The new shrunken Sri Lankan Currency notes

By Dr Kavan Ratnatunga

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) issued a new set of six Currency notes into circulation on 2011 February 7th. These new notes will replace the current notes in circulation which were first issued in 1991 It includes a new Rs 5000/- note. Images of the notes had been published in the local newspapers on 28th January and online on the CBSL website.

The notes have the date 2010-01-01 since the new notes were originally expected to be released at the CBSL 60th Anniversary celebrations in 2010 August. CBSL then announced that the notes will be released to the public at the Deyata Kirula exhibition which opened in Buttala on the February 4th. However lack of sufficient security at the temporary exhibition Stall prevented that early release. It was only presented to HE President Mahinda Rajapakse on independence day.

The notes from Rs20 to Rs5000/- all have the same 67 mm width which is the same as a US$. The length of each denomination is 5 mm longer starting from . 128 mm for the Rs20 to 153 mm for the Rs5000 which is slightly smaller than the US$ and the old Rs1000. It is probably hoped that they will now not be folded by bus conductors, which reduce the lifetime of the notes.

The selected colors of the notes are close but not the exactly the same as the older notes, For example the Rs20 is more pink and the Rs1000 a lighter green. The Rs 500 has been made a distinct Purple like the rare Rs5/- of year 1952. A color which was changed to red in the next issue 1954. Most persons that I showed the notes felt the older colors looked richer.

The theme for the notes has been stated as "Development, Prosperity and Sri Lanka Dancers" . CBSL marketing use the phrase "We dance to our very own beat" for a nation brimming with new hopes for a prosperous future for all. The designs were done by winners of an island wide competition conducted by CBSL in 2009,

The landscape front of the note was designed by Artist Mr Kelum Gunasekara has in the center a new economic development with an older example in the background. It also has on each an endemic Bird of Sri Lanka on the right and a Butterfly on the lower left.

The portrait back of the notes designed by Artist Sisira Liyanaarachchi have different pair of a traditional Sri Lankan drummer and a dancer. A guard stone appears on the upper right.

Since the Pictorial issue of George the VI issued in 1941 the watermark was a Lion on all notes except the wartime fractional notes below Rs1. Originally it was a lion standing on hind legs holding a whip, After 1985 when the Ceylon in the Name of the Central Bank was changed to Sri Lanka, it was the Standing Lion of the National Flag. CBSL has now broken with tradition and removed the lion watermark and these are the first notes after 1951 that we don't have the Lankan lion as a watermark. The image of the bird on each note has been used as the watermark for that note in this series.

I am very glad that the CBSL met the requests of the collectors and for the first time issued sets of six notes with matching serial numbers in a colourful folder with a slip case.. The price of Rs7500 includes and extra cost of Rs830 for production of folder. The text is only in English. Individual folders are also available for each denomination where the text is in all 3 languages, Sinhala, Thamil and English. Costing from Rs150 to Rs5500, depending on denomination, the full set of six individual folders cost Rs8100/- Only a 1000 of each has been made and are collector items.

The folder with all six notes seems to be more popular and had serial numbers in the 5000's, The six individual folders had serial numbers in the 6000's and I was lucky to get a set of them with the same serial number. Buying the folders has the additional advantage of getting low serial numbers which hold a numismatic premium.

CBSL has also advertised an uncut sheet of 40 Rs100/- notes, sold in a tube for protection. Uncut currency sheets are novelty collector items overseas, but I am not sure it will be popular in Sri Lanka, because of the 75% premium that CBSL has put on the item which is sold at Rs7000/-, It was not available for sale on the first day, and I have anyway decided not to buy it because of the large premium.

The CBSL website says the paper used in 100% cotton fiber, The paper however feels very different to the older notes probably because of the printing.. This paper appears to be more synthetic. The surface more polished. The public will take some time to get used to them. In the transition period while the older notes are withdrawn from circulation the smaller notes will get misplaced among the larger older notes.

Clearly the Rs5000/- is needed, may be even a Rs10,000/- since they now represent buying power less than the Rs500/- and Rs1000/- when the were first released in 1981. For some real estate transactions payments need to be made in cash and the higher denomination note will be useful. From over a 1000 years ago when when gold kahavanu were used, the highest denomination was usually the value of about a quarter sovereign of Gold now worth over Rs9,000/-

It is a pity that provision has not been left in the series to issue a Rs2000 note in the future. Such provision would have been reflected by a extra Braille dot on the Rs5000 note which should have been an extra 5 mm longer.

I understand that the design made for the Rs 2000 note, was used for the Rs5000/ rather than make an extra design. The Rs 2000/- is a very useful denomination, For example, in USA the $20 note is the most frequently used note. The $50 and $100 are rarely seen in circulation.

The new notes have the look and feel of the classic 1979 Flora and Fauna issue, which is one of the most sort after series for world wide collectors of currency. That rarity is both for beauty, as well as the short period after which they were replaced in 1982. Only time will tell how long the new notes will last in circulation and how they will be liked by the public and numismatists.

More details including identification of the Development and older sites, Birds, Butterflies, Guard stones, Drummers and Dancers on the new currency notes have been posted on the CBSL website and my own webpage

The writer is the President of the Sri Lanka Numismatic Society which meets monthly in Colombo and can be contacted at