Your Ref: CNM/SEC/2012/01

Department of National Museums, Sri Lanka

Dear Madam,

I thank you for appointing me on 2012 April 25th to check the inventory and send a report on the current state of the Coins and Currency Collection of the National Museum. (CCC-NM).

After studying the collection on 9 days from 2012 April 26th to May 15 in the presence of the representatives of the CID and the Archaeological Department. I submit herewith my report on the collection and recommendations to ensure the long term Safety of the collection as an integral part of our National Heritage.

I am knowledgeable and qualified for the task. Over the last 15 years, I have developed a comprehensive website on Lankan coins at and I now have diploma in Museology from PGIAR. I am currently the President, Sri Lanka Numismatic Society, formed in 1976. I am also the listed contributor on Ceylon/Sri Lanka for Krause, USA which publish the Standard Catalogs of World Coins and Paper Money.

Yours Sincerely


Dr Kavan Ratnatunga

Current state of the
National Museum Coin and Currency Collection


1. Objectives

1.1 The coins and currency that are on display in the Colombo National Museum (CNM) is only a small fraction of the Coin and Currency Collection of the National Museum (CCC-NM).

1.2 The objective of this investigation is an independent study of the CCC-NM to determine it's current state, and recommend what needs to be done to ensure it's long term security in view of the robbery at the CNM on 2012 March 16/17th night.

2. Summary

  1. The currently available documentation is insufficient to do a proper and meaningful inventory check of the full CCC-NM, with almost 100,000 coins
  2. The more important items, as well as those with proper documentation were checked.
  3. A very significant fraction of the coins are badly mixed up within the collection.
  4. Coins Transferred to other Museums have not been properly documented.
  5. No recent loss of items was detected within the above limitations.
  6. Few important coins and currency appear to have been lost or misplaced few decades ago.
  7. Some coins have been improperly displayed and conserved, causing significant damage.
  8. The officers when they were put in charge of the collection appear to not have had much knowledge of Numismatics.
  9. The section lacks a basic library on Lankan Numismatics to identify and equipment to check and supplies to look after CCC-NM
  10. The Security needs to be greatly improved of Storage of CCC-NM as well as at other regional museums.

3. Methodology

3.1 Checking the inventory of the CCC-NM was not easy. A large fraction of the items in the primary collection have got mixed up in the hands of a series of curators/officers over the last 60 years, since the separate coin inventories were written in the mid 1950's. There is insufficient detail in some of the more recent inventories to confirm that the original coins are still in the collection.

3.2 On most museum items the catalog number is written on it to facilitate it's future identification for inventory control. However such a number cannot be written without unacceptable damage on any coin.

3.3 CCC-NM has large hoards of common copper coins (mostly 13th century Massa coins and 18th century VOC duits) which are mostly undocumented other than by type and number. All these hoards of copper coins were not not checked for practical reasons.

3.4 The oldest part CCC-NM is documented in two books, which have been published about an 100 years ago.

3.5 The oldest published catalog is
Catalogue of Coins exhibited in the Colombo Museum by John Still
1908 Colombo, Government Printer, Ceylon, 52 p., ills. (CCCM-08)
It lists 447 coins from most ancient Punch Mark coins to modern coins of Queen Victoria. Of these 277 are pre colonial (older than 1500 CE).

3.6 The post colonial specimens, are duplicated in the next published catalog
Catalogue of Coins in the Colombo Museum by H. W. Codrington,
Part I Muhammadan and European (exclusive of Roman)
1914 Colombo, Government Printer, Ceylon, 61 p., ills (CCCM-14).

3.7 Part II of this catalog which was to be drafted by John Still was never published.

3.8 CCCM-14 is the only part of the CCC-NM which can be examined to give a definitive statement. It is also a collection, which I had requested in writing to study in 2006 February and was given limited access in 2011 March, after I had completed a course in Museology. I was therefore familiar with some of this part of CCC-NM because of this prior Study. 3.9 A brief history of CCC-NM with names of all officers who were in charge of the collection over the last 70 years is given in Appendix 1. 3.10 A summary of items lost in the robbery of 2012 March 16/17th night is given in Appendix 2.

4. The Collections in CCC-NM Investigated

4-1 Coins Published in John Still's Catalog

4-1.1 Although CCCM-08 has a fairly detailed description of the coins and have as a few line drawings it lacks any images, weights or dimensions of the coins. It was a catalog of the coins on Display and not of all the coins in the CNM collection.

4-1.2 To do a proper inventory check of the John Still catalog, a digital listing needs to be created of the pre colonial coins from the Catalog. With many more examples of the same ancient coin being now in the collection, identifying the original coins may not be possible, and can be only attempted after making a database with high resolution scans of all these coins. The available coins were checked but not in detail.

4-2 Coins Published in Codrington's 1914 catalog

4-2.1 The CCCM-14 has weights in grains, diameter in inches and has listed 284 post colonial coins that have been found in Lanka of which 47 are illustrated on 4 gray-scale plates.

4-2.2 A digital listing of the 284 coins in CCM-14 was hand typed by me. The coins cross identified as far a simply possible with the catalog using high resolution scans, and weights.

4-2.3 Luckily most of the Dutch period coins including one Gold double Ducat had been the removed from display for conservation and documentation at the time of the robbery in the night of 2012 March 16/17th. Two of the Gold Venetian ducats (#74-75) and two Gold Dutch Ducats (#112-113) had been on display in the coin Gallery, but had remained after the robbery which removed most of the Lankan Gold coin on display in that Gallery.

4-2.4 All 24 Gold coins in CCCM-14 were positively identified and remain well preserved in collection. They had been in the custody of SW last year but had been given to PP at the time they were examined. #1-13, #70-76, #112-114, #132

4-2.5 There are 6 Abbasi (#16-21) and 20 Mahmudi (#14-15, #22-39) Silver coins with C-VOC counter mark in CCCM-14. There is that number of coins of these type of coins with counter Mark, However they have not as yet been cross identified with catalog entries of host coin descriptions.

4-2.6 There are 36 Silver Larins (#40-54, #47A-47L, #54A-54F) in CCCM-14 , although there are an equal number of bent Fish hook Larins, (#40-42) are listed are listed Straight Larins. Only one straight Larin was as yet Located in CCC-NM among a collection of 98 which had been returned from display. The other two still needs to be located. The Larins have not as yet been cross identified with edge descriptions in catalog. This will requires a lot of detailed identification of all of the hooked Larins in storage and on display at CNM and DPM. A tedious task that can be done, when time permits.

4-2.7 There were some coins in the inventory that did not have recent signatures as having been transferred to current officers. When I requested on the first day that we need to look for them, DP remembered that he still had some coins which he had got from Mr Daniels in 1994 and had not transferred to SW. The next day DP's storage room was opened and among the few coins 4 were easily identified as clearly from CCCM-14, although they had been kept aside as not identifiable for transfer. The fact that this parcel of coins had not been sorted for many years is troubling. I am glad we found them.

4-2.8 There were 11 coins which have been listed as having been transferred to DPM. #78 #89-98- However I found 3 of them in the CCC-NM storage and concluded that different coins had been sent to DPM. The team visited DPM on May 11th and we found 26 coins in addition to many duits. I identified 20 coins as belonging to the CCCM-14, and may be few more could be identified after conservation. Only 4 of the coins were as documented as having been sent to DPM. Of the 10 coins displayed as Portuguese coins used in the early Dutch period, only 2 matched the description and had VOC counter marks. And those two were displayed without the counter mark showing. A display of total numismatic ignorance.

4-2.9 In the DPM inventory there was no provenance as to where the extra 15 coins came from and in the inventory of the CCC-NM there was no record that they have been transferred to DPM. All this is clearly unacceptable record keeping on very valuable coins. I agree that this transfer was done in early 1980's when none of the current officers were in charge. However it is not acceptable that it took 30 years and an investigation after a robbery, for these errors to be found. This reflects poor or No regular inventory control of the CCC-NM.

4-2.10 Seeking more of the missing coins SW searched the cabinets and found a few more coins which had come back from display at CNM and had not been conserved or put back in their proper place. A careful search through all the packages in the many cupboards will probably find more misplaced coins.

4-2.11 On the last day I found there were still 3 full and one half Ducatoons that had not been located. From them 2 ducatoons and a half were found in part of a lot that had remained after some were put for display, and which were assumed to be from the Hettiaratchi collection.

4-2.12 We have so far positively identified over 90% of the coins in CCNM-14, However since most of the CCNM-14 were found in various locations and we have yet not looked at all possible places I feel confident that the rest of the coins will be found when all of the CCC-NM both in display at CNM, DPM and loaned to CBSL are conserved, scanned and documented. Maybe some of the still missing coins from CCNM-14 have been sent to National Museums in Kandy, Galle, or Ratnapura without record as they were seen to have been sent to DPM.

4-3 The Galpothgama Hoard

4-3.1 Of this hoard 127 coins found in 1935, 122 were given to Colombo Museum of which "54 of the duplicates were sold, 3 Sent to the British Museum, 6 sent for assay, 12 presented to Biddel and 52 Retained by the Museum." The coin hoard was mostly type II double Ada handa & lotus kahavanu and seven of them which were on display were lost by robbery in 2012 March. The two Type I Kahavanu and the one Pala of that Hoard is safe in storage.

4-4 The Hettiarachchi collection

4-4.1 The large collection of 23,305 coins and currency of D. P. E. Hettiarachchi was purchased by museum in 1970 for Rs80,000 from his son Dr E. S. G. Hettiarachichi, but after 40 years has still not been properly documented. To check all of them in the absence of proper documentation would be an exercise in recording what is currently available of this collection within CCC-NM, rather than checking of an inventory. SW has started documenting the ancient coins but has not yet done the post colonial era.

4-4.2 The study of this collection was hampered from the fact that I was not allowed to scan and document any of the rare or suspicious items, I found within it. With out being able to scan coins for more detailed study, a definitive statement cannot be made. The whole process of checking the collection is flawed without obtaining digital images of at least the most valuable coins and currency.

4-4.3 The 1960's was an era in which a well known forger Mr Kumarapathirana was replicating rarities for the numismatic market in Colombo. If any got into the Hettiarachchi collection is unknown. I did look at Late Mr C. S. G. Fernando's collection which was used to publish in 1952 "Price catalogue of Ancient Coins of Ceylon" by T. M. DeSilva Abeywardene. and found that it had some fakes. from this era.

4-4.4 Selected parts of the Hettiarachchi collection was investigated. The documentation is clearly totally inadequate to do a proper inventory and this reflects grave danger to this collection. The collection still has very valuable coins and currency, but we will never know if it had more. Let me illustrate by two examples.

4-4.5 There was an entry in the inventory which said "Rix Dollars (Silver) 3". When I asked to see it the envelope said 1815-1821. In it there was an 1815 Rix Dollar. This is a Pattern coin which was never issued and is cataloged only in Proof State. The coin in collection needs to be studied carefully with a high resolution scan to make sure it is genuine since it did not appear to be a Proof or definitely not preserved in way expected for rare proof coins. If it is genuine, it is a very rare coin worth about Rs1 million without an explicit individual entry in the Inventory, which has been poorly preserved in the collection.

4-4.6 There was an entry which said "70.1.13760-61 `Aka Legend coins' 2" specimens among the Dutch period coins. Suspecting that it may be the extremely rare 1747 Aka Mila coins, I asked to see it. It is well documented in Codrington's 1924 CCC and Scholton as being made of a mixture Tin and lead in equal proportions, just under 1.5 grams in weight and 12 mm in diameter. It is rare because it was used only for a short period and most even in collection have been destroyed by tin disease. The only coin I had seen was in the British Museum collection.

4-4.7 When the 2 coins were given to me in individual boxes packed with cotton wool, I was happy that who ever packed it knew of it's rarity and fragility. However what I found inside the cotton wool was an item over 9.2 grams in weight and 22 mm in diameter with Aka Mila embossed on it. I find it difficult to understand why Hettiarachchi who was a leading numismatist would preserve obvious replicas between cotton wool. If there was an original in the collection gifted in 1970 we will never know, because of the lack of documentation.

4-5 The Currency collection

4-5.1 A digital catalog of from the original Inventories need to be made from the oldest inventories. Luckily the very rare notes that been on display had not been stolen in the robbery on 2012 March 16/17. They have now been removed from exhibition.

4-5.2 I was shown some extremely rare 1796 Rix Dollar notes which I had never seen and did not even know existed in Lanka. There documentation, preservation and handling is clearly insufficient for their rarity.

4-5.3 The oldest Inventory on page 109 lists a set of 6 notes with denominations 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10 rix dollar dated 1st January 1796. The Serial number of each is hand written on the back of the note, above the signature is given in the inventory. The 2 Rix Dollar appears to have been missing from the collection from 1935 when they were assigned Inventory numbers 35.196.16 10 Rix; 35.197.16(1) 3 Rix; 35.197.16(2) 1 Rix; 35.197.16(3) 5 Rix; 35.197.16(4) 4 Rix; which a written in pencil on the back of each note. The back of the 1 Rix Dollar and the front of the 5 Rix dollar is illustrated in Lilananda Caldera's book in plate 3.

5. The Ada Kahavanu

5.1 Among the coins lost in the museum robbery, the rarest and most irreplaceable coin is the Ada Kahavanuwa. This National Museum specimen was illustrated as coin #55 in Plate 3 of Codrington's 1924 Ceylon Coins and Currency, and coin #8 in plate 2 of 1959 in the Sinhala publication Coin & Currency of Lanka by Lilananda Caldera. The latter book used the former illustration. It is listed as #128 in CCCM-08 catalog, although not explicitly as an Ada Kahavanu.

5.2 The Ada Kahavanu lost has been independently confirmed as being #55 by Jan Lingen and Prof Osmund Bopearatchi. They said that the illustration in Codrington was that of a plaster cast which explains the slight apparent differences and the bubbles on that image.

5.3 The two coins listed as Half Gold Coin in Hettiarachchi collection are clearly not Ada Kahavanu based on the description of the coins. They are full weight Kahavanu with smaller 16-17 mm diameter in contrast to the normal 20-21 mm diameter have been identified in error as half Gold Coin in the inventory written by the Museum staff.

5.4 The loss of this Ada Kahavanu has not been given any prominence in the initial report of the Robbery. I was informed of it's loss after I was appointed to do the inventory.

5.5 It was not identified properly in the report of coins lost in the robbery. Images of this rare and priceless coin has still not been published in the media locally or Internationally to try trace it if it is put on sale. It has been grossly undervalued and clearly worth more than the Rs4.1 million of the total reported for this Museum loss. It is probably the biggest loss in this Robbery. It is like if the Mona Lisa and some other paintings are stolen from the Louvre, and the robbery is reported as a loss of a few paintings. Publicity may have prevented this priceless coin getting melted if that was the intent of the robbery.

5.6 I am told by a very knowledgeable numismatist, Commander Nihal Fernando, that around 2004 he wrote in the Colombo Museum Suggestion book : The Ada Kahavanu is too precious to be displayed with such poor security The Suggestion book could not be located to confirm this quote. It is a pity that no action was taken on this very good advice.

6. Security

6.1 The CCC-NM was stored in a small strong room with thick concrete walls, when I saw it first in 2001 November. This building was demolished to make room for New Buildings, CCC-NM was moved in 2002 to the new building which I am told had been was designed for the Library. The current location within a room made of temporary partitions is totally insecure. A roller-door has been put at the entrance but that is not sufficient. CCC-NM needs to be moved to a room with secure concrete walls, with a door which makes the full room as secure as a Bank vault.

6.2 The security of the coin gallery of CNM should be significantly improved by using secure display cabinets which are also more appropriate to display of coins and currency. The gallery should not be open to access from other other galleries when locked, like the galleries on the ground floor.

6.3 The security of the DPM museum is totally inadequate, considering the value of coins and items on display, and the location of the museum in the middle of a crowded commercial environment. The best of the Dutch period coins in the CCC-NM are currently on Display at the DPM.

6.4 Soon after the new coin gallery was constructed, I wrote and stated that the coin gallery tables were inappropriate for display of coins, since No details of the coins are visible to the viewer. They were also clearly insecure as demonstrated by the 2012 March robbery.

6.5 There are few coins and currency in the CCC-NM which are exceptionally rare and need to be given that extra level of protection when handling, storage and security.

6.6 While it is important that the Security of the collection is improved that should not be done at the cost of removing most of it from meaningful public display and making it available for legitimate research. This has not been done on the questionable policy that they are safer if hidden and only the officer knows of their presence in the collection.

7. Display and Conservation of coins

7.1 Most of the coins sent for display have been mounted with chemfix paste and the coins that had yet to be conserved had a large lump of hardened glue with a bit of red velvet attached. Clearly the CCC-NM has not been handled in a way to protect the rare artifacts as could be expected from a National Museum.

7.2 Looking at many of the coins after conservation I noticed that one side was poor, and this was sad to see on some rare coins. Some even had deep scratch marks clearly visible under 10X magnification. No kind of adhesive should be attached to any coin for sake of display. There are so many safe ways to ensure that the coin does not slide on a display table. Conservation must never use a sharp instrument that WILL scratch the coin, even if not visible without magnification. What has happened cannot be undone, but after proper conservation please make sure this degradation NEVER happens in future.

8. Numismatic Knowledge of Officers

8.1 Some of the officers who have been in charge of the CCC-NM, clearly appear have been unable to identify the coins, other than at most say it is a gold, silver or base metal coin. Coins when returned from exhibition appear to have been put back almost at random, and coins have not only got mixed withing individual collections, but have also got mixed between collections.

8.2 It probably explains the frequent wrong labeling of coins put back on display, which I have pointed out many times over the last seven years.

8.3 Coins that have been transferred to other museum for exhibition are also often not the coins as listed in the transfer. No documents were found for some of the transfers. A proper inventory would require a study of the coins sent to other National Museums and also loaned to the Central Bank Museum in the mid 1980's.

8.4 It is essential that all officers in charge of any part of the CCC-NM have a good understanding of Lankan coins and be able to recognize the coins at the time they sign and take over any part of the collection. They should also have an understanding of how to handle coins and currency and display them. This has clearly not been the case. All of them I asked said they knew nothing about coins at the time they were put in charge, but had learnt as best they could, on the job. There are many knowledgeable individuals in the Lankan numismatic community who could help educate the new officers.

9. Equipment and Library

9.1 The section lacks the basic infrastructure needed to study and protect a coin and currency collection. All of the study and investigations were done using my personal equipment.

9.2 A collection of the basic books on Lankan coins and currency. I have given some of my personal books to make photocopies. The CCC-NM needs a small but comprehensive Library on Numismatics including books on Lankan, Indian, Portuguese, Dutch and British coins which circulated in Lanka. A bibliography can be found on my website.

9.3 It is very important that officers in charge of any part of the CCC-NM are very familiar with these books, so that they can identify any coin or currency in the collection.

9.4 A Potable scale with can measure up to 75 grams, to an accuracy of 0.01 grams is essential. There is a large scale powered by mains which measure to 300 grams with an accuracy of 0.001, but takes too long to use, and does not have the cover needed to measure to that accuracy without being disturbed by wind. I recently purchased by mail order a scale which can measure up to 20 grams to an accuracy of 0.001 grams which has the required protective cover Cost only US$22. This is sufficient for most coins which are under 20 grams.

9.5 A illuminated magnifier with 10X power for each officer. I purchased one locally for only Rs4500/-

9.6 Archival quality sheaves for individual currency notes. They come in various sizes and each costs in the range Rs1-Rs10 depending on size. They are available locally and I have provided a set of samples.

9.7 Airtite clear plastic capsules for the more valuable coins which need that extra degree of protection.

10. Digital Inventory needed

10.1 With a high resolution scanned image of the coin at 600 dpi, a weight to an accuracy of 0.001 grams and a size (diameter and thickness) to 0.1 mm, one can now document on a computer database and positively identify a coin from the collection at a future date. This is not currently available for most of the CCC-NM.

10.2 The large hoards of copper coins need to be studied to discover the coins of significant importance among the more common coins so that they are properly documented.

10.3 The important part of the CCC-NM of Gold, Silver and some rare base metal coins, totaling probably a few thousand, need to be properly conserved and documented individually with high resolution images of both sides, weight and dimensions and any known provenance.

11. Recommendations

11.1 I strongly recommend that the officers track down the remaining miss-placed coins and reprint this Codrington's 1914 catalog with color images of all of the coins in CCCM-14 by 2014. That will give confidence to the community, that although the collection has got mixed up, they have not got lost.

11.2 The few very valuable coins on display at DPM which belong to CCCM-14 should be brought back to the CCC-NM for conservation, and until the security at DPM is improved significantly.

11.3 The museum should use the well documented collections as the core of a primary research collection of the National Museum. There are sufficient duplicates to create a better properly labeled displays than have been done currently both at CNM and DPM.

11.4 The Coin and Currency collection of the National Museum needs a proper digital archive, which must be created with highest priority using free database management software like from which has been developed with the expertise from many international Museums. This open source software has multilingual support and can even be localised to include Sinhala and Tamil.

12. Conclusion

12.1 Although most of the Coin and Currency collection of the National Museum are there, a few important items were recognised as have been lost or misplaced many years ago. The documentation is however clearly lacking for the more recent acquisitions since the mid 1950's. The coins in the collection has got significantly mixed up over the years.Consequently coins transferred to regional museums are not as documented, and some coins have been moved to other museums without proper documentation.

Appendix 1

History of CCC-NM

A1.1 The CCC-NM which started in 1877 with 499 coins grew to 83,405 by 1977 as reported in the centennial Souvenir compiled by the then director Dr P. H. de Silva. It now has almost a 100,000 coins.

A1.2 The oldest available Inventory was started in around 1906, documenting items with date 1888. From 1906 new acquisitions were recorded in sequence in this book. A new book was started 1933 which continued till 1956. They both document all items in the National Museum. They are some large hoards of coins well documented in the 1930's, and a some smaller lots of coins and currency which have been purchased or obtained as gifts and inventoried.

A1.3 During the Second World War, after the Japanese raid on Colombo in 1942, the Museum collection was moved to Nawala, Ratnapura and Jaffna for safe keeping. In 1946 after the end of the War the collections were returned to the Museum.

A1.4 In 1949 a committee comprising of

was appointed to check and write a new classified Inventory of the Museum collection.

A1.5 The following have been in charge of parts of the CCC-NM

A1.6 In the mid 1950's the coin and currency collection was rewritten in a new Inventory book giving reference to the older inventories. A large coin and currency collection which was purchased by the museum in 1970, has still not been properly documented in full. Documentation of the ancient coins and those on display was started by SW few years ago.

Appendix 2

The Robbery on 2012 March 16/17

A2.1 Listed below is a Summary of the Coins and Currency stolen in the Robbery on 2012 March 16/17. Tha table is based on a document and set of photographs given to me by PPK.

INAccession Metal Type Source Amount
011997.08.1 Gold Kahavanu Type I 1
0237.61.28 Gold Kahavanu Type II(i)Galpothgama 7
03191 / 128 Gold Ada Kahavanu John Still 1
04191 / 1__ Gold Pala John Still 5
0570.1.1___ Gold Pala Hettiarachchi 5
06192 / 13_ Gold Aka John Still 8
0770.1.17__ Gold Aka Hettiarachchi 6
0870.1.171__Gold Mohammadian PendentHettiarachchi 4
0970.1.172__SilverMohammadian coin Hettiarachchi 2
1038.663.69 Gold Pagoda Hettiarachchi 3
11198 / 25_ Gold Pagoda John Still 4
1240.21.136 Gold Gajapati Pagoda Allaipioli 12
1370.1.17___Gold Fanam Hettiarachchi 10
1470.1.175__Gold Fanams on chain Hettiarachchi 27
1535.141.__ SilverFanam Hewagama 40
16 Paper George VI SPECIMEN Rs 1, 2, 5 3
172009. Paper 1979 Fauna Flora 2 Sets 12
18CB/L/2009/Paper Modern SPECIMEN CBSL 19
1992. 2000. Gold Modern Commemorative CBSL 3
2090. 2000. SilverModern Commemorative CBSL 6
21 2000. Base Modern Commemorative CBSL 4
22 Lead Fantasy Fake Private gift 9

A2.3 I note the following facts on that document.

  1. The descriptions of the Kahavanu which were probably taken directly from the inventory, does not match exactly the images of coins which were on display and lost. This indicates a mix-up within the collection which needs to be sorted and rectified.
  2. The 1978 JRJ 1 rupee coin is Cu-Ni and the 1999 Army 50th Anniversary 1 rupee coin is Nickel plated Steel and NOT Silver.
  3. The images of the commemorative coins are not of those lost, but of similar coins taken from the website on the Internet.
  4. The fake lead items were made few years ago and not numismatic and not even proper replica. They should never have been put on display at the CNM and have no value.