Few Notes & Comments
Sri Lanka - Commemoratives

Statistics of issue of Commemorative coins show a very significant difference between the first 40 years and the next 27 years of CBSL. In the first 40 years of the Central Bank of Ceylon (of Sri Lanka since 1986) issued 9 commemoratives and they were all circulation coins. In the next 27 years they issued 43 commemoratives coins (7 fold increase in rate) of which only 17 were minted in large quantity of order a million and released for general circulation at face value, and 26 were minted in a limited number of order of thousands for the numismatic collector market as Non Circulating Legal Tender (NCLT) coins commemoratives.

There are two types of Proofs.

  1. The Proof which look no different to the Brillient Uncirculated (BU) coin except for the better strike and Mirror or gloss-like finish of coin surface.
  2. The Frosted Proof where there is a cameo or matte-like finish of the portraits. The coin looks distictively different. The frosted appearence is obtained by acid-treatment of coin die tool. As the die is used over a longer period to strike a coin blanks, the effect of the frosted look fades.

When the value of Silver in the 1957 Rs5 coin exceeded the face value the remaining unissued stock in CBSL was returned in 1962 to Royal Mint for recycling. Until the central bank got authority in 1991 to sell NCLT coins at a numismatic premium, there were not many NCLT commemorative coins minted. Since then there have probably been too many. Coins that circulate are always issued at face value excpt for any minted in Proof condition.

The 26 Lankan NCLT coins are still not a significant worry that they are being minted purely to use collectors as a revenue source. Lanka will hopefully remain this way since CBSL has still not figured how to really profit from them, like the large numbers of NCLT coins issued by many very small island nations and Australia. I was told by CBSL, that the numismatic Premium on the proof & NCLT Coins just covers the cost of minting them.

The cost of a commemorative coin is

In 2017 January with silver about US$18 per troy ounce (LKRs80 per gram of 0.925 SS) the old crown size silver coins(28.28 gms) have Rs2250 of intrinsic Silver. A tola (11.664 gms) is about Rs950 which is just less than the Rs2 size silver coins(11.9 gms).

There is a reluctance of some Lankans in paying this numismatic premium for commemoratives coins and was strongly expressed to me by a customer one day I was at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka counter many years ago to get some coins. Most NCLT are high value Silver and sometimes gold Proof issues.

The exception are the 3 one-rupee coins of very limited mintage which were issued for Sri Lanka Military Force 50th Anniversaries Army Navy and AirForce. They were issued at Rs 150/- to Rs 600/- each, to cover the real cost of minting a limited issue. The logic of selecting the one-rupee denomination for the three Military coins, may have been to minimize the contribution these commemoratives add to the coins & currency in circulation.

CBSL used to post little or no information on these coin on their website and make no arrangements to sell these coins to collectors abroad. They then interpret the absence of sales by their poor marketing as a lack of demand and reduce the number minted which increases the cost of production per coin. Only 2000 Proof condition 1-rupee coins were minted for the Air-Force, and the 800 which were released to the public sold out within one month despite the very high premium of 600-rupees, since no BU coins were issued. It is very difficult to find one for a Lankan coin collection.

I estimate the coin collector demand for high value Sri Lankan commemorative coins to be less than 1000 coins. When more coins have been issued to the public they have remained for sale for a long time, sufficient for those who wish to have one for their collection to buy one. CBSL still has stock of the 1993-1999 crown size issues.

The Central Bank used to give exchange control permission for any collector to export or take away from Lanka one specimen each of the commemorative issue. They are more reluctant about low-denomination circulation issue which often cost the Central Bank of Sri Lanka more than the face value to have them minted. With the rapid depreciation of the SriLanka rupee all of the circulation coin denominations cost much more than the face value to produce. The coins 50 cents and below are no-longer issued by the CBSL for circulation although they are still legal tender. They have become NCLT :-)

In 2017 Exchange Control @CBSL informed me that exchange control permission is no longer issued as If you are a Sri Lankan or a person living in Sri Lanka, you can carry upto Rs. 20,000 when you travel abroad and bring back upon return. The NCLT coins being legal tender, you just need to count the face value and ensure it is less than Rs 20,000.

The Rs 200/- polymer notes encased in a clear plastic slab which could be used as a paper weight is only item I can think of which was sold after conversion to varied trinkets. It is in any case illegal to destroy or deface coins since it often costs more than the face value of the coin to mint. You can package coins as long as they can be removed from the package and used as currency. One Firm wanted to embed Bi-metallic 1998 Rs10coin in plastic key-tags and that was refused by Monetary Board.

The CBSL price of commemorative coins used to remain unchanged till stocks finished. However in 2004 July when price of precious metals both Silver and Gold started to increase above the sale price, CBSL stopped sales till they got Monetary Board permission to adjust sale prices with the International Market price of the metals. In 2006 August the CBSL prices had increased. The 2006 issue for 2550 Buddha Jayanthi was sold far above cost price, resulting in significant drop in sales. Those prices were reduced by almost 40% to match those of other issues.

This online sales counter was finally opened by CBSL in 2008 August to market coins to foreign collectors. However CBSL does not market any of the circulation issues, even those issued as commemorative coins, which makes it an incomplete collector service. They made and sold a 2006 year pack and it is a pity they have not done it since then. It was closed three years later in 2011 for reasons which are not clear. The now unlinked sales page with prices has not been updated since then.

In 2008 September CBSL minted just 100 Frosted Proof coins for the Employment Provident Fund Rs1000/ coin and did not make any of them available to the Public. It is now one of the few modern Lankan coins I don't have in my Coin Collection.

See also my Point of View in The new silver frosted proof coins published in the Sunday Times on 2009 August 30th.

Sri Lanka - Proof and off-metal strikes
A limited off-metal strike is clearly identifiable and needs to be cataloged as such. The Victorian and the more recent Presidential Gold and Silver coins are clear of that type. With bullion value much greater than face value, they were not minted for circulation.

The Edward VII 1904 5-Cents type known as a Proof is also probably a pattern since a few Proofs were minted and then not selected for circulation.
The George VI 1943 Brass 50-cents which is a off-metal strike is a pattern. This older design was not selected for the circulation strike when the coin stopped being minted in Silver.
It was however minted to same specification as the older Victorian issue. which had been found to be inconvenient and cumbersome.
The George VI 1951 5-Cents was issued only as a Proof was minted significant numbers and freely available to any interested person or collector. It is no different to the limited NCLT commemorative Proofs of recent years which were not issued at face value for circulation.
This was not the case for the 1904 5-Cent coins and the 1943 Brass 50 cents which are therefore Patterns and off-metal strikes, unlike the 1951 5-cent.

When should a coin become listed in Proof ?
There are a number of examples of Proof coins picked up from listing in Auction which have been included in catalogs for which if there is no official record of a proof issue. Pridmore lists Proof issues from 1870 to 1951. As far as I know none except for the issues of 1951 were publicly issued as proofs.

I am told Proofs are double struck by hand using new dies and can be identified from exceptionally well struck proof-like coins. I understand a few are frequently created by the Mint before a production run for inspection by the Mint Master who may gift some to visiting dignitaries and then sometimes make their way into the numismatic market. These unofficial Proofs are clearly different class from official proof issue. They are in a way no different from early strike proof-like coins even if double struck since it is unlikely that the mint will go through the full process of polishing the dies just to strike a few examples for inspection.

IMHO catalogs should at most put a flag indicating that Proofs are known to exist rather than put an additional entry for them, since none were officially issued. Particularly for modern issues official mint records should exist to identify the Proofs that were struck for release to public.

Many large countries issue a complete range of denominations issues each year. In SriLanka this has been the exception rather than the rule Since introduction of Decimal coinage in 1870 the only years so far in which a full range of coins were minted were 1926, 1963, 1965, 1971, 1975 and 1978. It is unlikely to happen again since the denominations under 25 cents although still legal, are no longer issued by Central Bank in any significant quantity and does not circulate. The last 10c and 5c coin was minted in 1991, 2 cents in 1978 and 1 cent in 1994.

The Krause SCWC listed 1975 Proof in all denominations 1 2 5 10 25 50 cents and Rupee, with a mintage of 1431 pieces has not been traced. No record of issue from Central Bank in Colombo. Not listed in Royal Mint, Reports. It has now been removed by my correction.

Ms C M Ariyaratne, the former Superintendent of Currency, has been extreamly helpful and in 2001 September sent me all of the mint details which has been used to update this website, and was used to correct the 2003 edition of the Krause Standard World Coin Catalog, for which I was recognized as the contributor for Lanka.

This page was last edited on 2017 July 12th.