Modern Fakes of Lead Coins from Ancient Ruhuna

Lead coins found in Ruhuna are rare and there has been a growing collector demand for them since the publication of the 1999 book by Osmund Bopearachchi and Rajah Wickramasinhe Ruhuna. An Ancient Civilization Re-visited.

Most lead coins found with Brahmi inscriptions are unique, with rarely two of them having exactly the same design. It is possible they were never used as Currency, but mostly as Token offerings. Many have personal names.

The lead coins when found are covered with a heavy oxide layer. A thicker layer is found to protect the details on the coin. A thin layer implies a surface that has been continuously and directly subject to slow corrosion which would erase the markings on the coin.

In late 2006 a lot of lead coins appeared on the numismatic market in Colombo. They were covered with just a paper thin layer of brown patina which didn't wash away. The details on the coins were very sharp. It was claimed that they had been found buried in a pot in Akurugoda. Claimed they had been encased in clay which protected them from oxidation. The coins were also typically much larger then the lead coins found individually in Ruhuna.

Few specimens were were brought to a Sri Lanka Numismatic Society meeting, by an infrequent member claiming that he had purchased them for only Rs300(US$3) each and therefore they are likely to be genuine. i.e. "Who would duplicate coins at that price". However they were not made available to me at that price. Numismatic dealers on Chatham Street in Colombo Fort said they could only obtain them at Rs3000(US$30) each.

Finally in 2007 February, a dealer who had purchased a significant number of them from a source he said knew the finder, asked me to study them. Sorting through all of the lead coins from this lot, remaining in his possession I found 14 Types. I measured the Weight and Diameter of the coins and each type to derive a mean and variance. I took one of each for scanning and further study. Under high magnification some coins showed a suspicious shinning lead surface where the thin Patina had scratched.

I then compared the 14 coins with those illustrated in the book An Ancient Civilization Re-visited. It was immediately obvious that this book had been used when manufacturing the lead pieces. They were positively modern fakes as suspected.

In almost all of the coins were exactly as illustrated. No additional symbols, and no missing features or Brahmi text. In the book the clear line drawings done by Wilfried Piper were typically larger than the actual coins. The forger not understating this fact had replicated the lead coins to almost exactly the size illustrated in book, consequently much heavier as well. It is always nice to find a smoking gun to prove a suspicion, in this case there were too many.

Each of the fake lead pieces are illustrated in the pages linked below. In each case I have compared with the coin illustration that was obviously used. In few cases the details are slightly different, probably reflecting minor copy errors when they were redrawn by hand to make the moulds.

This lot of fake lead coins were all returned to the dealer who returned his whole stock to suplier to recover his payment.

Inscribed Lead Coins
A.2 REPLICA - Floral design
A.4 REPLICA - Fish and cross in circle
A.10 REPLICA - Dolphin
A.12 REPLICA - Swastika + 2 Fish
A.17 REPLICA - Cock
A.21 REPLICA - Floral design
A.23 REPLICA - Fish
A.27 REPLICA - Floral design
A.30 REPLICA - Dancer
A.34 REPLICA - Tortoise

Inscription Uncertain Lead Coins
E.12 REPLICA - Lion
E.17 REPLICA - Elephant and Srivasta
E.18 REPLICA - Elephant and Srivasta

Uninscribed Lead Coins
F.1 REPLICA - Standing figure

Collector Demand for lead coins had created a supplier, their is no need to reconsider the history of ancient Lankan Numismatics.

In 2007 May I got a phone call from an dealer in Embilipitiya. Speaking in Sinhala he was unhappy that I had posted these webpages saying that these lead coins are fake. He said he was finding them but refused to let me come and investigate. In his word It was a waste of time since his business had now gone away. I thought that was the end of story, till I got another call from the same person, asking me if I could remove these web pages. I said I had no reason to do so. I told him that if he got the coins authenticated by the Archaelogical Department in Lanka I will include that report in this website. I never heard from him again.

The same member who had brought in the lead coins to a SLNS meeting brought in a few lead lakshmis and tortoise shaped item which had the same look and feel of the fake lead coins.

In 2007 June I went to Katharagama and met Mr Ratnayaka who has bean a dealer/ collector of items from Ruhuna for over 20 years. He too had been sold a lot of these fake lead coins with a claim that they had been found in a box very recently. I explained why they must be fake and he said he will speak with the person who sold him the coins. I picked up 7 of the 14 types I had found previously. Few months ago he had told another collector that lead coins were being manufactured with the patina pasted on with SuperGlue.

In 2007 July a dealer from Embilipitiya met me in Mount Lavinia with about 8 coins he claimed he had purchased for just Rs2000/=. I picked out two more fake types, I had not got from Mr Ratnayake for my collection of fakes.

The saga did not end there. In 2009 March when the new refurbished Coin and Currency Gallery of the Colombo National Museum was opened I found 9 of these replica coins on display as lead coins found in Akurugoda. Someone had gifted them to the Museum, which in their total ignorance had displayed them. This is a typical trick, since the dealers marketing these fakes, can then tell the buyers, mainly ignorant tourists to compare with the coins on display in Museum. I insisted that the museum label the Fantasy as Replica, which they did. They requested me to give them my genuine pieces to display, which I am glad I declined, since these 9 worthless replica were stolen in the major theft on 2012 March 19th together with the other invaluable gold coins and other artifacts as presented in the National Museum Annual Report for 2012.

I thank the dealers who made available the lead items for me to study, and I am sad that he had been taken in by these fakes, without a second opinion. I am always willing to study any unusual Lankan coin-like-item and give my opinion on them.