A rare Islamic gold coin sold by Morton & Eden Ltd. April 4 has
established a new record price for a non-U.S. coin sold at auction.
The Umayyad dinar dated A.H. 105 (circa A.D. 723 to 724) realized
£3,720,000 ($6,013,156.80 U.S.), including the 20 percent buyer’s fee,
making it the second most expensive coin ever sold at auction.
The total price remains surpassed by the prices brought by two
U.S. coins: the auction record is $7,590,020, paid for a 1933
Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle sold in 2002 by Sotheby’s; and the
overall record is $7.85 million, paid for a 1794 Flowing Hair silver
dollar sold in a private treaty sale completed May 14, 2010.
The Umayyad gold dinar is one of the rarest and most highly prized
of all Islamic gold coins. It was struck from gold mined at a source
owned by the caliph, and could represent a special issue struck while
the caliph was traveling as he led the hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca.
The origin of the gold is identified on the coin in text
translating to “Mine of the Commander of the Faithful.”
An additional legend, “bi’l-Hijaz” (“in the Hejaz”), means it is
the earliest Islamic coin to mention a location in the modern-day
kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The price paid for the Islamic gold dinar from the caliph’s mine
nearly doubled the previous record price for a world coin sold at
auction, which was £1,782,500, including the buyer’s fee, or about
$2,820,091 in U.S. funds. That price was paid for a unique 1755
Elizabeth I gold 20-ruble pattern sold in a Nov. 6, 2008, auction
conducted by St. James’s Auctions in association with Baldwin’s.
The gold dinar was the highlight of Morton & Eden’s Important
Coins of the Islamic World auction, which brought a total prices
realized of £6,673,560 ($10,792,646.59 in U.S. funds).
The identity of the winning bidder has not been disclosed. Chris
Proudlove, representing the London firm, told Coin World that
a United Kingdom-based bidding agent purchased the dinar for a
European private collection, beating out four other bidders in the
saleroom for a coin that had a pre-auction estimate of £300,000 to
£400,000 ($426,963 to $569,284 U.S.).
Proudlove said the firm is “unaware of the buyer’s plans for the
coin and [is] unable to comment on his motive or its future.”
A second, slightly earlier dinar (A.H. 92, A.D. 711) struck from
gold from the same mines sold for £648,000 ($1,047,453 U.S.), against
a pre-auction estimate of £250,000 to £300,000 ($355,803 to $426,963 U.S.).
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.”
Gold mine’s location
Scholars have identified the site of the mine as Ma`din Bani
Sulaim, located northwest of the holy city of Mecca.
Gold has been mined at Ma`din Bani Sulaim for thousands of years,
and the site is still worked today, according to Lloyd.
Medieval Arab writers record that the caliph bought a piece of
land containing at least one gold mine, in the area referenced on the
coin, and almost exactly when the coins were made.
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 traveled with the Caliph and struck
coins wherever he stayed,” he 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 to Mecca, and it is
possible these coins might have been struck while he was traveling.”
Another auction star
Another star of the auction was one of the first Islamic coins
struck in what is now the Sultanate of Oman.
The extremely rare Umayyad silver dirham, dating to A.H. 90 (circa
A.D. 709), sold for £1,080,000 ($1,745,755 U.S.), a world auction
record for a silver Islamic coin, according to the firm.
The coin had been estimated at £20,000 to £30,000 ($28,464 to
$42,696 U.S.) and was also purchased by the buyer of the more valuable
“This coin reflects the importance of Oman and the Gulf region as
a key commercial centre, then as now,” Lloyd said. ■
Editor's note: Because of calculation errors, prices in U.S.
dollar equivalents that appeared in an earlier versions of this
story were wrong.