Numismatics is often referred to as the hobby of kings. This was especially true for King Farouk of Egypt; he assembled one of the largest and most valuable collections ever assembled in the 20th century. However, his collection is not only famous for its size or value. Farouk’s holdings are well-known for having been disbursed and sold in a highly unusual fashion.
After King Farouk assumed the throne in 1936, he quickly became known for his extravagant lifestyle and spending habits. Among his many interests and pursuits was American numismatics. Dealers from the United States would regularly travel to Cairo to take advantage of Farouk’s spending sprees. He rarely said no regardless of price – and in many cases, he would buy duplicates of major rarities.
Perhaps the most egregious example of Farouk’s buying (and willingness to own duplicates) was his ownership of two 1913 Liberty Nickels. Just five coins are known in total, but incredibly, Farouk owned two of them. Today, those coins are worth $3,000,000 to $5,000,000 each! With the entire Egyptian treasury at his disposal, Farouk’s budget seemed limitless.
One of the most notable coins owned by King Farouk was the 1933 Double Eagle. Technically this coin was not officially released by the United States Mint, and thus it was technically illegal to own. Somehow Farouk managed to acquire one specimen that was trading clandestinely on the black market. Therefore, Farouk technically assembled the only complete set of 1907-1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles.
When Farouk was abdicated from power, his massive coin collection was auctioned off by Sotheby’s. The catalog is known for its terse if not woefully incomplete descriptions. Major rarities were given just a sentence or two of text, numerous coins were shoddily thrown into bulk lots together, and supposedly the cataloguers were forced to prepare the descriptions under difficult circumstances. The best way to describe the auction would be hasty; the new Egyptian regime simply wanted the collection liquidated in a swift and expedient fashion.
A small number of dealers and collectors made the journey to Cairo for the sale – and they were rewarded for making the trip. Many significant numismatic rarities sold for “fire sale” prices; some incredible bargains were had by the attendees. Prices were suppressed by the unusual and uncertain circumstances surrounding the auction. Furthermore, the haphazard bulk-lotting of coins made it difficult for collectors to target individual coins for their collection.