Sunday Observer

19 November, 2000

Coin collectors and their specialist societies 

A chance gift of a scarce book 'Ancient Jaffna' by an elder kinsman and the fortuitous legacy of a rare collection of coins and numerous other allied benefits from acknowledged benefactors had titillated the numismatic interest in K.N.Y. Seyone.

Seyone is now a recognised numismatist in his late seventies who has been inspired to put together valuable information about 'Some Old Coins' used in early (Ceylon) Sri Lanka which have only been found in recent times - within the last decade - shedding light on the existence of international trade as far back as in 700 BC when ports like Matota in the North and Kirinda in the South served as ports of call for those ancient dhonis that hauled merchandise to and fro Sri Lanka then.

In a detailed account of two coins Seyone documents verbal and visual evidence to establish logically that King Sri Sangha Bodhi (circa 7th Century AD) could have issued one coin and the other is source to King Sankili Sekarajasekeran of Jaffna in the 16th Century AD.

The book provides wealth of information to numismatic scholars.

The carefully catalogued and documented information dating back to medieval Sinhala times and then updated right on to British times yield data for comparative study of coins quite in addition to the economic evidence they yield.

Coin collecting has led to empirical evidence of widespread commercial contacts and as always certain currencies may have acquired special international pre eminence.

There is little evidence that Sri Lankan coins achieved such status.

But coins being in most ages made of precious metal or alternatively possessing a substantial token value one can only marvel at the collection that Seyone came by which had perhaps been hoarded and buried for safety.

Proof against decay dictated the selection of metals which were used to make coins in ancient times. Gold and silver, brass and copper and bronze were variously used depending no doubt on availability.

The appreciation in the value of gold and silver and the need to economise has led to the general production of paper currencies in recent times for the higher units of value.

Token units of lower value are now expressed in terms of nickel.

It is on record that lead which decays easily has seldom been used in coinage except by the Andhras in ancient India and more recently in the Malaysia. Iron was occasionally used in antiquity and in German coins of World War 1. Zinc was employed by Rome as a constituent of fine brass coins and as an alloy in a few Chinese coins.

In crises, currencies have been produced from leather, cloth, card, paper and other materials.

Organised collecting of coins is dated to the time of the Italian Renaissance but numismatic scholars began to catalogue and document existing collections only in the 17th century.

Distinctions between the genuine and the spurious became surer only then.

Numismatic evidence plays a part in historical reconstruction now. Specialist societies have emerged and are responsible for scholarly publications.

Under the apex of the International Numismatic Commission a vast body of private collectors in many lands provide a fund of resource material for the numismatist.

The Numismatist Society of Sri Lanka and Numismatist K.N.V. Seyone are classic examples of the spread of specialist societies and coin collators.