Post Office Savings Banks opened throughout India. The reverse of this certificate explains that the holder, after his initial investment of 18 Rupees and 13 annas, would cash in 20 Rs after five years. The average per capita income in 1931-32 was Rs 65 (Towards Freedom 1945, Bimal Prasad)

On 18 Apr 1931 Lord Willingdon became Viceroy of India for five years. During his reign Gandhi and the Indian National Congress party organized a mass Civil Disobedience Movement. Willingdon imprisoned Gandhi, the INC members and tens of thousands of Indian activists.

As Viceroy, Willingdon was also supreme commander of the British Indian Army. The Government of India Act 1919 gave him also direct control over foreign affairs and communications, including the post service in India.

The viceroy served also as the grand master of the two principal order of chivalry of British India: the Order of the Star of India and the Order of the Indian Empire.

watermarks showing the Star of India

When viewed against a light source, the Post Office Cash certificate shows off its watermarks including several Star of India emblems. The four black dots (three of them in the corners) are the silhouettes of little magnets used to hold the certificate in place when photographed. Click image to enlarge 

The Post Office 5-Year Cash certificate is revealing when it comes to watermarks. Besides the initials of the paper maker, you can see a repeating pattern of the words GOVT of INDIA and the Star of India.

Gandhi must have been the Indian Postal Services' top customer. At some point he received hundreds of letters on a daily basis. These were answered by several close friends acting as his secretaries. Tens of thousands of letters written by Gandhi survived, 31,000 of them were compiled in the Collected Works of Gandhi.

microprinting in the underprint

Microprinting is rarely seen in Indian scripophily but this Post Office Cash certificate has it in the underprint:  'POST OFFICE FIVE YEAR CASH CERTIFICATE'. Image scanned at a resolution of 1200 dpi 

Was Gandhi ever awarded a Star of India ? Well, he was close to the founders of the Scindia Steam Navigation Company who publicly supported him, morally and financially. Did Gandhi encounter the Maharaja of Gwalior ? Yes, on one of these occasions Gandhi addressed Madho Rao Scindia in public and asked him for contributing to the funds of the new Benares Hindu University.  However Gandhi did not receive a Star of India, that was about the last of his concerns.


PS You've seen other shares with a Star of India ? Send me a picture, I'd be happy to include it here, or post it on Facebook's Ancient indian stocks & bonds - scripophily group.


More on Seals

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Here is an addition from 30th April, 2020. Thank you for the tip Sanjay ! 

The Eastern Electric Light & Power Company Limited, £5 shares certificate, 1882
vignette of Star of India, repeated in the embossed seal 
source: Spink Auction 9014, May 2019

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