currency is a crime
By Kavan Ratnatunga
I was recently surprised to see chains made of current Sri Lankan
coins exhibited at the Dalada Maligawa Museum in Kandy and also
at the Kiri Vehera Museum in Kataragama. I wonder if those who had
them made as gifts or the curators of these Museums are aware that
they are in direct violation of the Monetary Act of Sri Lanka and
guilty of a prosecutable offence, with a fine recently proposed
of upto Rs. 100,000.
recently issued 2004 Annual Report of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka
states "The Currency Department conducted an oratory contest
in Sinhala medium amongst schoolchildren in the age group of 15
- 19 years in order to create an awareness on the proper use of
currency without defacement or mutilation."
Shouldn't these museums set a better example to the visiting
schoolchildren and public and not act outside the existing monetary
law of the country?
Monetary Law (Act 58 of 1940 certified on 28th August 1950) section
person who without the authority of the Monetary Board
(a) cuts, perforates, or in any other way whatsoever mutilates any
(b) prints, stamps, or draws anything upon any currency note, or
affixes any seal or stamp to or upon any currency note;
(c) attaches or affixes to or upon any currency note anything in
the nature or form of an advertisement; or
(d) reproduces in any form whatsoever, or makes a facsimile of,
any currency note, shall be guilty of an offence.
58A of the same law states:
(1) Any person who, without the authority of the Monetary Board,
melts, breaks up, perforates, mutilates or uses otherwise than as
legal tender, any coin which is legal tender in Sri Lanka shall
be guilty of an offence.
Any person who knowingly uses, possesses or deals with any metal
or article which he knows or has reasonable cause to believe, is
derived from any coin which has been dealt with in contravention
of subsection (1), shall be guilty of an offence.
As long ago as 1825 when the British colonial powers tried
to introduce British currency in Ceylon, it was not very successful
since the British silver coins were worth more than their face value
to the silver craftsmen who kept melting them.
practice did not stop even after it was made illegal to mutilate
coins, an almost impossible felony to control. The British stopped
sending silver coins to Ceylon, creating a shortage in change, which
was met by the Indian silver rupee becoming the de-facto unit of
currency and by many coffee factories issuing their own copper tokens,
from 1840 to 1870.
law introduced many years ago is still part of the Monetary Act
and is more justified today than a few decades ago. Just the aluminium
in the 1, 2, 5 and 10 cent Lankan coins which have practically gone
out of circulation is worth more than the face value of the coins.
Since 1996, the 25 cent, 50 cent and one rupee Lankan coins are
made with nickel covered steel to reduce the cost of minting them.
brass five-rupee coin which had 30 cents (1984) of brass when introduced,
now has about three rupees (2005) of brass in it. On average you
need one thousand rupees in 2005 to make the same purchases as you
could with one hundred rupees in 1983. It now costs the Central
Bank of Sri Lanka more than the face value to mint the coins the
size and composition of some of which were defined over 22 years
ago. i.e. the same period the value of the rupee has gone down by
a factor of ten.
if coins are mutilated and taken out of circulation, the Central
Bank has to issue more coins into circulation at a significant loss.
Currency notes although they cost less than the face value to print
need to be replaced every few years as they get dirty and any mutilation
just shortens the useful lifetime a note can remain in circulation.
There are many more examples to show how far this rule is ignored
many of the older circulated currency notes one regularly finds
multiple post marks. This practice seems to have stopped around
the 1960s probably because the Central Bank informed the postal
authorities that they were guilty of an offence which was traceable.
Looking at many of the currency notes one gets from circulation
today one notices that it is a common practice of cashiers to write
a total in a bundle directly on the currency note rather than on
a wrapper of the bundle. I hope they understand they are guilty
of an offence. Some even write their name and address on the currency
have found a few notes with political slogans. A 10-rupee currency
note from the early 1980s I have collected states in Sinhala, "North
for Amir", "South for Reagan" and "For us Kanaththaa"
and reflects the political frustration of that era.
Indian silver rupees and old Ceylon silver coins are often
used to decorate jewellery boxes and make silver belts and chains.
As long as these artifacts were made after 1942 when these coins
ceased to be legal tender, it is not an offence.
laws are more relaxed in the USA. U.S. Title 18, Chapter 17, Section
331 prohibits among other things, fraudulent alteration and mutilation
of coins. This statute does not, however, prohibit the mutilation
of coins if done without fraudulent intent if the mutilated coins
are not used fraudulently.
century companies in USA used to counter-stamp coins as a way of
cheap advertisements, equivalent to today's spam e-mail. Americans
rarely reuse a penny they get in change. It hardly has any monetary
value and there are proposals to discontinue its use. It is maintained
by the politics of Jobs at the US Mint which needs to make a few
billion one cent coins every year to replace the wastage.
one cent coins has been a big thing in America for a long time.
An elongated coin is made by a coin being forced between two steel
rollers. An engraving is on one or both of the rollers and as the
coin passes through the rollers it is squeezed or elongated under
tremendous pressure from the original round shape to one of an oval
and the engraved design impressed into the coin at the same time.
Such machines are frequently found near tourist attractions in USA
to provide a cheap souvenir.
coin dealers impress a business card on it hoping that the collector
will keep it. They have become popular in Great Britain since the
1981 changes in the old law from which the Lankan law was originally
50 US State Quarter coins series being issued from 1999 to 2008
has created a collector market being exploited by US entrepreneurs.
From simply gold plating these coins or from a more elaborate automated
colourizing of them with enamel, paint dealers produce items that
can be sold to collectors at coin shows and on eBay for more than
ten times the face value of the coin.
gimmick is to re-strike a real US quarter with a different design.
A popular parody "Head Quarter" on Bill Clinton a few
years ago has led to a series of them being re-struck with different
designs. The coin shown issued as if for "Texas" shows
George Bush trying to lasso Osama Bin Laden.
US website called http://www.wheresgeorge.com/ encourages readers
to write the URL on the note, register the serial number of any
one dollar bill from circulation with location and track this tagged
note after you spend it if others who get it in the future bother
to record where they got it on that website.
author maintains an educational website on two thousand years of
Lankan coins at http://lakdiva.org/coins/ and is a life member of
the Sri Lanka Numismatic Society)