May 2018


Stamps of Sri Lanka
May 2018




'Ambalam of Sri Lanka' stamps issued in 2018

Postage stamps of Sri Lanka represent the diversity, dynamism and journey of a nation.


Words: Jennifer Paldano Goonewardene
Photography: Vishwathan Tharmakulasingham


The first postage stamp of colonial Ceylon was issued in 1857. This was not long after the first stamp in the world was issued in 1840 in the UK. Since stamps have become a ceremonious element marking the milestones and identity of the country.


Over a century ago the face of the British monarch was the symbol of Sri Lanka's postal identity. Hence, Queen Victoria made history for the island, her ‘full-face' adorning the miniature stamp space until 1903. With just four of these stamps remaining in the world, this mini portrait is today worth a fortune. The 1859 ‘dull rose' stamp of Queen Victoria, Ceylon's fourth stamp, with a face value of four pence, is today valued at 50,000 sterling pounds.


While a colony, the crowning of the Empire's Sovereign was marked with a range of stamps, such as the silver jubilee of the coronation of King George V in 1935 as well as the ascension of King George VI to the throne. Of significance is the date of coronation - May 12, 1937 inscribed on the stamp and it also features the monarch's wife Elizabeth. It was during his time that three stamps carried a glimpse of Sri Lanka with pictures of tea and rubber harvesting, and the Temple of the Tooth Relic. The monarch's face was encircled on a side. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was also celebrated with a stamp in 1947, followed by another to commemorate her first visit to the island in 1954, where the Queen's full face is flanked by a ceremonial procession of elephants in Kandy. Nearly 435 stamps had been issued under British Ceylon, while until 1972 the inscribed value of stamps of Ceylon were in shillings and pence.

The first stamp printed in Sri Lanka was issued on March 15, 2002 marking the 200th anniversary of printing the gazette of the Government of Sri Lanka.


After Independence in 1948, the island's postage stamps epitomised pictorial messages that told the world of centuries of heritage. The first two stamps of independent Sri Lanka with the National Flag as well as the face of D S Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of the nation were issued on February 4, 1949, the first anniversary of Independence, and both evoked immense meaning. These stamps will also be remembered for being the only two to have altered its original face value of four and five cents with a second issue valued at 15 and 25 cents that same year on April 5.


Sri Lanka went on to impress its identity in full colour transforming something as small as a stamp to remember important historical milestones and showcase art and architecture, nature and wildlife and celebrate the lives of people. The first Definitive Stamps was a collection of six stamps issued on February 4, 1950, revealing Sri Lanka to the world through the ancient wonders of the Ruwanweli Stupa in Anuradhapura, the rock fortress of Sigiriya, the Vatadage in Polonnaruwa, the dazzling Kandyan dancer and the beautiful Vesak orchid. The declaration of Poya Day as a public holiday in 1966 was commemorated a year later in June 1967 on Poson Poya with beautiful pictorials of a temple, the Scared Bodhi Tree, Adam's Peak and Mihintale.


Presented as portraits, pictorials and emblems, the Philatelic Bureau of Sri Lanka has 50 themes under which it issues stamps annually.


Sri Lanka's traditional arts and crafts, from mat weaving to jewellery making, have also been depicted in stamps, with feats in technology, transport and infrastructure being commemorated as well.


As a compliment to the nation's love for cricket, two milestones in the game have been celebrated in print, beginning with the first Test Cricket Match played in 1982, and the four triangular shaped stamps issued to celebrate Sri Lanka's historic victory in the ICC World Cup in 1996.

The Philatelic Bureau of Sri Lanka issues 500,000 stamps for every new issue. 300 million stamps are required annually by the network of 600 post offices.


A series on the country's national parks from 2006 to 2016 revealed the beauty of animals in the midst of nature, one that has an exponentially increased value today.


Souvenir sheets that accompany every stamp issue are equally coveted as it provides a glimpse of the history surrounding the pictorial narration in the stamp.


In 2011, the Philatelic Bureau issued five stamps, including the longest stamp to mark 25 years of service of the Viceroy Luxury coal powered steam train the only such coal powered locomotive still in operation. The face value of the stamp was 60 rupees; today it is sold outside for 300 rupees and the souvenir sheet at least for 400 rupees.


An interesting projects undertaken by the Philatelic Bureau is titled ‘Unseen Sri Lanka' - 12 stamps that depict places such as the bungalow of Sir Frederick North; Fort Hammenhiel; the blow hole ‘Hummanaya' captured from the vantage point of the ocean; Govinda Hela in Siyambalanduwa; mini World's End in Madolsima; Queen's Tower in Delft Island and Kudiramalai Point. The Philatelic Bureau is also increasingly focusing on fascinating themes such as the Ambalama, a shelter built in the days gone by to provide respite to travellers. Similar to the lighthouses and forts built by the seafaring Portuguese and Dutch, these historical structures have been captured in stamps in 2018.


Stamps have brought many aspects of the Sri Lankan identity to the forefront. Increasingly, the appreciation of stamps is becoming a trend amongst youth today, intensifying interest in ‘stamp fairs' where one may stumble upon rare stamps of historical value.


Information provided by K A U R Kariyapperuma, Curator, National Stamp Museum.

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    The first stamp of Ceylon (1857)

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    The invaluable dull-rose stamp of 1859

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    Ceylon stamps marking the Silver Jubilee of King George V of the UK and British Dominions

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    A stamp depicting imagery of Ceylon along with the face of King George V

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    Coronation of King George VI celebrated with a Ceylon stamp that also featured his wife Queen Elizabeth

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    First stamps of Ceylon that depicted imagery of the island along with the face of King George VI

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    First stamps of Ceylon that depicted imagery of the island along with the face of King George VI

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    First stamps of Ceylon that depicted imagery of the island along with the face of King George VI

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    First stamps of Ceylon that depicted imagery of the island alongwith the face of King George VI

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    Stamps of Ceylon commemorating the island's constitution of 1947

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    Stamps of Ceylon commemorating the island's constitution of 1947

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    Stamps of Ceylon commemorating the island's constitution of 1947

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    Stamps of Ceylon commemorating the island's constitution of 1947

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    Stamp issued in celebration of the first anniversary of Independence in 1949

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    Prime Minister D S Senanayake adorns a stamp issued on February 4, 1949 to mark the first anniversary of Independence

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    Prime Minister D S Senanayake adorns a stamp issued on February 4, 1949 to mark the first anniversary of Independence

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    The first Definitive Stamps of 1950 revealing Sri Lanka to the world

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    The iconic triangular stamps celebrating Sri Lanka's historic win at the 1996 ICC World Cup

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    The island's longest stamp issued to mark 25 years of the Viceroy Luxury coal-powered steam engine

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    Unseen Sri Lanka - 12 stamps showcasing the natural beauty of the island

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    Lighthouses of Sri Lanka, a colonial legacy captured in stamps

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