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Classical Rarities of Islamic Coinage

A. H. Baldwin & Sons Ltd have been producing specialist Islamic Coin Auctions for almost twenty years and are now proud to present this magnificent group of Islamic coins for sale by auction in London. It includes many of the great rarities found in the series and some of the highlights are featured in these pages.

While the Arabian Peninsula always enjoyed a pre-eminent religious and cultural position in the Islamic world, and a number of coins were struck there, the great political centres and trading cities were, from an early date, located outside its boundaries in such cities as Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo and Constantinople, or, further to the west, al-Andalus (Spain) and Ifriqiya (North Africa). Abundant coinages in gold, silver and copper were struck in the great capitals and important towns, as well as in centres of economic life, at important points on trade routes and in centres of mineral wealth.

As the great numismatist Stanley Lane-Poole wrote in 1892, “If the complete series of coins issued by every Muslim state were preserved we should be able to tabulate, with the utmost nicety, the entire line of kings and their principal vassals that have ruled in every part of the Muslim world since the eighth century (CE) and to draw, with tolerable accuracy, the boundaries of their territories at every period”.

The earliest coin in this remarkable group is a dechristianised copy of a Byzantine Gold Solidus which shows the Emperor Heraclius and his two sons on the obverse and bears the kalima, the Islamic statement of faith, on the reverse. However, the most famous and sought after of all Umayyad Gold Dinars is that struck in the year 77 of the Hijra by the Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik bin Marwan. This was the very first fully Islamic gold coin, bearing words from the Holy Qur’an without any of the imagery that had been seen on its Byzantine type predecessors. Umayyad gold coins bearing mint names are rarely found, but this auction includes the earliest reform Dinars from the mint of Ifriqiya dated 100H and an extraordinarily rare set of the full, half and third Dinars of al-Andalus of 102H. To cap it all is the first Gold Dinar which can be said with certainty to have come from the Arabian Peninsula bearing the legend Ma’dan Amir al-Mu’minin bi’l-Hijaz, which means “Mine of the Commander of the Faithful in Hijaz”. This coin is believed to have been struck from gold from this mine.

While the gold coins of the Umayyads and Abbasids rarely bore mint names, their Silver Dirhams nearly always did. It was the Abbasids who first issued silver coins in al-Yamama, the district around today’s Saudi Arabian capital city, al-Riyadh.

Coins bearing the name of the Holy City of Makka are highly prized by collectors of this series. This sale includes the famous Gold Dinar of the Caliph al-Mu’tazz dated 252H. It is recorded that it was struck from gold which had been used to cover the Makam Ibrahim, outside the Ka‘ba. The makam is one of the great relics associated with the Prophet Muhammad, and this outstanding example of the coin, which so eloquently recalls this sacred spot, is extremely rare.

Another rare Gold Dinar was struck in Makka after its seizure by the Fatimid Caliph al-Mu’izz by his successor al-‘Aziz in 366H. Gold coins continued to be issued in the Holy City until relatively recently, as can be seen from the unique and beautiful pattern Gold Guinea of King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Al Sa’ud bearing the mint name Makka al-Mukarrama struck in the year 1370H (1950-1951 CE).

One of the most beautiful silver pieces here is the highly original Silver Medal with an elegant floral pattern that was issued by the Abbasid Caliph al-Radi billah in Madinat al-Salam (“City of Peace”), the name given to Baghdad which was the capital of the Abbasid caliphate.

As time went on the size and design of Islamic coins changed dramatically. Examples illustrated here are the Gold Five Ashrafi piece struck by Ahmad III during Turkey’s “Tulip Period”. It is considered to be the most beautiful of all Ottoman coins, and bears the Sultan’s name and that of his father in a tughra (the Sultan’s signature device) set within a garden of flowers. The elegant tughra design is seen again on the Ottoman Five Guinea piece in the name of ‘Abd al-‘Aziz bin Mahmud struck in Misr (Egypt) and the “Guinea”, an imitation of the Ottoman Lira or Guinea, which, although issued by the Mahdi of the Sudan also bears the mint name Misr.

An extraordinarily rare example of imagery is the uniface Bronze Medal of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II bearing the initials PM in his turban, which is attributed to Pietro di Martino da Milano, one of the great Renaissance master medallists. Thought to be unique, this finely cast medal provides an astonishing insight into the character of the great Sultan so soon after his conquest of Constantinople in 1453 CE.

This sale includes many coins that record important events in the history of Islam and some of its great rulers. This is exemplified by a rare Dinar struck after the death of the Fatimid caliph al-Amir, who had no sons, in the name of al-Muntazir (“the Expected”), a caliph who never actually existed. The great Ayyubid ruler al-Nasir Yusuf I, known in the west as Saladin, the famous foe of the Crusaders, is represented here by a Gold Dinar which is said to have been a reward for his troops after his recapture of Jerusalem for the Muslims in 583H.

A Dinar of the last Abbasid caliph, al-Musta’sim, was struck in Madinat al-Salam during the six week period before the sack of Baghdad and the death of the caliph at the hands of the Mongols in 656H. The Qarmatids, who came from the region of Bahrain in eastern Arabia, earned themselves a bad reptuation by attacking pilgrims as they travelled to Makka. The end of their occupation of Palestine and Syria is marked by a rare Dinar struck there just before their final defeat by the Fatimid forces in 368H.

The later coinage of Spain and North Africa was well-known for its “square in circle” design. One such is the magnificent gold coin issued by Muhammad IX the ruler of the Nasrids, the builders of the famous al-Hamra palace complex in Granada, bearing his dynasty’s motto la ghalib illa Allah, meaning “no victory without God’s help”. This pattern was copied by many other dynasties, including the Rasulids of the Yemen. They usually struck their coins in silver, but this sale includes a very rare Dinar issued by al-Mu’ayyad Da’ud in Adan in 718H. The square in circle design of this coin allowed it to circulate as a trade coin along with others of the same type.

These are no more than a choice selection of the many highlights from this sale. Among them are all that a serious collector of Islamic coins could desire in their historical importance, high quality, great rarity and artistry, which eloquently illustrate the development of Islamic coinage through the ages. A. H. Baldwin & Sons Ltd. are proud to offer this magnificent group of coins for auction, which it is hoped will be one of the most exciting events in the field of Islamic numismatics for many years.

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