Unique £1M Islamic Coin in London Auction

1,400-year-old dinar is believed to be first made with gold from ‘Mine of Commander of the Faithful’

A unique and historically important first dinar believed to have been produced with gold from the “Mine of the Commander of the Faithful” is expected to sell for up to £1 million in a sale of Islamic coins at specialist London auctioneers Morton & Eden. The sale is on April 23.

The existence of the gold coin, dated 89h (708AD), previously in a private European collection, was first reported in the mid-1990s, but the sale catalogue is the first time a photograph or full description of it has been published. It has never before been offered at auction.

In April last year, Morton & Eden sold two other Umayyad “Mine of the Commander of the Faithful” dinars, one dated 92h (711AD) for £768,000 and £3,720,000 for the other, dated MortonEdenIslamicCoin Unique £1M Islamic Coin in London Auction105h (723AD). This latter coin had the added attraction of bearing a legend which read: “bi’l-Hijaz” (“in the Hejaz”), making it the earliest Islamic coin to mention a location in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It became the most valuable coin ever sold in a European auction.

Morton & Eden specialist Stephen Lloyd said the success of last year’s sale had stimulated the appreciation of early Islamic coins with the result that several important examples had come to the market, many for the first time.

“This latest sale brings together a remarkable group of unique, historically important and rare coins.  For the first time collectors will have the opportunity to see these pieces offered together in one place,” he said. “Historic, beautifully preserved and of the highest rarity, the unique al-Walid dinar is the earliest known bearing the legend ‘Mine of the Commander of the Faithful’ which has intrigued scholars and collectors for decades.”

The site of the Mine of the Commander of the Faithful has been identified as Ma`din Bani Sulaim, located north-west of the Holy City of Mecca, a site which is still worked today. Records show that the Caliph al-Walid (86-96h) purchased land in the area containing at least one gold mine, almost exactly when these dinars 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 “Mine of the Commander of the Faithful” dinars may have been struck at a travelling mint which accompanied the Caliph on his journeys,” Stephen Lloyd said. The coin is estimated at £800,000-1,000,000.

Another coin of the highest rarity and importance is an Arab-Sasanian drachm, the reverse of which shows what is believed to be the earliest depiction of the Caliph on an Islamic silver coin. It dates from 75h (694AD) and is estimated at £50,000-80,000.

Damascus was the capital of the Umayyad Caliphate, and in 77-78h the Caliph `Abd al-Malik b. Marwan introduced a new and distinctively Islamic coinage with silver dirhams of standard and uniform design struck at dozens of mints throughout the expanding Islamic world.

The obverse of the present coin is struck with the bust of the Sasanian King Khusraw II, but the figure of the Caliph dominates the reverse, flanked by Arabic legends stating unequivocally that he is “Commander of the Faithful” and “Caliph of God”.

“This coin demonstrates the astonishing self-confidence and dynamism of the new Islamic state, as well as its maturity and willingness to adopt the ideas of others and adapt them for its own purposes,” Stephen Lloyd said.

Only nine post-Reform Umayyad dirhams dated 78h (694AD) are known to exist and Morton & Eden’s sale includes two of them. One of two known to have been produced at the Shaqq al-Taymara mint is estimated at £30,000-50,000, while one of three known from the Jayy mint is estimated at £25,000-35,000.

The holy city of Makka (Mecca) sometimes came under the control of the Fatimids, although they only seldom struck coins there. The sale includes a unique example quoted by Norman Nicol, author of the internationally recognised reference work on Fatimid numismatics.  Minted there in 380h (990AD), it is estimated at £50,000-70,000.  There is no evidence that ruling Caliph Al-‘Aziz himself had any direct involvement with Makka in this year, although it was certainly a significant one for the Fatimid state.  The celebrated Vizier Ya`qub b. Kilis died that year and was much mourned, while construction of the great mosque of Bab al-Futuh was also started.

The sale will be on public view on Wednesday- Friday April 18-20 from 10am to 4.30pm, with highlights on Sunday April 22 from 12 noon to 5pm or by previous appointment. For further information, please contact Stephen Lloyd, telephone 020 7493 5344 or info@mortonandeden.com.

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