The First Lankan Silver Rupee

By Dr Kavan Ratnatunga

The 'rupee' is of Indian origin and was first minted in India during the reign of Mughal Emperor Sher Shah (1540 - 1545). It had a weight of 11.3 grams of Sterling Silver.

There was a Ceylon rupee minted to the Surat standard by the Dutch in Colombo between 1784 and 1789. Since under 250,000 of them were known to have been struck, and most of them would have been melted, very few specimens are known to exist and are extremely rare.

Although Ceylon silver coins of 50 cents 25 cents and 10 cents circulated for 50 years from 1892 to 1942, the Silver Rupees used in Sri lanka were of Indian origin. The Indian Silver rupee were made legal tender in 1870, although they had been used in circulation in Ceylon since 1825.

There have been many Lankan commemorative coin issues since 1957, but the 1 rupee denomination was only once minted in Silver.

In January 1992 a one rupee cupro-nickel coin was issued into circulation by Central Bank of Sri Lanka as an commemorative of the 3rd Anniversary of the induction of President Ranasinghe Premadasa. An additional 2500 coins were minted in Proof condition, with another 2000 in Silver and a 100 in Gold were struck at the Royal Mint. Previously 40 Gold coins had been minted in 1978 for J. R. Jayawardena of that rupee coin. The Silver and Gold coins were never issued to the public and were given as gifts by the Presidents.

These were not the first time that Ceylon copper coins were minted in silver and gold. On the request of private individuals, provided the dies were available, the Indian mints did unusual "proof restrike" in silver and gold of the copper coins on payment of prescribed fees and bullion charges. A number of these precious metal restrikes are listed in coin catalogs for many of the Victorian and Edward VII Ceylon coppers.

Premadasa's untimely death in May 1993, left a large number of the silver proof coins in the vaults of the Central Bank. The public could just see the two of each which were on display at the Central Bank Museum in Rajagiriya.

Although Coin collectors had eagerly sort the Silver and gold coins issued for the first two executive Presidents of Sri Lanka, they were practically impossible to find. Few of the silver are known to have been offered for sale for over the price as a gold sovereign. The Sri Lanka Numismatic Society made many request for the release of the Silver coins, although none of us really expected it to happen anytime soon.

Few weeks ago a rumour went around that the Silver Premadasa coin has been released by CBSL, but on enquiry was told was false. When I got a phone call again on Monday I thought it was another false rumour. But it turned out to be true, the word spread rapidly through the Numismatic collector community, who rushed to the CBSL Museum on Tuesday October 10th to buy these coins.

Priced very reasonably at Rs750 each, very limited numbers are sold to collectors. Issued in the original Green Box they reflect a former era of Lankan Politics. A Proof coin is minted without touching and should therefore be never taken out of the plastic capsule in which they are sealed. The coin is about 10% thinner to make it of the same 7.128 grams weight of the cupro-nickel coin. A commemorativa coin which was so rare is no longer so. I am glad I had never purchased one at an inflated price. Patience always helps when coin collecting. Now if I could just find the Gold Premadasa and JR coins, to complete my collection of modern Lankan coins.

After almost 15 years in the Vaults of the Central Bank, surviving a bomb blast in 1996, the first and probably last Silver Rupee from Sri Lanka, issued after decimal currency was introduced in 1870, has now finally been released by CBSL to the public. It is nice to know that the Central bank of Sri Lanka is receptive to the wishes of the numismatic collector community, who are clearly most thankful for their decision.

Awaiting next weeks release of a Rs2000 currency note, it is clearly a last hurray for the rupee coin, which has almost become too small and low a value to get back as change.


Author maintains an educational website on 2300 years of Lankan coins at http://coins.lakdiva.org/ .
An edited version of which was published as Lanka's first silver rupee in the Sunday Times of 2006 October 15th.

See also Sri Lanka - 1992 - 1 Rupee Second Executive President - Silver Frosted Proof in LakdivaCoins.