Silver coin to commemorate Papal visit to Sri Lanka – Sunday Times

By Kavan Ratnatunga

At the request of the Sri Lanka Catholic Bishop’s Conference a commemorative Rs. 500 sterling silver crown size frosted Proof Non-circulating Legal Tender (NCLT) coin was issued by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CB) to mark the visit of Pope Francis from January 13 to 15th . It is the first commemorative coin issued by CB, in recognition of a Christian religious event.

The coin was presented to the Pope Francis by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at an event hosted by President Maithripala Sirisena at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo.

Obverse : In the centre is an image of Pope Francis. Within a circle of 120 dots is a ring of 33 honeysuckle flowers in the traditional Sinhala artistic style. Number 33, is considered a sacred number in the Christian tradition,based on the estimated lifetime of Jesus Christ.

Reverse: In the centre is the official logo for the visit. The periphery is decorated with a Liywela made out of 40 floral designs each with Na flowers, 3 Na buds and 3 Na leaves, within a circle of 120 dots. Na, the National Tree of Sri Lanka, is used in the statue of Our Lady of Lanka – representing the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.

The coin was designed by Rev. Fr. Priyantha Silva, Archdiocesan Consultant on Ecclesiastical Arts and Architecture.

This limited edition of 1500 coins was made at Mincovna Kremnica in Slovak Republic with one ounce of sterling silver to the Buddha Jayanthi Rs. 5 silver coin size. Enclosed in a circular coin capsule, it is embedded in red velvet inside a white leatherette covered 6.5cm square spring hinged presentation box with white satin inside cover. A printed numbered Certificate of Authenticity contains the specifications and the text in English, Sinhala and Tamil. The frosted proof coin should never be removed from capsule and touched by hand as finger prints will ruin the numismatic value.

It was sold to the public at the CB cash counter from January 19 for the issue price of Rs. 9000. In 1990 the Silver Crown had a face value at Rs. 500 (US$12.5), in 1998 it rose to Rs. 1000 ($15.6), in 2006 to Rs. 1500 ($14.7), and in 2011 it rose to Rs. 2000 ($15.0). The reduced face value in 2015 to Rs. 500 ($4) is unexpected. There was some apprehension from those who were not coin collectors and wanted it with religious devotion, when they were told the Rs. 500 coin costs Rs. 9000. The coin has just over Rs. 2000 worth of Silver, to which the cost of minting the Proof coin, Packaging, Air Freight, Taxes (VAT+NBT), and maybe the Face Value is added.

Coins were sold at strictly one coin per person in the queue. The initial sale was stopped after about an hour at around 10 am. The coins then appeared at a much higher price on Chatham Street. One dealer said the coins went like hot cakes. To try preventing the limited mintage of coins being bought up by dealers and sold for a higher price to collectors, buyers had to register a request for a coin, with the name and phone number at the CB Economic History Museum. The CB Museum staff did register telephone requests. However the process was frustrating to many genuine collectors, who without knowing the new procedure, came maybe from a long distance, and had to return on another day to get a coin for their collection. The CB recorded the names and national IDs of those who purchased coins.

The general demand for such high priced coins is about 1000. However this coin may have a much larger demand because of interest from the local religious faithful. It will also have demand from international collectors. Coins issued by the Vatican have high demand and numismatic value. Unfortunately the CB does not serve international collectors and has discontinued online sales