Chronology : 600 BCE - CE 1 to 1000 1780-1789 1790-1799 1820-1829 1830-1839 1933
List of most expensive coins in Wikipedia.
Link to PCGS database.
42 BCE Eid Mar Aureus of Brutus
2020 SOLD for £ 3.25M including premium by Roma Numismatics
narrated post sale in 2020
Caesar has himself appointed dictator perpetuo. Suspected of liberticide, he is assassinated less than two months later, in the Ides of March 44 BCE, by a group led by Brutus and Cassius. In a first phase, the tyrannicides are approved by the Senate. On official mission in Macedonia and Thrace, Brutus issues coins bearing his effigy. The abbreviation IMP (imperator) next to his name is only meaning "general".
Octavian (who will later be Augustus) and Antony claim separately the succession of Caesar. They are reconciled in 43 after a short war and obtain the condemnation in absentia of the tyrannicides. The civil war is then transferred against Brutus and Cassius who consider themselves the ultimate defenders of freedom.
At the beginning of 42, Brutus and Cassius want to return to Rome with their armies. They prepare their coins with the booty collected by Cassius in Asia Minor. The Brutus coinage becomes revolutionary. The front side bears the effigy with a slightly improved design. The back claims the assassination of Caesar by the inscription EID MAR (for Eidibus Martiis) in large letters under three symbolic figures : the cap of freedom between the daggers of the two tyrannicidal leaders.
EID MAR was struck in gold and silver with the same dies. These coins were recalled and melted down by Octavian and Antony after the defeats and death of Brutus and Cassius in October 42 and are very rare. A silver denarius was sold for $ 550K including premium by Heritage in September 2011 and another for $ 520K including premium by Goldberg in June 2014.
Three EID MAR aureus survive, one of which was very poorly centered and pierced. The best of the three, very well centered and in near mint condition, was sold for £ 3.25M including premium by Roma Numismatics on October 29, 2020, lot 463.
724 The Dinar from Arabia
2019 SOLD for £ 3.7M including premium
Taking advantage of the conquests, the caliphs exploit distant mines including Ifriqiya in Tunisia from 100 to 122 AH and al-Andalus. Around 100 AH the caliph Umar buys a mine in Hijaz, between Medina and Mecca, on a land bequeathed to the father of the previous owners by the Prophet himself.
The dies are made in Damascus. Some very rare prestige editions make a reference to the origin of the gold. Most of the coins were nevertheless striken in Damascus but the practice of traveling mints is not excluded because the necessary tools were not bulky.
The use of the Gold of the Commander of the Believers is indicated on a series of dinars in 91 and 92 AH. The dinar of 105 AH adds to this inscription a Hijaz origin. It is impossible to know if the gold of these two series comes from the same mine.
In 105 AH corresponding to 724 CE, the caliph Yazid dies after a long illness. The presence in Arabia of his brother and successor Hisham is attested in that year. Although it is impossible to conclude which of the two caliphs commissioned the gold dinar, a prestigious operation of the new caliph co-ordinated with a pilgrimage to Mecca is likely.
By its inscription, this beautiful dinar from Hijaz weighing 4.27 g is the most valuable of the Islamic Umayyad coins. One of them in Extremely Fine condition was sold for £ 3.7M including premium by Morton and Eden on April 4, 2011 over a lower estimate of £ 300K.
Another uncirculated example of this dinar was sold for £ 793K including premium by Baldwin's on December 6, 2012, lot 120. It had previously passed at the same auction house on April 25, 2012, lot 17 with a lower estimate of £ 1.5M. I discussed it in this column before these sales. It is now estimated £ 1.4M for sale by Morton and Eden in London on October 24, lot 11 here linked on the NumisBids bidding platform.
Morton and Eden are delighted to announce the sale of the extremely rare Umayyad dinar Ma'din Amir al-Mu'minin bi'l-Hijaz 105h, sold today for £3.720.000 (with premium), matching the record we set in 2011 for a similar coin. pic.twitter.com/dkN2oBdES2— Morton & Eden Ltd (@MortonandEden) October 24, 2019
724 The Gold of the Commander of the Faithful
2011 SOLD 3.7 M£ including premium
These coins are illustrated on both sides by an Arabic text, indicating in particular that they come from the mine of the Commander of the Faithful. They are dated 92 and 105 AH (711 and 724 of our calendar).
The latest coin certifies that it was made from a mine in Hejaz. Such a mine had been purchased a few years previously by one of the first Caliphs. The absence of coins of this origin between 92 and 105 could correlate such issues with pilgrimages to Mecca led by the Caliph himself.
Both are in very fine condition. They are estimated respectively at £ 250K and 300K.
POST SALE COMMENT
I had announced an event exceptional in its category. It was true.
The most prestigious of the two coins, dated 105AH (724AD), was sold £ 3.1 million before fees, 3.7 million including premium.
The photo of this exceptional dinar is shared by CoinWeek.
The other coin (92AH, 711AD) also far exceeded its estimate. It was sold £ 540K before fees, 648K including premium.
1740 The Ioann Ruble
2012 SOLD 3.6 MCHF before fees by Sincona
narrated in 2020
The Saint-Petersburg mint prepares the coins for the future reign. The pattern silver rubles dated 1740 bear on the obverse the Cyrillic inscription Ioann III by the grace of God Emperor and Autocrat of All Russia. On the same side, the traditional imperial effigy is replaced by a large 3 interlaced with two I. The reverse is illustrated with the two-headed eagle with its attributes : the crown, the shield, the scepter and the orb.
This design is immediately obsolete : the child's reign name is not Ioann III but Ivan VI. Only five units have been identified. One of them was sold for CHF 3.6M before fees by Sincona on October 9, 2012, lot 227 here linked on the NumisBids auction platform. The location of the other four has not been established.
In 1741 the child grew up and the new rubles are minted with his effigy at one year old. His father overthrew the regent. The Russians fear the return of the German influence and overthrow the child and his mother by a coup d'état in December 1741. Ivan VI's coins are redeemed and their possession is made illegal.
Another difficult succession will generate in 1825 the other top rarity of the Romanov numismatics, the pattern ruble prepared in the name and effigy of Grand Duke Constantine before he formally refuses to ascend the throne. Eight units are known.
1787 Doblons for New York
2014 SOLD 4.6 M$ including premium
Meanwhile, business transactions use large foreign gold coins, dominated by those from the Spanish colonies in South America. Banks and grand merchants are the only users of such coins. To deal against counterfeiting, they have their gold checked by specialists, the assayers, who put their own punch on the controlled pieces.
Ephraim Brasher is a goldsmith operating in New York City where he is a neighbor and supplier of George Washington, the President, known as a great lover of silverware. Brasher appreciates that he can play a role in the fight against the monetary anarchy, but his offer in early 1787 to carry out a copper coinage for the state of New York is rejected.
Brasher is an assayer. He knows well the doblon of Lima, a large gold coin worth 8 escudos and weighing 26 grams, whose name is anglicized to doubloon. Circa 1786, he produces in his workshop some Lima-type doubloons which are not fakes because their gold content is correct.
Brasher changes his theme in 1787 for producing doubloons and half doubloons to the use of New York identified under the Latin name Nova Eboraca. The pieces are stamped with his initials, EB, with two possible positions on the wing and on the breast of the eagle. Although their centering and cutting are awkward, they are beautiful coins whose design is sharp enough to discourage counterfeiting.
The only known Brasher doubloon with the mark on the breast was sold for $ 7.395 million in a private sale in December 2011, although its condition is only graded AU50 by PCGS.
On January 9 in Orlando, Heritage sells one from only two units in mint condition from an overall surviving total of six wing marked doubloons. The coin for sale is graded MS63 by PCGS. Here is the link to the catalog.
The coin for sale had been the first Brasher doubloon that was described in the nineteenth century. It was at that time in the estate of an important dealer importer named Gilmor also known as an early collector of coins.
This mercantile provenance strengthens the argument that the Brasher doubloon, earliest gold coin made for circulation in the United States, was designed to supersede the foreign currencies in large commercial operations. Other assumptions are however not rejected such as a promotional operation or a demonstration of know how.
POST SALE COMMENT
This great coin was sold for $ 4.6M including premium.
PRIVATE SALE IN 2018 :
1794 Preparation of the Dollar
2013 SOLD for $ 10 M including premium
Within two years after the Coinage Act of April 2, 1792, the preparation of the silver dollar has not yet started. Hurry up. A pair of dies is created on a design by Robert Scot and a first trial is made in copper. One prototype has survived. It was sold for $ 92K by Goldberg on February 16, 2001.
A further pair of dies is created to insert the fifteen stars in the circumference around the head of Liberty. A copper trial piece is kept at the Smithsonian.
Regarding silver, a unique coin has the characteristics of a specimen as defined by PCGS : superior minting quality and shiny appearance. It has been compared with the Smithsonian prototype : the state of the dies is exactly the same, with no added wear, and the sharpness of the line is perfect.
This coin is certainly the first federal silver dollar. It was struck in October 1794 at the Philadelphia Mint before the very last limited rework of the dies and the launch of the first production batch.
Graded SP66 by PCGS, it was sold for $ 7.85M in private sale in May 2010 and then for $ 10M including premium at auction by Stack's Bowers on January 24, 2013, lot 13094. It is estimated $ 8M for sale on October 8 at Las Vegas by Legend Rare Coin Auctions, lot 11.
1,758 units were supplied to the cashier on October 15, 1794. Technically, this lot was premature. The available press was not suitable for the required diameter, larger than the previous silver dime. The alignment of the dies did not resist, weakening the strike and limiting the output.
The preparation of the specimen had been extremely careful. The silver planchet had been fitted with a plug and the weight of the specimen is almost perfect, only 0.24 grains (15 mg) above the 416 grains prescribed by the Coinage Act. Its splendid reflectivity has no equivalent among the 135 surviving units. It may be the sample presented to President Washington by Secretary of State Edmund Randolph. It surfaced in 1942 in the deceased estate of Colonel Green with an earlier provenance from the Virgil Brand collection.
1794 The Silver Dollar of Lord St. Oswald
2015 SOLD for $ 5M including premium
Two years later, the Philadelphia plant tries the first production of the silver dollar. The technical difficulties concerned the officials to the point that the preparation is confidential and not documented. The issue is to achieve a perfect strike with the exact weight and purity required by the Congress.
Ingots are bought to cover $ 2,000 in the new coinage. The production is done in one day, 15 October 1794. 1758 pieces are released.
This yield below the target is due to a drift of the strike during the operation, in part because that coin was too large to enable a repetitive adjustment of the weight. Manufacturing is suspended. There will be no further 1794 $ 1 coin.
The first coins are admirable. Only one survivor is ranked as a specimen. Its mint preservation is because it was originally stored in the factory's archives. This coin graded MS66 by PCGS was sold for $ 10M including premium by Stack's Bowers on January 24, 2013.
On September 30 in New York, Stack's Bowers in association with Sotheby's sells the best silver dollar of 1794, graded MS66+ by PCGS, winner 30 years ago of a friendly confrontation by direct inspection with the only other example in the same grade. It is estimated beyond $ 3M, lot 2041.
It is not a works specimen. Its provenance explains its exemplary preservation.
An Englishman named William Strickland visited the United States from 20 September 1794 to 29 July 1795. He acquired coins in mint state at a time when production was not yet sufficient to really start a circulation. The box containing the treasure was stored in a Chippendale coin cabinet in England and fell into oblivion.
The box surfaces in 1964 when the cabinet is opened for the auction by Christie, Manson and Woods of the collection of Lord St. Oswald. The dates of the coins stored in the box correspond with the time spent by Strickland in the USA.
1834 The Dollar of the Kings
1999 SOLD 4.1 M$ including premium by Bowers and Merena
The dollar dated 1804 is an extraordinary coinage whose story is worthy of an oriental tale.
The first specimen identified as Sultan of Muscat-Watters-Brand-Childs-Pogue 1804 dollar class I is really fabulous. It was sold for $ 4.1 million including premium by Bowers and Merena in August 1999, the highest recorded price for any coin at that time. It is for sale by Stack's Bowers, successor to Bowers and Merena, in cooperation with Sotheby's on May 24 in New York, lot 4020.
The Sultan of Oman is an important Arabian monarch who controls the trade in the Horn of Africa which is a major passage to the Orient. His capital is Muscat. An American dealer named Edmund Roberts manages to meet the Sultan in Zanzibar in 1827, opening the possibility to create an American influence in Asia.
Roberts is naturally designated in 1832 by the government of President Jackson to finalize the trade agreement with Muscat. The tradition is to support the negotiations in the East with gifts. Americans are not familiar with this practice: there will be no investment for this operation which, if successful, will however bring huge sources of revenues for the United States.
Roberts does not wish being commissioned to offer a ridiculous gift to the Sultan. He imagines a morocco box containing a sample of each legal coins of the United States. The order is sent to the Philadelphia Mint to run this special operation.
The silver dollar is a legal coin but President Jefferson suspended its production in 1804. Its face value is the symbol of the American currency and this piece should be the focus of the gift. New dies are created from the punches that began to rust after three decades of storage. The date 1804 is selected because it is the latest that is credible.
The first class I 1804 dollar is struck in November or December 1834 with great care so that this brand new piece of silver shall dazzle the Sultan of Muscat when he opens the box. The government is enthusiastic about the idea of Roberts and a similar gift is simultaneously prepared for the King of Siam. Six other class I coins will be struck including at least two before Roberts left for the East.
Roberts presented the box to the Sultan on October 1, 1835, the day following the signing of the treaty of friendship between both countries. This exceptional coin has been kept in mint condition. It is graded Proof 68 by PCGS. The image below has been downloaded a few years ago from Wikimedia.
The prestige of this piece with coin collectors is further increased by the fact that it is the first silver dollar on the date of 1804. At the time of Jefferson's decision the dollars produced earlier in that year were still using the dies dated from the previous year.
1913 The Eliasberg Nickel
2018 SOLD for $ 4.6M including premium
This variant, not documented by the plant, is the consequence of the introduction for 1913 of the Buffalo Head figure replacing the Liberty Head for the 5-cent coin. It appears that when this decision was made in February 1913, a 1913 Liberty Head die was already available for the production line.
The population of the 1913 Liberty nickel is limited to a single group of five pieces exhibited together in 1920 by a former factory employee who had known about it and managed to get it in his hands. The five pieces had been struck with new tools, perhaps simply for a first test that would become obsolete with the change of design.
Eliasberg considered this group to be the total population. Indeed no other example has ever surfaced. His copy is the best, graded PR66 by PCGS, and the only one from these five with a glittering mirror surface.
When Eliasberg died in 1976, his collection was shared between his two children. It was then the subject of several auctions. The 1913 Eliasberg Liberty nickel becomes the first coin to cross the million-dollar threshold at auction, on May 21, 1996 by Bowers and Merena. Q. David Bowers' hammer falls at $ 1.35M, $ 1.485M including premium.
Its price has considerably risen in the next decade. It was sold for $ 1.84M including premium by Superior Galleries in March 2001. Two private transactions were revealed, at $ 4.15M in May 2005 and $ 5M in April 2007. It also passed at auction at Stack's in January 2007 .
The Eliasberg specimen of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel will be sold by Stack's Bowers in Philadelphia on August 15, lot 1096. The image shared by Wikimedia had been prepared for the 2001 auction.
1933 Double Eagle
2002 SOLD 7.6 M$ including premium by Sotheby's and Stack's
narrated in 2020
The crisis had lasted since 1924 and the production of eagles and double eagles was considerably slowed down. The production of the 312,500 eagles of 1933 was finished before April 5 and this denomination was legal at that time. The production of the double eagles, which was in progress, was not interrupted.
On September 13, 1934, all gold coins in federal stocks were declared obsolete (uncurrent). In the following month two 1933 double eagles were sent to the Smithsonian for the National Collection as non-monetized samples. 445,469 pieces were in the vaults. This stock was melted in 1937.
Ten pieces escaped that melting, certainly stolen by the cashier of the Mint who was jailed in 1940 for another scam. All of them were recovered and destroyed by the government except one that King Farouk had managed to acquire in 1944. The King had obtained for this piece an export license issued by the Secretary of the Treasury, either simply by mistake or to please the King. This license being federal, the Farouk specimen became the only 1933 double eagle with some legal US status.
Removed at the request of the US government from the auction of the Farouk collections in 1954, the double eagle resurfaced in 1996, brought to New York by an English dealer. He was caught in the act by the FBI during his negotiations with his American customer.
The coin of the English dealer was the specimen which had been legally exported for Farouk. A judicial compromise was found in 2001. The double eagle was listed for auction on July 20, 2002 by Sotheby's and Stack's. In order to declare for the first time the official release of this specific coin, the buyer was required to pay to the federal government its face value of $ 20 in addition to the auction. It was sold for $ 7,590,020 including premium. Here is the link to the catalog in the website of Stack's Bowers, successor to Stack's.