Voyage to Ceylon, 1777

by Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828)

1795 London : Printed for F. and C. Rivington
No 62, St. Paul's Church-yard Vol. IV p. 170-265


Page 210-214

On account of the extensive trade which Colombo carries on with the whole coast of the Continent, as likewise in consequence of the vast numbers of Moors, who reside here on account of the commerce, I had abundant opportunities of procuring 1 a variety of scarce and current Indian Coins.

Among the Sinhala Coins was one very remarkable, on account of its form, and it was even said to be current on the Coasts of Malabar and Coromandel. It was struck, as I was informed, by the Emperor of Kandy, of various sizes and value, and was commonly called Laryn. It consists of a silver-cylinder, hammered out, which in the middle is bent together, the ends being afterwards turned up like a hook, and the upper end distinguished either with certain letters or stars, or else with engravings. One of them which I procured by barter, cost twelve Dutch stivers, and another smaller size nine: both of them were of fine silver.

In some parts of Ceylon was dug up out of the earth itself a copper coin less than a farthing, but rather thicker, with an impression upon it, and Malabar characters. It was supposed to be a Malabar Coin, which was formally current here.

Among the poorer sort of people were very current Copper Coins of the Dutch Company, of different sizes , and of that kind which bears upon one side the Company's arms. 2

Otherwise the most current Coin in traffic between the Europeans and Indians were Rupees of gold and silver and Pagodas. The Rupees were here of different sorts being struck by several Princes, and consisted of whole, half, and still smaller pieces. Pagodas, which are seldom seen in the Eastern part of India, were extremely common. They are, with very little exception, the only coin which bears any impression, and the gold in them is mixed with small proportion of copper. They contain, on the nearest average, a Ducat and pass for two Rix-dollars, one stiver, Dutch money. On one side they are convex, and on the other somewhat flatter, resembling in appearance a peppermint-drop. One side has a figure upon it, and the other side, in those which are most current in the Dutch factories has only some embossed dots, whilst those which pass in trade in the English factories, have a star. Great caution is necessary not to be imposed upon with these pagodas, as a great many counterfeit ones are in circulation and are so strongly gilt, that it is difficult to distinguish them from the true one except from the sound.

A Pagoda, with the image of an Elephant on one side, was very scarce to be met with. It is said to be of great antiquity and was larger than the common sort, at the same time consisted of fine gold.

The pagodas of Massulipatnam, which brought hither from Coromandel, were they are current, had three figures upon them, consist of fine gold, and are both in the whole pieces and divided into eighteen parts.

The Mangalore-Pagodas are of two sorts, the one old, having characters on the reverse and the other current, with a moon on the reverse, and stamped with two images on the opposite side; it is of, and is met with in whole and half pieces.

The small Coin for change, which otherwise was made use of here, and was likewise current on the coast of Malabar and Coromandel consisted either in very small gold and silver coin, called Fanum, or in copper coins of various sizes which have been struck by the factories established by the Europeans.

The Fanams were all small and thin, of gold mixed with copper, and silver, struck at several places and by different princes on the continent. They were marked with several lines and dots on both sides. The value of them varied according to their different contents and size.

Among the copper Coins were several different sorts, struck by Dutch, English, French, and Danes, of various sizes, thickness, impressions, and values. Some of these were likewise struck in silver at Madras, Pondicherry, and Tranquebar. To give a minute description of all these, would be to tedious and prolix; for which reason I shall rather reserve them for separate treaties on Indian coins.

To leaden Coins, somewhat larger than the Javanese were likewise brought hither from Malabar; one of them with a round, and the other a square hole in the middle.

As were likewise two copper coins called Dudu, or Baisa, with the figure of an elephant one side, the one of a larger, the other of a somewhat smaller size.

1: Editors Note. The Numismatic interest of Thunberg is illustrated with the text on Page 285-286 where he writes
Among other rarities which I saw in Amsterdam, was likewise a very pretty Collection of Coins in thee possession of the Minister of the church called the Oude Kerk. I had here the unexpected pleasure to see, for the first time, the Zodiac Rupees, as they are called, in gold, the whole twelve together complete, which I could in India neither procure a sight of, nor obtain in change, and of which one seldom finds a complete collection in Europe. He had redeemed these twelve Coins with 300 Dutch Guilders, and had the goodness to part with them to me at my earnest solicitation for 700 Guilders. This collection together with the Portrait of Selim Ist, had been made a present of by the Governor-General Imhoff, from Batavia, to some of his relations in Holland, who were afterwards under the necessity of disposing of them. This Coin had been struck both in Gold and Silver by the Empress Nour-Mahal, the above-mentioned Selim's consort, in the space of twenty-four hours, during which she, with the Emperor's permission, reigned with Absolute sway. And as these, after the Monarch's demise, were prohibited, called in and melted down, it is now very uncommon to meet with all twelve, which bear one side the impression of one of the twelve signs of the Zodiac, and on the other are marked with Arabic or Persian characters.

2: Edited in from Page 169 in section Batavia 1777
For change, two small sorts of copper coin were current. One sort was an ordinary farthing, which the Dutch Company had struck, of the common Swedish copper, in Europe, and afterwards imported hither. Of this there are two sorts, perfectly alike, except as to size, in which point they differ, the one being twice as large as the other. The largest of these approaches nearest in size to the Swedish farthings. On one side appear the usual arms of the Company, together with the date of the year, on the other the arms of the Province in which the piece was coined. The worth of each is estimated at double what it would pass for in Europe, so that the Company gains by this mode about one hundred per cent. ...