Revealing the rare coin and watch collections of King Farouk

The son of Fuad I of Egypt, Farouk was born in 1920 and at the age of just 16 succeeded his father to become King Farouk I of Egypt, Sudan, as well as Sovereign of Nubia, of Kordofan, and of Darfur.

As a young prince, Farouk was educated and trained in England at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. He ascended the throne in a blaze of popularity, making a radio address to the people - the first time that a reigning monarch had made such a populist move.

"If it is God's will to lay on my shoulders at such an early age the responsibility of kingship, I on my part appreciate the duties that will be mine, and I am prepared for all sacrifices in the cause of my duty...

"My noble people, I am proud of you and your loyalty and am confident in the future as I am in God. Let us work together. We shall succeed and be happy. Long live the Fatherland."

Unfortunately, Farouk frittered away this popularity for several reasons. He was unable to end the British occupation of Egypt, and his relations with the British government were particularly tense as WWII developed.

His support for the British cause was notional at best. He would not stop using his Italian servants, and is even rumoured to have snapped at British Ambassador Sir Miles Lampson, whose wife was Italian, "I'll get rid of my Italians when you get rid of yours".

Farouk lost further popularity with his people when in 1948 Egypt failed to defeat the new state of Israel, with the intention of securing land for Muslims in Palestine. That year, Farouk is recorded as making his most famous quote:

"The whole world is in revolt. Soon there will be only five Kings left - the King of England, the King of Spades, The King of Clubs, the King of Hearts, and the King of Diamonds."

It was certainly true for him - Farouk was deposed in 1952, and whilst his infant son was declared king, this 'reign' lasted less than a year.

Farouk is best remembered for his collections, and especially his collection of rare coins, which included 8,500 gold coins and medals.

The collection was assembled at a relatively reasonable cost considering how strong it was, for a particular reason: the King could authorise payments of up to $10,000 personally, whilst more expensive invoices had to be routed through the Treasury.

Naturally, dealers were therefore disinclined to push prices of coins around that price to any level just above it, as this would cause them to suffer great delays in payment.

Farouk's collection included two of the most famous rare coins in existence: a 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double-Eagle and a 1913 Liberty Nickel.

The Double Eagle, a popular gold coin made by the US mint, was disqualified from use by Franklin D Roosevelt when he took America off the gold standard and restricted ownership of gold. The 1933 issue, numbering 445,000, were almost all destroyed in 1937, bar a few palmed or stolen, and two held for posterity.

In 1944, King Farouk applied for a licence to import a 1933 Double Eagle from the US, which was granted in error despite the coin's clear illegality. It disappeared when he was deposed, and only surfaced after decades to be sold for $7,590,020 - at that time a clear record for a coin sale.

(The US government, to whom the coin reverted, insisted on the final $20 to pay for the coin's face value and monetise it.)

The 1913 Liberty Nickel was a supposed error in which five coins were minted in 1913 with design which was supposed to have been entirely replaced that year. (It's thought that the coins, which initially were all owned by a Mint employee, may have been a private minting to create the rarity.)

King Farouk purchased one of the five from numismatist Fred Olsen and the coin, still in excellent condition, went on to have a celebrity career - even appearing in Hawaii 5-O - and sold earlier this year for $3.7m.

1913 Olsen Liberty Head Nickel
Olsen Liberty Head Nickel
(Click to enlarge)

Farouk also acquired the collection of half eagles ($5 gold coins) from the estate of Col E H R Green.

Those coins which were not spirited away like the 1933 Double Eagle were sold in a huge and strange Sotheby's auction. It was a multi-million dollar sale, but many of the lots were odd combinations of coins and undervalued, due to Egyptian restrictions on examining the coins.

It is believed that today the collection would be worth around $150m.

Farouk collected many other kinds of object: rare stamps (including imperforate stamps of Bahwalpur), a Fabergé egg and a solid gold coffee set. He even collected antique aspirin bottles.

The watch face contains a number of moving automated figures

His most beautiful collection aside from the coins, however, was probably that of watches and clocks, including a fabulous Piguet and Capt gold and enamel watch which was originally made in 1805-10.

The 'Shepherdess Automaton' includes seven moving parts of the decorative image, including the shepherdess's arm and a water-wheel. It sold in Geneva with the help of Sotheby's last month for $690,281.

King Farouk can be thanked for his efforts to preserve this and many other rarities.


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