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Research Coins: Feature Auction


An Extremely Rare Early Dated Issue // Dated 1204

Sale: Triton X, Lot: 1165. Estimate $4000. 
Closing Date: Monday, 8 January 2007. 
Sold For $3000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

SPAIN, Castile & León. Alfonso VIII el Noble (the Noble). King of Castile, 1158-1214. BI Denier (1.08 g). Toledo mint. Dated 1204 Safar Era (AD 1166). + ERA MCCIIII, cross pattée, bars ending in outward crescents; annulets in quarters / TOLETVM +, staff surmounted by cross set on ornate floral base. Cf. ME 1073; cf. Burgos 158; cf. Heiss 7 (all examples obol). Good VF, toned, slightly creased flan. An unpublished denomination of an extremely rare type and historically important.

When the troops of the Castilian Alfonso VI wrested control of Toledo from the Muslims in 1085, they started a century of fighting for the disputed city. Alfonso lost his life as the North African Almoravids heeded the cry of Andalusan (Spanish) Muslims. This fundamentalist sect recaptured much of AI-Andalus and persecuted the vibrant communities of Jews and the Christians. The liberalized resident Muslims distracted the Almoravids long enough to regain control after 1143 and reset the stage for the Christian reconquest of Toledo. Alfonso's great grandson of Aragon, Alfonso VIII retook Toledo and celebrated Christian reentry with a dated coin, a silver obol. The extreme rarity of the coin suggests that only privileged courtiers received one. The reverse shows a cross surrounded only by the inscription, ERA MCCIIII, referring to year 1204 in the es-Safar calendar (1166 AD), which was 38 years ahead of the Anno Domini calendar. The obverse celebrates its place of minting, TOLETVM, accompanied by crosses and ornaments. In the 1100s, Christian Spain was at the forefront of numerical awakening as Europe slept. No Spanish coin had displayed a formal date since the reign of Augustus. By the beginning of the dark ages in the 600s, Roman numerals had disappeared from all coins of the western provinces. Other than the Muslims in Sicily, no place in Europe had dated a coin using numerals or employed any other numeral reference on a coin since Rome and Ravenna dated their gold using Greek numerals in the mid 750s. Although Arab traders had introduced the Arabic numerals to Spain about 900 AD, Christian Spain did not issue a dated coin using Arabic numerals until 1520. The first coin using the AD calendar appeared in 1198 AD in Sicily, but this bore the date in Arabic words. Roskilde, Denmark struck the first numeral dated AD coin in 1234 AD, 68 years after the Toledo obol.

Our gratitude to Mr. Edward Cohen for graciously supplying this note.