Paper Money

Set of rare Zanzibar notes reportedly sold privately

A six-piece set of bank notes from Zanzibar, representing the Indian Ocean nation’s first paper money, has reportedly been sold in a private transaction, though the price, said to be “record-breaking,” was not disclosed.

Stack’s Bowers Galleries, one of the three firms involved in the transaction between seller and buyer, disclosed some details about the deal. Stack’s Bowers acted as broker, working with Spink London and Trusted Traditions, the latter from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

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Zanzibar, an island off the east coast of Africa, now part of Tanzania, was a British protectorate when it began printing its own money through Waterlow and Sons in 1908. The first issues were 5-, 10-, 20-, 50-, and 100-rupee notes. In 1920, the English firm also printed a 500-rupee note, said by Stack’s Bowers to be one of the most difficult bank notes in the world to obtain.

The just-disclosed deal is the latest of several recent transactions involving these rare notes, according to Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

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In 2015, the same six-note set of these pieces, all graded by PCGS Currency, was sold by private treaty, also for an undisclosed amount. Then, in January 2017, Stack’s Bowers sold a 5-rupee note graded Very Fine 35 by PCGS Currency for $129,250.

At that sale, Aris Maragoudakis, responsible for world paper money at Stack’s Bowers, recalled that Spink’s Barnaby Faull represented the buyer of the six-note set when it sold two years ago. He also remembered John Markis of Trusted Traditions represented one of the under-bidders on the 5-rupee note in the other auction. Maragoudakis then worked with Faull and Markis to again sell the set that sold in 2015.

Maragoudakis said, “In general, deals of this magnitude are not common in paper money collecting, but in world paper specifically, they are unheard of. These treasures are among the most special notes I have ever seen or handled.” 

Barnaby Faull of Spink, added, “I have been in the business over 40 years and I reckon every year we may see a few ‘specials,’ once a year a ‘treasure,’ and once every five years an ‘unbelievable find.’ The Zanzibar set ranks right up there as an once-in-a-lifetime find. It is rare you find notes that encompass all fields but Zanzibar ticks all the right boxes: British Commonwealth, Africa and of course the Gulf, which may be the hottest market in world notes right now. It is rare to see a note I have not seen before but a Zanzibar 500 rupees is something wonderful and I am delighted the set has found a good home where they will be truly appreciated. It has been an amazing experience dealing with the set and it is good to see intercompany cooperation at this level. Banknotes truly do cross borders!”

John Markis of Trusted Traditions commented, “This sale is a lifetime thrill that will not wear off for the buyer or me for a very long time. My area of expertise is finding the holy grails of banknotes for my clients so that they can fill gaps in their collections. Over my 30-year career, this deal ranks at the top.”

The dealers are keeping the name of the seller, buyer, and the actual price confidential, but it is possible to speculate on the price. Recent realized prices for the four of the six notes for which records exist exceed $340,000 in comparable or lesser grades. No recorded prices exist for the exceedingly rare 50-rupee and 500-rupee notes, but with a third of a million dollars as a starting point, this indeed could have been a sale for the history books.

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