Lanka Coin Collections in Museums
A brief summary of major collections of Lankan coins in museums.
Please E-mail to me any comments,
corrections, updates or additions.
Museums of National Museum, Sri Lanka.
- Colombo National Museum(NM)
established in 1877.
Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka,
The part of Coin and Currency collection (CCC-NM) on display is open
to the public daily from 0900 hrs to 1700 hrs except on Public Holidays
It was probably the best collection of ancient Lankan coins.
The collection is illustrated and published by Codrington.
The 1914 catalog lists 255 Types of Muhammadan and European (exclusive
of Roman) with an additional 127 coins of different variety and/or
years. 47 of the coins are illustrated on 4 plates.
The 1924 standard reference illustrates 181 coins on 7 plates most
of which are from the museum collection.
I visited the National Museum numismatic display in 1998 July and saw
it as I could remember it from many years previously. An extensive
collection, nicely labeled and displayed in large tall antique cases.
I was given a very interesting guide through the collection by one of
the curators. The coins represented an impressive record of over
2300 years of our nations history. It motivated me to make this
Internet web-site for coins that circulated in Lanka.
In 1999 the collection was unfortunately moved to a smaller room in
the museum. The display was on low table cases with poor labels
some of which are clearly in error. The museum was responsive and
corrected some of these errors when I pointed them out in 2000
August. The current unrest in the nation is given as the excuse why most
of the best pieces are no longer on display. I was told by the
director that the full collection is however available for numismatic
research, which needs to be preapproved by a written request.
In 2001 November I found the collection on display had been moved again
to a worse back-room with poor lighting and security. A sad state.
I was able to view the inventories of the coins in storage, and see
some of them like the Silver Stivers. They are packed loose in small brown
envelopes bundled into larger lots in larger envelopes.
The inventories didn't have the required detail to ensure proper
security of the coin collection. They were not in a position to show me
most of the collection they claim because of temporary disorganization.
A very careful inventory of the full collection taking high resolution scans
weights to 0.01 grams and detailed description of grade/composition is very
badly needed. In 2004 November the collection had returned to the original
room and cases, but still many of the items were no longer on display. With
the more recent refurbishment of the galleries, the coin collection on display
is now scattered among the various sections, with some obvious errors in
labeling which I have pointed out, but they are slow in correcting.
In 2008 a new coins and currency gallery was opened as part of the
HSBC refurbishment of the Museum.
Unfortunately the panels written in three languages had factual and
grammatical errors in English, and I was told by a Professor from
Jaffna in Tamil, and even in sinhala according to a scholar. One
display had some modern lead fantasy
which had been gifted to museum. Some of them had even been included in
the some of the back illuminated panels. Some of the textual errors were
corrected and the fantasy labeled as Replica at my insistence.
On the night of 2012 March 19th the Coin Gallery was burguled as part
of a larger robbery of the museum. Most of the gold coins in were
stolen includig the rare and priceless ada
kahavanu. None of the rare coins were recovered, claimed sadly to
have been melted. In 2012 April I was appointed to write a report on
the Museum coin collection as requested by the Criminal Investigation
Department (CID). The report
submited in 2012 June, has hardly had any of the recomendations
implimented even after more than 4 years.
Department of National Museum Annual Performance Report for 2012 hides the fact that they lost the
rare and priceless ada kahavanu,
or even mention the fact that 3 reports were requested by
the CID and submitted to the Director on the Museum collection of
Swords by an Officer in the Dept of Archaeology, Jewellery by
Prof Nimal De Silva and Coins and Currency by Dr Kavan Ratnatunga.
The Coin and Currency gallery closed in 2014 August for major
renovations with rest of the original 1877 building.
It is still closed, and expected to open in late 2016. There are some
coins on display in the galleries uf the modern part of building still open.
- Dutch Period Museum (DPM), 95, Prince Street, Colombo 11, Sri Lanka
DPM is located in a historic Dutch Building between 1st and 2nd cross
streets in the middle of a crowded commercial environment of Pettah.
The best of the Dutch period coins in the CCC-NM are currently
on display at the DPM.
- Kandy National Museum(KNM), Kandy Sri Lanka.
KNM is located in a historic Kandyan period building behind the Temple of the Tooth. The Best of the Early Britisj
Museums of Archaeology Department.
Museum 622/01, Bangala Junction, Kotte.
No Phone. Opening/Closing Times : 8.30 am to 5.00 pm except Tuesdays.
Free Entrance. Established : 1990/91 with the collection of
and run by the
First Visited 2006 December.
An OK collection of coins in gallery, badly arranged and labeled.
Includes a significant collection of clay coin moulds from department.
Abhayagiri Vihara Museum, Anuradhapura. A significant collection of
medieval gold coins and clay moulds found on site.
Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Currency Museum, Kotte, Sri Lanka.
The Currency Museum. is currently at the Centre for Banking Studies,
58 Sri Jayawardanapura Mawatha, Rajagiriya (Tele:
011-94-11-2873243). i. e. on the road to the new parliament complex in Kotte
which is close to Colombo.
The Central Bank has issued a number of books and publications on
coins and currency and are listed in
It's strength is in recent issue of coin and currency notes. It is
the only place which has on display the off metal Gold and Silver
strikes of the one rupee presidential coins. The collection older than
50 years is not as good as could be expected.
I remember seeing it first in the early 1980's when it was in the old
central Bank building. It was moved after CBSL HQ building was Bombed by
Terrorists in 1996 January. I saw the collection again at the current site
in 1998 June. When I visited Last 2001 December some slight improvements
had been made. A few older coins added to the collection mostly from gifts.
I saw photographs of some of the gifted coins which didn't look too real.
They have also got a nice gift of 75 items from Rajah Wickremesinhe's
Collection from Ruhuna which is yet not on display even 6-years later when I
visited in 2006 December. Noticed that the two 1947 Rs10000/- specimens have
been glued on to the poster and had faded. The two 1942 25 cent patterns were
in very poor condition.
A new Currency Museum was planned on the ground floor of the
rebuilt Central Bank Building in Fort.
The major exhibit which was planed in consultation with
Rajah Wickremesinhe on the ground floor of the
rebuilt Central Bank Building in Fort has now been abandoned.
In 2006 December the CBSL Museum
is in charge of Mr K Ratnasekara Tele: 94-11-2477809, and under Mr Dammika Gunarathna
who is the Deputy Superintendent of Currency,
Central Bank of Sri Lanka Colombo, Sri Lanka (Tele: 94-11-2477355
Note: The CBSL Museum website has very many mistakes such as wrong image labels, and has not
been corrected despite informing them of the errors few years ago.
Dept of Archaeology Museum, University of Peradeniya,
A small impressive collection from Ancient to early
British colonial issue housed within the Archaeology department
as a part of their research museum.
The University of Peradeniya is a few miles from Kandy.
Open only with prior arrangement. Visited briefly in 1999.
I looked through the collection again in 2003 and was less impressed
with it than I had been in 1999 when I was just begining my own collection.
National Savings Bank Museum, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
A small collection housed in a room on the first floor of the NSB Head
Quarters on Galle Road at the Kollupitiya junction. The emphasis of the
museum is the history of the Savings Banks in Lanka. Setup by Daniel
Rathnapulige, former curator of the Colombo Museum, who I also met
during my visit in 2001 December. No significant change since then.
Bank of Ceylon Museum, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
A small collection housed in the 28th floor of the Bank of Ceylon, Head
Quarter tower in Fort. Setup for the 50th Anniv of BoC in 1989 with a collection from
Frederick Medis, a collector in Colombo. I visited it in 2003 May. It is a nice collection
Some of the coins had been wrongly labeled. Hardly any change since then.
Another great reason to visit the museum is the open air
balcony right round the building. The highest in Colombo with a great 300
degree view. All directions except towards the World Trade Center which
is taller and adjoining.
Peoples Bank Museum, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
A collection housed on the ground floor of Peoples Bank Staff Training
Building on south side of road between LakeHouse and Maradana.
Visited in 2004 November. Opened only by appointment. Good secure room
laid out like at the Colombo Museum on tall tables with tilted glass toped
cases. Nothing of exceptional interest. Few forgeries I request them to
remove. Needs to be rearranged and labeled properly.
It had started with a collection of a member of staff and subsequently added to
by the Peoples Bank.
Hatton National Bank Museum, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
A new museum with a small collection displayed on the third floor
of HNB head Quarters on Darly Road
Visited in 2004 December when it was still under construction by with
Colombo Museum assistance. Emphasis as expected on the history of the bank.
Dutch Museum Galle Fort, Sri Lanka.
It pretends to be a world heritage site which however is the Galle
Fort. This is Museum not worth listing except to warn that it is
tourist trap. There are some common or low grade coins in a very
poor display. Also a lot of cheap copies of the Dutch dumps and bar
coins mixed-in. An obvious attempt to give credibility to perpetuate
the fraud of selling fakes to gullible tourists
on the beach near the Galle lighthouse. A similer website with obviously fake
Dutch items can be seen online.
British Museum, London, United Kingdom.
Holds a fantastic collection of over 1000 Lankan coins from the major
collections of the early 20th Century like those of Rhys Davids,
Biddulph, Jack etc I had a quick look through the collection on 2001
November 13th. However the perfect Security system as needed for a
collection like this puts a real strain on looking through too many
coin trays. The ancient Lanka is housed in over 25 trays with about
40 coins. The Colonial Ceylon coins are housed in separate trays.
with most of the rare patterns from the early 19th century. Recent finds
from Ruhuna are not represented in collection
National Numismatic Collection
- Smithsonian Museum of American History, Washington DC, USA
Has a small collection of under 100 Lankan coins, from medieval to
early British era coins, a few of them rare. Includes a gold
"SahasaMalla kahavanu" which is unlisted in Codrington which needs
study. The Gallery displays mostly US-coins which is the focus of the
Museum, but does also show the development of coinage in Europe. Saw
only one coin from south-Asia a British-Indian rupee in a display of
different currency names.
Visited on 2002 May 13th, when I got the
opportunity to view the Lankan coins in the storage vault.
American Numismatic Society (ANS)
South Asia Coin
Cabinet, New York, USA.
The online catalog list 1610 records with keyword Ceylon of which 1480 are
coins (42 gold; 614 silver), 130 currency notes.
The highlight of the collection is the Gampola Larin
Hoard accounting for 470 of the coins. The modern collections ends around 1972.
Visited on 2002 June 19th, when I got the opportunity to view the Lankan coins
in the storage vault and do a lot of reference in the Library.
Indian Institute of Research in Numismatic Studies
Anjaneri, Nashik, India.
Situated in a tiny village in Maharashtra near Mumbai, it is the best
known Numismatic destination in India. Founded by Lal
Gupta in 1984, it houses a gallery of coins and an extensive Library.
They hold regular workshops/conferences and has many useful
publications for sale.
Visited by me in 2001 December 9-10th.
Few modern items from Lanka on display.