Sri Lanka was known during British colonial times and until 1972 as Ceylon. The Pearl of the Indian Ocean has always punched above its weight in the affairs of men; indeed Ptolemy, the Roman polymath who resided in Egypt, drew the island in his Geographia (circa 150 A.D.) as equal in size to the entire subcontinent of India, such was its importance as a fulcrum of trade in the Ancient World. Whether it was Tambapanni, Taprobane, Ceilao, Zeylan, Ceylon, or Sri Lanka, travellers, traders, adventurers, scholars, and colonialists were drawn to the beauty of the island, its sparkling gems, its rich ivory, its fragrant spices, its brilliant irrigation works, its Buddhist scholarship, and its strategic location.

The British threw out the Dutch in 1802 and took control of the entire island in 1815. In true colonial style, the island was reorientated commercially and agriculturally to serve the interest of the mother country and coffee and then tea was extensively planted in the cool highlands for the export market. Several tea-exporting firms became established and competition inevitably reared its head. It is this commercial ferment that acted as a catalyst in the production of some of the first advertising posters in Ceylon. Although first sourced from Britain, Ceylons indigenous artists were soon recognized for their talent and became creators of fine works of poster art.

For a small island, Ceylon produced an inordinate number of beautiful, memorable, and highly collectible posters thanks to these artists. This book, illustrating about 350 posters, is a fairly comprehensive representation of the art form in Vintage Ceylon. However, it is by no means entirely complete. Each week I come across old Ceylon posters that I never knew existed! The mechanics of publishing, of course, meant that I had to create a cut-off point somewhere; the works in this publication should be viewed with that proviso in mind.

Anura Saparamadu