Coins of Lanka.

by Col. B. Lowsley,

1895 Numismatic Chronicle Series III Vol. XV p. 211-223 pl. IX


I ARRIVED in Colombo, Ceylon, in March, 1890, and whilst resident in the Colony, for upwards of two years, endeavoured to obtain specimens of coins of local interest.

I inserted a standing advertisement in the most widely circulated daily newspaper, visited places where coins might be likely to be picked up, employed natives to make inquiries for me, and communicated with all whom I believed to be in a position to help me.

As a result I have secured a considerable number of coins and tokens which were before unpublished, and I submit my notes embodying the information which I was able to obtain.

I am greatly indebted to many friends for information most kindly furnished respecting the various issues of Ceylon coins and tokens; without their assistance indeed I could not have recorded many interesting particulars of regal and local issues

I wish I could have dealt more exhaustively with the early Ceylon coins, and those of the times of the kings of Kandy, and, in fact, with Ceylon numismatics up to the time of Portuguese rule. But I find that I cannot attempt this. I have not sufficient knowledge of the characters and languages on coins of those times--and what has been already written is in many eases so full of conjecture as to be misleading rather than helpful. Thus much I can gather from local investigation; but while I feel that all statements previously made are not equally borne out by coins, I am unable at the present time to offer solutions which might be accepted as sound or final.

Original inaccurate assertions repeated in subsequent works, do so much harm that it is advisable to be very sure indeed of any statement submitted.

In the course of my experience as a collector in Ceylon it naturally happened that rare coins, or sometimes coins of types not before met with, would come under my notice. I have sometimes been told that these were forgeries, but careful investigation convinced me that this was rarely the case.

In truth, in Ceylon, modern forgeries of old or rare coins are seldom seen. There may have been, and doubtless were, contemporary forgeries, such as existed in almost all countries, but I only met with these in the series of the silver Fish-hook money of two hundred and fifty years ago, and in that of the gold star Pagodas of a century ago, and these being more rudely struck than the genuine pieces could hardly escape detection.

I am inclined to think that great harm is sometimes unintentionally done by lightly condemning coins as false.

Some Ceylon coins are cast--notably coins of the beginning of the present century--but I believe that these are genuine, just as are the cast coins for the Isle of Man of the early part of the eighteenth century--casting" might be resorted to as a convenient local mintage operation.

Nearly all the coins I collected were sold to me at metal value; some account will be given as to where they were found or obtained. Very frequently the silver coins would be burnished up or burnt in the fire to clean them, and thereby rendered almost worthless, and I found it most difficult to make natives understand that they must be brought to me without being thus cleaned and polished.

The modern forgeries arc most easy of detection; a few in one batch came to me from Matale in 1891, when I was staying at Kandy. The man who brought them was in a great fright on indignation being expressed, and I saw no more of these nor of any other false coins until I went down to Colombo a few months later, and there I found the same, or a similar lot, palmed off on the manager of a leading hotel. Similar coins were also hawked about near the landing place. When taxed with the attempt of trying to sell false coins (and there is other manufactured rubbish exposed for sale with these) the hawkers make the ready reply that they were only intended for ``passenjare gentlemen.''

It is hoped that ``passenjare gentlemen'' who are not judges of coins will not in future become purchasers, and thus inadvertently encourage these cheats, and, worse still, cause rare and genuine Ceylon coins to be received with discredit.

[ Introduction on colonial coins & Tokens omitted ]

In remote times there seem to have been no strict rules regulating the weight of individual. coins. It may have been that a certain fixed quantity of metal was given to the mints for a definite number of coins, but whether: from variation in the thickness of the blanks or from some other cause it is a fact that Ceylon coins of the same date and mintage vary greatly in weight.

The Earliest Coinage of Ceylon.

1. I do not propose to treat of possibilities and probabilities as regards the more remote issues, but rather to submit simple notes of such coins as have been brought to me in Ceylon, leaving for future study and discussion all the earlier native coinages.

2. The earliest coins found in Ceylon, of ascertainable date, are Roman.

I have in my collection rough uninscribed coins, probably struck in Ceylon, which may be of earlier date than these, just as our British uninscribed coins are of earlier date than Roman coins dug up in England; but I do not attempt here to treat of these difficult and doubtful points. A thick rectangular uninscribed silver coin, with a Dagoba on one side and a leaf on the other, is of good relief and design. The weights of my two specimens are 77 grains and 83 grains respectively [Pl. VIII. 1].

3. In the Numisrnata Orientalia, Part VI., by Mr. T. W. Rhys Davids, [Published by Messrs. Trubner & Co., 1877.] there will be found much interesting matter respecting the coinage of the kings of Kandy, a dynasty commencing about the middle of the twelfth century.

I secured five specimens of the Lankeswara gold coinage [Pl. VIII. 2--5]. These vary greatly in weight, and only three of the five are approximately the same as those quoted by Mr. Rhys Davids (65.33 68.5 grs.). He may, however, have made a mistake, as in his foot-note at page 27 he gives the weight of the current sovereign as being nearly 170 grains, whereas it is but 123.25 grains. Two of the Lankeswara in my cabinet are considerably worn and weigh only 54 and 55 grains respectively; the remainder approach the weights which Mr. Rhys Davids quotes.

My five specimens may be added to the eight mentioned as already known. They came to me in Ceylon from different places and at various times.

4. In Ceylon, perhaps more than in any other country, there are found coins minted elsewhere, and imported for currency. The causes were changes of dynasties and changes in ownership. When we bear in mind that Portugal, Holland, and England have each been supreme during the past four centuries, and that Ceylon has been, and always will be, an important place of call for visitors to Eastern and Australian lands, this is not surprising. At the present time there is no mint established in Ceylon. There are no gold coins in use. The silver currency consists of the Indian rupee, and 1/2 1/4 and 1/8 rupee minted at Calcutta or Bombay, and for smaller change there is the copper Ceylon series, with the palm-tree, consisting of 5 cents, 1 cent, 1/2 cent, and cent, minted at Calcutta.

In the Pettahs, or native quarters of the larger towns, such as Colombo and Kandy, the Sinhala and Tamils still use extensively the copper Dutch ``doits'' or ``challies'' and ``half-challies'' of various dates of the eighteenth century.

5. I have secured but one specimen each of the gold coins besides the Lankeswara mentioned by Mr. Rhys Davids (op. cit. p. 27), and these I mostly obtained by the purchase of the entire collection of Mr. Hugh A. Grant, C.C.S., of Katugastota, near Kandy. Three of these seem to be unpublished. The limits of weight of these small thin gold coins are from 8 to 13 grains, and the types are the same as those of the massas of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

The Raja-Raja copper massa could never have been current in Lanka. It belongs to Southern India, and no specimen was obtainable by me in Ceylon.

6. The list given by Mr. Rhys Davids (op. cit. p. 25) of Lanka monarchs who issued coins, is confirmed by my own experience. I found coins in Ceylon of all the kings whom he names. But his notes as regards rarity are inaccurate, and he does not mention some gold and silver coins which have come to me. I attempted to secure every ``find'' of native coins, but of course failed to do so. I obtained, however, over 16,000 coins, including numerous duplicates.

7. Parakrama Bahu, King of Lanka from A.D. 1153 to A.D. 1186.

In addition to the five Lankeswara coins, I obtained two large gold coins! with a lion on the obverse, of different sizes, but of the same weight, which may belong to this king. The weight of each is about 120 grains.

Of the copper Lion coin, of which Mr. Rhys Davis says that less than a dozen examples have been found, I have secured seven specimens, all varying somewhat. They are mostly considerably worn. It is, however, a very rare coin. The British Museum has two specimens, one of which lately came from the collection of General Robley [Pl. VIII. 6].

The massa in copper is common and the statement of Mr. Rhys Davids, that perhaps one hundred specimens have been found, is very misleading. Its weight is usually about 65 to 66 grains, but varies far outside these limits.

The half-massa in copper is rare, and always much worn. The quarter-massa in copper, which I have, also, is very rare.

I was fortunate enough to obtain silver coins of the massa and half-massa types of this king. These are unpublished. When they were brought me I communicated with the best local authorities on such matters. The general impression was that I might be having forgeries imposed on me, as no coins in silver of this king had previously been found; but those who saw the coins, and were informed of their provenance, believed them to be genuine.

I myself have no doubt that they are genuine. I inquired of the most trustworthy native silversmiths, men who could have no object whatever in deceiving me. They said that occasionally, but only very rarely, such coins had been brought them, and that they were perfectly genuine, but that they had been usually broken up, as were all silver coins, for making bangles, &c. They were rarely offered old silver coins for sale, as silver was much required for other purposes, and as there were no regular coin collectors in Ceylon. Mr. H. C. P. Bell, C.C.S., informed me that ho had one or two specimens of similar appearance in his collection, but had always believed them to be either silvered over or else copper mixed with tin or zinc. But this is not the case with mine. I have had a specimen of every coin brought to me carefully tested, and they are of ``unrefined silver,'' but without much alloy. Doubt has been expressed as to whether some are casts, but I think that, even if cast, the coins are genuine. With the precautions I took, and the investigations I made, I believe no false coins were ever bought by me.

8. Wijaya Bahu, King of Lanka, 1186--1187.

As regards the copper massa, Mr. Rhys Davids says; ``The coin is rare--good examples very rare.'' This is a mistake. I have very many specimens, but possibly all may not belong to the king now named, who succeeded Parakrama Bahu, and was his nephew. There were several Wijayas.

I have also two silver massas of this king, and in the Colombo Museum there are two silver-gilt specimens from an offering-box at Anuradhapura.

These silver coins, rare as they always are, seem never to be found together with copper ones, and are taken from dagobas (native .tombs) and temples. The silver currency in those times was evidently almost as limited as the gold currency, but both undoubtedly existed, though specimens of coins which I have obtained have been tardily brought to light. The three metals were issued nearly simultaneously, and with gold and copper coinage in Ceylon, it would be remarkable if there had been no silver issue also.

9. Nissanka Malla, King of Lanka, 1187--1196.

Mr. Rhys Davids (op. cit. p. 32), states that three specimens of this king's coins are known. I have procured five additional specimens, only one of which is much injured by decay.

No specimen of this king's coinage has come to me struck in either gold or silver.

On my sending one of my specimens in copper [Pl. VIII. 7] to Mr. H. C. P. Bell, Government Archaeologist for Ceylon, he wrote as follows :--

``The coin is very rare. It reads Kalinga.Lakavara or something very near it, I fancy. I fear it is hopeless to fix any particular variant of these conventionally figured coins to a special king. Who is to choose between Vijaja Bahu I. and III., the characters being absolutely the same, and not old Sinhala, but Devanagari of the eleventh and twelfth centuries? We can only hope to get at the identification by inscriptions on stone and native records, and these are not communicative on such matters.''

10. Codaganga Deva, King of Lanka, 1196--1197.

I have obtained two specimens in copper [Pl. VIII. 8] of this previously supposed unique coin, one of which is in very fine preservation. There is also now one specimen in the Colombo Museum. Beyond these I have not heard of any specimen being found.

No gold nor silver coins of this king have come to me, nor any half-massas.

11. Raja Lilavati, Queen of Lanka 1197--1200.

The copper massas of this reign are common.

I have a half-massa in copper; I think unique and unpublished (Pl. VIII. 9).

I have also a massa in gold. I obtained it from Mr. Wee Loo, silversmith of Kandy, who said it was found and brought to him by a native living in the country. The appearance of it is suspicious, but I think the coin must be genuine. The source from whence it came seems trustworthy, and I never heard of a second one. The gold is much alloyed.

I have both double massas and massas of this queen struck in silver; both are unpublished. The two double massas are thick coins, well struck, but in rather bad preservation, though the characters are quite legible.

Some of the massas are rather roughly struck, and these are worn; others are well struck and in fine preservation. I do not understand why one variety should appear to have been longer in circulation than the other.

12. Sahasa Malla King of Lanka, 1200--1202.

The copper massa of this king is common.

I have also massas struck in silver.

13. Dharmasoka Deva, King of Lanka, 1208--1209.

I cannot confirm the statement of Mr. Rhys Davids, ``The coin is very rare, like that of Wijaja Bahu.''

The coin of Wijaja Bahu is common; that of Dharmdsoka Deva is less common, but I secured a large number of good specimens [Pl. VIII. 10].

I have also very fine specimens of the massa in silver.

14. Bhuvanaika Bahu, King of Lanka, 1296.

The copper massas are common, but I have met with no half-massas in that metal.

I have four half-massas of this king struck in gold. The finder who brought them cleaned them with much energy, in order that I might clearly see they were gold, and thereby almost ruined the coins.

I have massas in silver of this king. They are of four different weights and of very poor workmanship as compared with the silver coins of the last mintage, which was nearly one hundred years earlier.

I have also a single specimen in silver of both the half-massa and quarter-massa [Pl. VIII. 11]. The workmanship of these is not very good, but it is better somewhat than the case of the massas.

15. As regards the coins of the above-named kings, I may mention that I have a fragment of a silver massa, the third of the coin, neatly cut, doubtless to pass for small change, just as our early English pennies were quartered sometimes for the same purpose.

I have also a large lump of the copper coins welded together from the effects of heat and lapse of time. Several other massas which I have are curious, but being somewhat decayed I cannot decipher them.

16. At Kandy I had a ``find'' of five silver coins brought to me. With my limited knowledge of Eastern characters I could make nothing of the inscriptions, but they appeared to me similar to those on the coins of the icings of Kandy. I sent one of them to Mr. H. C. P. Bell, Government Archaeologist in Ceylon. He writes, ``It is a Chola coin--the face on the reverse fixing it at once. All Chola coins nearly are of that jat. Tracy has it in his cabinet, and I see classes it as a Chola or Pandyan. He reads `Santara' doubtfully.''

These silver coins are of the size of the half-massa and weigh 42 grains each.

17. I have never found in Ceylon the large or small Setu Bull coin mentioned by Mr. Rhys Davids on pages 31 and 32 of his treatise, nor did I meet with the coin bearing the type of a bull and two fishes. I almost think that I should have secured specimens had these ever been current in Lanka, because copper coins have not been broken up so much as those of gold and silver.

I had no specimen brought me in Ceylon of any coin of Raja-Raja.

18. Fish-hook money.

The Fish-hook money, mentioned by Mr. Rhys Davids (op. cit. p. 33), as current in Ceylon in the seventeenth century, is rare.

I have specimens in gold of two varieties, and in sliver of ten, varying either as regards shape or the charac-. ters marked on the coins. I have also many forgeries of the time when this money was current; these forgeries are of the type figured by Mr. Rhys Davids, and are of clumsy workmanship; they could only have passed as genuine amongst the most ignorant inhabitants, if intended really to pass for silver; but it is just possible, though hardly likely, that they arc a genuine issue in base metal intended for small change.

I have a variety of the silver larin of this period simply bent over in the shape of a loop, with the two ends projecting. The straight silver larins were probably never struck in Ceylon.

#19. - #42. Colonial Era Coins

#43. Ceylon Tokens