1796 - 1824 - Ceylon

Early British Colonial Period

Following the rupture between Great Britain and Holland in 1795, an expedition was sent against the Dutch possessions in Ceylon and by 1796 the Dutch settlements had been annexed to the Presidency of Madras. The appointment on 19th April, 1798, of a Governor and Commander-in-Chief had the effect of raising British Ceylon to the position of an Indian Presidency under the Supreme Government of the Governor General of the East India Company at Calcutta.

In 1802, British Ceylon passed under the control of the Secretary of State for the Colonies and finally, on 2nd March, 1815, the cession of the Kandyan Provinces placed the whole island under British sovereignty.

During the period of Dutch rule (1658-1796), Dutch denominations and Dutch coins were introduced. The Dutch Government maintained their accounts in GULDEN (florins) and STUIVERS. Private accounts were usually kept in RYKSDAALERS, equivalent to three gulden each. Despite this introduction of Dutch denominations and coins, the local currency system was adjusted to correspond with that of the mainland of India. This was achieved by adopting the Indian fanam as a quarter-gulden or 1/12th of the Rix-dollar. Thus, the real standard of the Ceylon currency under Dutch rule was the fanam which represented a fixed fraction of the gulden (a 1/4) and of the rix-dollar (a 1/12th). The number of copper stivers to the fanam varied.

Towards the end of the 18th century (1785), the financial difficulties of the island caused the Dutch to issue Treasury notes, and notes called Krediet brieven, payable on presentation in Ceylon copper coin at the rate of 48 stivers for each rix-dollar were introduced. At this date the rix-dollar was not an actual coin. but a money of account. It was divided into 12 fanams, and each fanam into four Stivers. When the English East India Company entered into possession in 1796, the currency was entirely in the form of paper notes and copper stivers. The difficulties facing the Administration were formidable.

The East India Company retained the Dutch denomination the Rix-dollar of 12 fanams 48 stivers (the stiver now being called a pice) and 192 challies (the Chaliie was the Dutch Doit), and public accounts until the year 1802 were kept in Madras star pagodas divided into Madras fanams and cash or into Ceylon fanams and challies as well as rix-dollars, fanams and challies. On the 1st January, 1802, Ceylon passed under the control of the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the official accounts were kept in Rix-dollars, fanams and pice (stivers) instead of the Madras pagoda. The rix-dollar was rated at 2/- sterling.

LOCAL COINAGES, 1801-1816

COPPER

The first coinages struck for the island under British rule consisted of copper and silver, and minted locally.

1801. In April, 1801, a large quantity of copper bars and some old cannon, was handed over to a Mr. Adriaan Pieter Blume to be coined into pieces of 4, 2 and 1 stivers (the denomination is shown on the coins as 12, 24 and 48 representing 1/12th, 1/24th and 1/48th of a Rix-dollar). The first contract between Mr. Blume and the Administration for this coinage is dated the 6th May, 1801, and the weight of the stiver was apparently established at 37 stivers to the Dutch pound (206.1 troy grains each stiver).

1803. A second contract, dated 29th March, 1803, provided for the actual weight by stipulating that pice (stiver) of the weight of 50 to the pound be coined. This was the English avoirdupois pound, thus giving the Stiver the weight of 140 troy grains a weight standard which continued for the locally minted issues until the year 1816.

In May of the same year (1803), a Mr. J. A. Hikken is also mentioned in the records as being engaged in striking a copper coinage at Jaffna. As none of the early copper coins have been separately identified as Jaffna issues of Mr. Hikken, it would seem that his coins were struck to the same standard as those of Mr. Blume and possibly from dies supplied to him. It is worthy of remark that the copper denominations of 1803 also occur with the elephant facing to the right, which may have been intentional and the method adopted to distinguish the several issues of the two contractors.

1805. A third contract for copper coinage signed with Mr. Blume on the 9th February 1805, continued to provide for a weight standard of 50 stivers to the pound avoirdupois, but another contract, signed on the 5th June, 1805, with a person named Chinna Tamby Chitty Shevesharanam Chitty, stipulated a weight of 48 stivers to the pound Dutch (158.8 troy grains each stiver). Like the Hikken coinage, the Tamby Chitty issues have not yet been separately identified, but the elephant facing right coins of 1805 are possibly his productions, as the specimen examined exceeds the normal weight standard see catalogue No. 54).

The local copper coinage seemingly ceased in 1805 to be struck under contract until 1811, when the system was abandoned and a local mint was established under Government control.

1812. The Local Government mint was placed under the direction of a Mr. A. Bertolacci whose order to strike coins is dated the 14th November, 1812. The operations of the Ceylon mint continued under the direction of Mr. Bertolacci as mint master until apparently 1816, as the last date recorded on the local coinage is that of 1816.

1813. Although no documentary record has been traced, the Ceylon mint struck a small copper issue in 1813 based on the Indian system. Copper coins are recorded with the inscription CG over the date 1813 and on the reverse, the denomination 1/4 PICE. Atkins, followed by Thurston and Valentine, place this under Bengal, India.

One specimen of this coin has been found in the pettah at Colombo. As the style of minting conforms in every way with the Ceylon locally struck copper issues, and is most certainly not comparable with the products of the Calcutta mint at the same period, there is very little doubt that an issue of 1/4 pice was minted. This copper 1/4 pice, like the small silver fanam token of 1814, was very probably intended to meet the great shortage of coin experienced at that time, but for some reason proved unpopular and was not issued in quantity. The CG can be extended to C(eylon) G(overnment). These coins are excessively rare.

SILVER

The locally struck silver coins commenced a little later than the copper, but like the copper, they were struck by contractors until the founding of the Ceylon Government mint in 1811.

1803. The first contract was signed with Mr. Blume on the 4th February, 1803, and provided for the coinage of a silver rix-dollar. This rix-dollar was to weigh 50 to the pound (Dutch) or 152.5 troy grains and the fineness standard l0/l2ths; very few rix-dollars were struck of this weight and fineness. Another contract, dated 8th June, 1803, ordered that a silver coinage of rix-dollars and half rix-dollars be struck from Spanish dollars without any change in the fineness of the metal (891.666) and the weight of the rix-dollar was reduced to 50 to the pound avoirdupois or 140 grains troy.

1808. Another change occurred in 1808. The value of the Madras star pagoda had increased to 60 fanams although the local rate still remained at 48. To provide for this increase a contract dated 17th February, 1808, also signed with Mr. Blume, reduced the fineness of the rix-dollar to 10 l2ths (i.e. 833 A the original standard of the first contract of 1803). The weight of 140 troy grains was however retained.

THE DOUBLE Rix-DOLLAR

No provision was made in any of the three contracts for a double rix-dollar. The first contract of 1803 was specific and only provided for a rix-dollar denomination. The second contract provided for two denominations a whole and a half rix-dollar, while the third contract of 1808 only provided for the weight of the rix-dollar. It is apparent however, that under the terms of the third contract, three denominations of silver coins were struck ; double, single and half rix-dollar.

Several writers record in their date lists Double rix-dollars with dates earlier than 1808. All such coins so far traced and recorded are suspect. Those actually examined are silver casts, apparently from moulds made by using an earlier dated copper coin of the 2 stiver denomination for the obverse and the figures in the center of the reverse have been recut to 96.

1812. When the local Government mint was established, the intention was to coin both silver and copper coins, for the orders issued to the mint master, Mr. Bertolacci, dated 14th November, 1812, provide for a further coinage of rix-dollars. No silver coins, except the fanam tokens of 1814, appear to have been struck in the new mint. Matrices for a double and single rix-dollar, dated 1812, in the Museum of the Royal Mint, London, suggest that it was the intention of the Ceylon Government to have the local coins struck from dies prepared in England. For some reason the project failed to mature and only a few rare pattern pieces exist of this proposed silver coinage.

1814. In 1814, the scarcity of silver and copper coins was causing the Government great concern. The Governor, after speaking of the inconveniences resulting from the scarcity stated, "no better expedient has presented itself than that of following the measure lately adopted in the Mother Country of issuing tokens ". Consequently, silver "fanam" token coins were struck and issued to pass in circulation at 12 to the rixdollar. The Government notice giving these tokens currency is dated the 16th July, 1814.

1823. After the closure of the local mint in 1816, the later Ceylon coins were supplied from either European or Indian mints as required, but one further local action took place in 1823. In 1821 an issue of rix-dollars of European minting was made and silver fractions of the Colonial "Anchor money" are also stated to have been imported, but a shortage of coin still persisted. This shortage led to a special import of Madras rupees and quarter rupees from India. To retain these coins in local circulation they were counter-marked with a crown and declared current by local Proclamations dated 22nd March, and 31st December, 1823. The two coins were ordered to pass at Rupee = 1 1/3 rix-dollar l/4 Rupee = 4 fanams

They circulated at the above rates until 1825 when British sterling was introduced.

BRITISH AND INDIAN COINAGES

George III - 1760 - 1820

1801. The first coinage to be struck in Europe for Ceylon was demanded by Governor North in 1801. The Governor requested a copper coinage of 100,000 pounds weight to be coined into stivers at the rate of 37 to the pound ; the copper to be of the same quality as that of the good halfpence of England.

In May, 1802, the Governor was informed that the Treasury had approved his request. This coinage was struck at the Soho Mint, Birmingham, by Matthew Boulton, and consisted of a whole, half and quarter stiver (48th, 96th and 192nd of a rix-dollar) The weight established for the stiver of this issue appears to have been 155.67 troy grains, i.e. 37 stivers being coined from the pound troy. It is evident that some confusion arose over the weight. Governor North's request for 100,000 pounds weight was seemingly based on the Dutch pound, the standard used for the first local copper coinage in 1801. In England however, the Soho mint provided for a weight on the basis of the pound avoirdupois, while the actual weight of the coins handed down to collectors gives a coinage figure of 37 to the pound troy. It is perhaps due to this English contract that the rare broad rim mule patterns with the dates 1794, 1797, or undated, were prepared in the Soho mint, as preliminary or suggested designs. Personally, I have some misgivings over these mule patterns, and believe that some at least are of a later date than the beginning of the 19th century.

1812. Pattern silver coins for a two and one rix-dollar exist dated 1812 and both matrices for the reverses are in the Museum of the Royal Mint, London (Hocking Vol II p. 95 Nos. 2240 and 2241). Ruding (1840) Vol II p. 110 has the following note:
"Nov 14 (1812). A silver coinage was ordered for Ceylon, and authority given that it might be executed in the island. (Register of Committee of Privy Council for Trade)".

On the evidence of the patterns and matrices, plus Ruding's note, later writers assert that a silver coinage was ordered from the Royal Mint, London, in 1812, but that it never materialized. Ruding's note however, only refers to the orders issued by the Ceylon Government to Mr. Bertolaeci for the local coinage in that year and which is dated 14th November, 1812.

In the year 1812 the Royal Mint, London, was not in a position to undertake coinages for domestic use and it is unlikely that such a coinage would be contemplated for an overseas possession. The conclusion to be arrived at is that the Ceylon Government sought to obtain the dies for their projected silver coinage from England, which would explain why matrices were prepared in the Royal Mint.

1815. An Order in Council dated 1st April, 1814, authorized a silver and copper coinage for Ceylon to the extent of 10,000 rix-dollars in silver and 200,000 rix-dollars in copper. The silver coinage was to consist of one denomination and the copper coinage of five. On the 1st December, 1814, the Royal Mint, London, received orders from the Treasury to strike the coinage. Dies were prepared for the silver rix-dollar but the coinage never reached completion and only a few proof specimens exist. For the copper coinage, although dies were prepared for a 1/4 Stiver, only three denominations, the 2, 1 and 1/2 stiver were struck for circulation. The metal for this Ceylon coinage was obtained from demonetized English halfpence. All coins struck bear the date 1815.

1821. In October, 1821, a Treasury letter sanctioned a further coinage to be struck at the Royal Mint for Ceylon. This consisted entirely of silver rix-dollar coins , the design being that approved in 1815 with the necessary changes in the Monarch's effigy and titles.

Text edited from
* The Coins of the British Commonwealth of Nations
F. Pridmore, London, Spink & Son Ltd., 1960.