The majestic white building of the renovated Currency Building, constructed in Italian style and standing gracefully on the southeast corner of Dalhousie Square, was built in 1883. Long before the birth of the building, the spot was the property of the Calcutta Auction Company and their huge warehouse, reportedly stretched from Tank Square to Mission Row, occupied the space. As the company auctioned miscellaneous items, the warehouse was filled from one end to the other with various types of merchandise procured for auction.
However, as the auction company closed their business around the middle of the 1860’s, due to dull market condition, the Agra and Masterman’s Bank Ltd., a bank of repute in those days, took over the site and erected a beautiful building in 1833 in the Italian style of architecture. Unfortunately, the alliance of the Agra Bank with the London based Masterman’s Bank Ltd did not last long and when the London concern dropped out, the bank assumed the title of Agra Bank Ltd. At that point of time, as the resources of the bank became restricted due to the dissolution of the alliance, the Agra Bank decided to sell off the larger part of the premises facing Tank Square, to get a strong foothold in the financial market. Incidentally, during that time, the Government was also in search of a suitable building for the Currency Department, which was formed according to the Paper Currency Act of 1861for issuing Government Currency notes. Finally, the Government purchased the rear part of the premises, numbered 26 Mangoe Lane, overlooking Mission Row, during 1868-1869 for a sum of 1.073,109 Rupees and the building was named as the Currency Building.
Later, after the collapse of the Agra Bank in 1900, the Government also purchased the portion of the premises occupied by the Bank for 377.230 Rupees and thus, became the owner of the complete building. In addition to that, two out-houses were also constructed at a cost of Rs.146, 606. Consequently, the Lost Note and Registration Branch of the Currency Department was set up at 26 Mangoe Lane. It is interesting to note that the very first office the Reserve Bank of India began functioning in the building and housed here until 1937. From 1935 to 1965, the paper currency business was managed by the Reserve Bank from the building, after which it was occupied by the Accountant General, central, for some years.
The entrance of the building was graced with a dignified wrought iron gate, made in three parts, with decorative flowery design. The large brick arches and the venetian windows of the massive building, complete with intricate designs, were a real treat for the eyes of the beholder. There was a time, when the ground floor of the building was used as the Office of Issue and Exchange. The great grand central hall, lit by skylights around three large domes, housed the exchange counters for notes, gold, silver and small changes. While the bulk of the silver was kept in the strong vaults in Fort William, a working reserve was always kept in the Currency Office, in a strong vault, equipped with a six inches thick iron door. The vault was further protected by a second iron door and last of all with a massive iron grating. The spacious second floor, with the similar configuration and the rooms, also had Italian marble flooring. The third floor of the building was the official residence of the Assistant Commissioner, in charge of the Currency Office.
Currency Building had been in use till 1994.However, by that time the condition of the age old building became unsafe for use, due to the decades of negligence and non-maintenance. Strangely enough, the Central Public Works Department, which took over the charge of the structure, started to demolish the structure in 1996, with the intention to build a high-rise building on the site. Fortunately, the destruction was stopped after the timely intervention by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, which saved the heritage building from being lost forever.
In September 1996, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation declared the entire structure as a heritage building and a monument of national importance, thus a protected place. Unfortunately, by that time, the three massive central domes of the building had been pulled down. Later, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) took the charge of the structure in 2003, but got the possession only in 2005
When the ASI surveyed this building, the dilapidated structure was almost wrapped with thick vegetation. Built of brick and lime, the roof of the building, arched on an iron joist, had caved in. During renovation, the Archaeologists discovered the evidence of an underground canal, through which water from the River Hooghly was channeled inside the building to cool the freshly minted coins. The presence of thick iron sheets covering not just the walls, floors and even the roof of several rooms testified that those rooms were also more or less strong rooms and not just ordinary rooms.
Despite slow progress, due to paucity of funds, ASI has, by this time, almost completed the repairing and renovation of the building successfully. The plan to build a glass roof over an open area, which was once crowned with a dome, was scrapped. Instead, it is decided that the area under the dome will be used for open-air programmes.