Here we cover the history and importance of the Tola, from its origins to its ongoing use and significance today. We’ve also commemorated the Tola with our own collection of silver Tola coins, to cherish as beautiful gifts, collector’s pieces, or a traditional investment in the immutability of precious metals.
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A Tola (also written as tolah or tole) is an ancient unit of weight, officially introduced in India and South Asia around 1833, to allow the fair trade of grain and precious metals. Today, the Tola is equivalent to 11.7g in the metric system.
The first Rupee (Indian currency), minted in the 16th century, weighed (almost) one Tola. The British East India Company later issued a silver Tola that weighed 180 troy grains, which became the standard for one Tola. (More on this later.)
It’s thought that the Tola unit of measurement was conceived during the Vedic period (the late Bronze Age / early Iron Age) in India.
The word itself comes from the Sanskrit tol, meaning “weight”. Sanskrit is one of the oldest human languages.
Before the metric system was established, measuring weight all over the world was based on natural units like grain or seed. In India, one Tola weighed 100 ratti (a measurement based on the nominal weight of a Gunja seed) – a reasonably fair method of ensuring that one buyer received the same as the next. It was used to weigh food and grain, as well as silver and gold.
Meanwhile, over in Europe during the Middle Ages, traders had no clear legal definitions for units of measurement. In England, bronze weights were used in an attempt to regulate the weighing discrepancies, but there was very little worldwide agreement. Some of the big merchant fairs, such as the one in Troyes, France, had their own particular measuring specifications. It is thought that the “troy” pound originated here. It was used to weigh gold and silver, while the separate Avoirdupois pound – a completely different weight – was used for foods like grain and sugar. The troy weight made its way back to England.
One troy ounce was defined as 20 pennyweights (every 24 grains), totaling 480 grains. Although the grain weight varied across cultures, it still helped communities to trade more fairly with one another. When the English came to India, they brought their own weighing system with them, and the Tola was defined as being between 176 and 180 troy grains (3/8 of the troy ounce). Of course, in a world where grain growth depends on natural factors every year, the grain-based system was never perfect.
How was the weights system resolved? The Weights and Measures Act made some progress in 1824 by defining a gallon and a yard, but it wasn’t really until the nineteenth to twentieth centuries, when the metric system was adopted in Europe, England, and India, that weights and measures were finally settled.
The traditional Tola remained in popular use until quite recently. It wasn’t actually until the 1950s and 60s that the metric system was properly adopted in India and England. At this time, the Tola was translated into grams and is now agreed that there are 11.7 grams in a Tola.
The Tola is still used in several South Asian countries including India, Pakistan, and Nepal as a denomination of gold and precious metals. It has been generally accepted as 11.7 grams, but many Indian jewellers have rounded it down to 10 grams – which makes calculations simpler to use and understand.
So 1 Tola in gold and silver can be 10 grams or 11.7 grams – make sure you check. If you’re buying from India, you might find there are 10 grams in 1 Tola. But if you buy in the UK, you’re likely to receive 11.7 grams in 1 Tola. There’s one important thing to remember: If you buy gold or silver by the Tola, you should always ask the jeweller how many grams are in 1 Tola. This will enable you to divide it and compare the price per gram to find a good deal. (You can find gold price indices on the internet, or message us for the latest prices if you want to be sure.)
“If you buy gold or silver by the Tola, you should always ask the jeweller how many grams are in 1 Tola.”
dearteassociazione.org introduced our silver One Tola coin several years ago. We are the only British jeweller to mint a 0.999 silver One Tola coin and we offer it in beautiful exclusive designs, releasing one per year.
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Our silver One Tola collectible coin makes an excellent gift as well as an investment in the precious metal to put aside for the future.