Morton & Eden, GB-London

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03-04-2011 – 01-01-1970

Rarest of Islamic Coins at Morton & Eden

Rarest of Islamic Coins sells for 3.7 Million Pound in Morton & Eden Sale

One of the rarest and most highly-prized of all Islamic gold coins, struck possibly to coincide with an occasion when the Caliph himself led the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, sold for a record £3.7 million in a sale at specialist auctioneers Morton & Eden in London on April 4, 2011. The price makes it the second most expensive coin ever auctioned. (The most expensive is the 1933 Double Eagle sold by Sotheby’s in July 2002 for $7,590,020).

The Umayyad dinar, dated 105h (723AD) was struck from gold mined at a location owned by the Caliph himself – known on the coins as the “Mine of the Commander of the Faithful”. An additional legend, which reads: “bi’l-Hijaz” (“in the Hejaz”), makes it the earliest Islamic coin to mention a location in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It had been expected to realise £300,000-400,000, but four bidders in the saleroom sent the price spiraling ever higher. It was purchased by the British trade on behalf of a European private collector.

A second, slightly earlier dinar (92h – 711AD) struck from gold from the same mines sold for £648,000. It had been estimated at £250,000-300,000.

Morton & Eden Islamic coins specialist Stephen Lloyd said: “We are absolutely thrilled and delighted with the results from this sale. We had worked very hard to promote these particular coins internationally, but the prices they have achieved have surpassed all expectations. Their success also demonstrates that sales by public auction are the only way to achieve the very highest prices for the very finest pieces. The excellent results for the two gold dinars early on in the sale, which was dedicated to important coins of the Islamic world, set the stage for the remainder and extremely strong prices were paid throughout.”

Scholars have identified the site of the mine itself as Ma’din Bani Sulaim, located north-west of the Holy City of Mecca. Gold has been mined there for thousands of years, and the site is still worked today. Remarkably, mediaeval Arab writers record that the Caliph bought a piece of land in this area, containing at least one gold mine, almost exactly when these coins were made. But while there is general agreement on the source of the gold, the question of exactly where these coins were struck is harder to answer.

“The capital, Damascus, is a strong possibility, but mint workers and their tools could easily have travelled with the Caliph and struck coins wherever he stayed,” Stephen Lloyd said. “Scholars have noted that the dates of these very rare dinars seem to coincide with the occasions when the Caliph himself led the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, while an old inscription also shows that a road built specially for the pilgrimage went right past this mine. So one plausible theory argues that the Caliph visited his gold mines while en route for Mecca, and it is possible these coins might have been struck while he was travelling.”

Elsewhere in the sale, one of the first Islamic coins struck in the Sultanate of Oman, an extremely rare Umayyad silver dirham, one of only a handful known today dating from the Hijri year 90 (709 AD) sold for £1,080,000, a world auction record for a silver Islamic coin. It had been estimated at £20,000-30,000 and was also purchased by the buyer of the more valuable gold dinar.

“This coin reflects the importance of Oman and the Gulf region as a key commercial centre, then as now,” said Stephen Lloyd.

The sale raised a total of £6,673,560, against estimates of £886,000-£1.16 million.

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