1) The Ancient period - in which were made the few issues of
the Persian satraps and the native rebels, those of the
Ptolemaic dynasty, those of the Roman and Byzantine
overlords, and of course all the "antiquities" which are so
available these days.
2) The Medieval period - from the coming of Islam to the
ascendancy of the Ottoman Turks. Dynasties include the
Umayyads, Abassids, Tulunids, Ikshidids, Fatimids, Ayyubids,
3) The Ottoman period.
4) The modern period.
ANCIENT PERIOD - ANTIQUITIES
There are a lot of Egyptian antiquities around, and have
been for about 10-15 years. Before that they were not so
common. The most common objects offered are "Mummy Bead"
necklaces of mostly blue faience beads and Ushabtis,
statuettes of Osiris, God of the Dead, placed in tombs as
talismans. Most are billed as Ptolemaic, with a few nicer
ones attributed to the last native dynasty, the "Saitic," of
the 8th century BC. Next most common are scarabs, or
dung-beetle amulets, little clay things shaped like beetles
with some writing on the bottom. And there is always a
smattering of other stuff: little statuettes, pieces of
"cartonage" coffin fragments of the late Roman period (what
happened to the mummy?), scraps of papyrus, occasionally a
little chunk of the wall of some tomb.
I once had a little faience votive statuette which came
with a dig ticket from one of the Flinders Petrie
expeditions. Nowadays nothing comes with a pedigree. The
reason is simple. In Egypt every find is considered
national patrimony and must be turned over to the
authorities at once. The penalties are severe. OK, maybe
some pieces can get bribed out of the country, and of course
there are all the third century Alexandrian tetradrachms.
(But how many of them are new finds versus enormous old
hoards taken out before the current law?) But a quick
glance at catalogs and auctions featuring antiquities will
reveal hundreds of ushabtis and scarabs, and indeed, I was
once offered a wholesale lot of 100 Ptolemaic ushabtis
cheap, every one of them worth a term in jail to some
I showed some antiquities catalogs to an Egyptian friend
of mine. He laughed. Turns out there are no laws in Egypt
governing the production of unlabelled modern copies of
antiquities. Vast quantities of replica ushabtis and
scarabs are made all over Egypt, and sold openly as copies.
But they don't say COPY on them, and by the time they get
here... Well, at the very least they don't have a dig
ticket. I thus find myself unable to speak with authority
regarding the authenticity of any Egyptian antiquity other
The Persians brought coins with them when they occupied
Egypt in 525 BC. Their Mediterranean trade was coinage
based, and struck silver and gold found its way into the
country as bullion. Everything in Egypt was set up for
in-kind payments, had been for thousands of years. The
governing philosophy of the Persians was rather
heavy-handed, and they suffered in the two centuries of
their rule no less than 63 years of rebellions. The native
insurgencies were organized around pharaohs of course, which
was the only way Egyptians had ever done anything. The two
last native insurgent leaders have left us the only
undeniably pharaonic coins. Both are gold (a royal
monopoly), equivalent to Persian darics. Sear calls one
unique. I've never seen the other one with the
The Persians crushed the last rebels in 341 BC.
Alexander took over their empire complete in 332 BC, so not
much time to enjoy themselves. In their 9 years they
produced a few imitations of Athenian tetradrachms, and
these coins are occasionally seen.
Alexander took Egypt without war. The satrap handed it
over and was confirmed in office. Alexander founded a city
in the delta, called it Alexandria of course. Then he moved
on. After he died Ptolemy rushed his armies down to Egypt,
as the land was to his liking. Ptolemy made himself secure
and proceeded to govern justly and to beautify his beloved
Alexandria, final resting place of Alexander. He began
three centuries of Greek type coinage. The coins found most
of their use in Alexandria, but their started to filter
The Ptolemaic series is fun. There is gold, silver, and
copper, LARGE coins in each metal, and a general
availability of material. There are always nice
tetradrachms around of virtually all the rulers, gold coins
are often offered, and quantities of good sized coppers are
traded. My general impression is that there are occasional
new hoards of later debased tetradrachms, some judicious
feeding of new choice bronzes into the market, and it seems
that much of the new material comes from the Holyland.
Smaller size Ptolemaic coppers were just like any other
copper coin, and they turn up in small quantities in Syrian
and Palestinian hoards.
Actually, the big coppers are generally easier to find
than the little ones, but it's an all around easy series to
collect. Even the highly popular Cleopatra VII bronzes are
easy to find, albeit always in low grade.
The Romans did not include Egypt in the general polity of
the empire. Instead they treated it as personal property of
the Emperor, a continuation, as it were of pharaonic
tradition. The country was run (increasingly badly) as a
private estate. As far as coinage was concerned the
emperors wanted to keep Egypt out of the regular commerce of
the Empire, and thus they banned fine gold and silver and
devised a series of token coins in billon, bronze, and lead
which was not accepted anywhere else.
At the time of the cession to Rome the Ptolemaic
tetradrachm had been debased to a fineness of about .200,
with subsidiary token coinage in bronze. This was continued
by Augustus. Later emperors reduced the silver content
further. Minor bronzes were struck in the 1st and early 2nd
centuries, and there are some local tokens in lead, but the
minors were dropped in the mid-second century. The coins
were used in and around Alexandria for the most part. It is
thought that the so-called "nome" bronzes, with the name of
one or another of the Egyptian provinces, were also made in
Alexandria. Though it is not clear exactly who made the
lead pieces or where, it is thought that they must be from
the city. Upper Egypt went on making its payments in kind
as it had always done.
The Alexandria mint operated sporadically. Some years
saw enormous mintages, others none. Tetradrachms of rare
emperors are often available relatively cheaply. Vitellius
is a good example. Generally speaking the tetradrachms are
the commonest denominations, followed by large copper
"drachms," with the small copper and the lead being scarce.
Tetradrachms of the late 3rd century are very common. They
had a habit of using several different reverse types in a
given year, so there are a lot of types. It is a series
which is both fun and collectible.
The emperor Diocletian ended the special status of Egypt.
As part of his general coinage reform he ended the
manufacture of Egyptian tetradrachms, replacing them with
the new standard imperial coins in gold, silver, and bronze.
In the 4th century Alexandria struck a few rare gold and
silver coins, and large quantities of various sizes of
bronze. The bronzes make up a healthy percentage of middle
eastern finds, and many can be purchased for a few dollars.
The mint was closed later in the 5th century and was not
reopened until after the fall of the Western Empire.
Justin I resumed coining early in the 6th century. He
made copper only, an oddball 12 nummi coin used nowhere
else. This coin and its half continued in issue until just
before the arab conquest. There are a few gold coins, most
rare, no silver, a couple of rare 3 and 1 nummi pieces, a
scarce larger bronze marked "33," (unclear that the number
refers to nummi). A follis struck during the revolt of
Heraclius, 608-10, formerly attributed to Alexandria, is now
generally believed to have been made at Alexandretta in
Most coins seen are 12 and 6 nummi. They might make 3%
or so of a typical Syrian Islamic copper lot, always poorly
made and very worn.
The Byzantine administration also made use of glass
"weights" as tokens. These occur much less frequently than
Islamic glass jetons, which also are not too common.
In contrast to the bloodless conquest of Alexander, the
Muslims took Egypt by military action. Also in contrast to
Alexander, they did not allow the continuation of the
ancient culture. The remaining adherents of the old faith
were converted at swordpoint.
Under the Umayyad caliphs a few coppers were struck at
the mints of Atrib, Fustat, and Fayum, and there are
anonymous fulus with thick flans reminiscent of the old
Roman tetradrachms which are called Egyptian on this basis.
Gold dinars were added by the Abassids, first without mint
name, then with the country name Misr. The coppers usually
come in very low grade, and Egyptian gold of this period is
rare compared with the prolific issues of Damascus and
One of the Abassid governors of Egypt, Ahmad bin Tulun,
obtained a degree of autonomy, and was able to pass the
country to his descendents. The Tulunid Amirs, 868-905 AD,
struck gold dinars, some in their own name, some with the
caliph's name only. The former are scarcer than the latter,
and both types are scarce relative to Baghdad issues. On
the death of the last Amir Egypt reverted to the Abassids,
who sent out a new governor.
A second family of hereditary governors, the Ikshidids,
held Egypt in the 10th century. They struck scarce to rare
dinars and the little quarters which were popular at the
time, but no silver. The Ikshidids were overthrown by the
shi'i Fatimid caliphate, rivals of the Abassids.
The Fatimids held Egypt for about 200 years. Their gold
is common. Silver half dirhams are proportionately cheaper
of course, but are quite a bit scarcer too, and probably
were not struck in Egypt. There seems not to be any Fatimid
copper. Instead, they made the vast majority of the glass
"weights" in existence today. They range from tiny
uninscribed pieces to fairly large items, which, if they are
indeed weights, must be multiple dirhams. I wouldn't call
them common, but most are sloppily made and extremely hard
to read (at least by me.)
Fatimid holdings in Syria were eroded by the Turkish
Zangi family invading from the north. Finally a Kurdish
general was sent to eliminate the infidel caliphs. This was
Salah al din Yusuf bin Ayyub, whom we call Saladin. He was
successful in his mission, and took personal control of
Egypt. On the death of his Zangid overlord he opted for
independence and occupied Syria. Saladin divided his
kingdom among his sons when he died, leaving a messy
genealogy for historians to wrestle with, but through one
line or another Egypt was Ayyubid from 1169-1252.
Saladin brought with him a currency in which large copper
coins passed equivalent to reduced size silver dirhams.
Almost immediately he began a trimetallic coinage. Coins in
all metals were made at Alexandria, and later at the new
town of Cairo. Silver and copper remain scarce, though
Syrian issues are very common. A few glass pieces can also
be attributed to the Ayyubids.
In the 1240s the commanders of the Turkish mercenaries
(Mamluks) employed by the Ayyubids, began to operate
autonomously. The last Ayyubid Amir died in 1252, and the
country was run for the next 250 years by Mamluks. Under
Mamluk rule the centuries long copper and silver famine in
Egypt was finally ended, and examples of all three metals
are reasonably common. The last glass weights were made
under the first Bahri (= Sea) dynasty. In the later Burji
(= Fort) dynasty large copper fulus were struck, while the
silver and gold coins shrank.
Much of the Mamluk specie was derived from taxes on the
India trade. After the Portuguese rounded Africa the
overland route was largely abandoned. The Mamluk government
went broke and in 1519 their dynasty was overthrown by the
The Turks brought a trimetallic coinage of gold altin
(called sultani in Egypt) equivalent to a Venetian zecchino,
tiny little silver akches, and little copper mangirs. Selim
I, 1512-20, struck altins, which are not particularly common
as compared with similar items from Constantinople. In the
reign of Suleyman the Magnificent, 1520-66, Cairo issued
gold prodigiously, and gold output remained high for the
next three centuries. For Suleyman and his immediate
successors your average altin is about as likely to be Cairo
as Constantinople, and there are a lot of them, this being
the golden age of the Ottoman Empire.
Suleyman reintroduced copper coins . In contrast with
the mangirs of the rest of the empire, which were tiny, the
Egyptian coins were big and thick, reminiscent once again of
the Roman occupation. These coppers are infrequent visitors
to the market, and are impossible in any kind of decent
grade. Coppers of Suleyman's successors become ever scarcer
through the centuries, most bearing premier status as first
class, though unappreciated, rarities.
Silver coins did not get started until the reign of Murad
III, 1574-95, for whom there is a rare akche. Ahmad I,
1603-17, introduced a larger silver called medini supposed
to be equal to 3 akches, (but that didn't matter, everything
went be weight). These medinis are noteworthy in that they
are some of the worst struck coins ever made. An average
piece will be about 35% struck up, and they're only about
13mm in the first place. They should be common, but show up
only infrequently, probably because people are ashamed to
show them, they're so ugly.
Copper issues stopped early in the 17th century, gold is
reasonably common, and silvers are rare compared with
Constantinople. At the end of the century a coinage reform
was enacted throughout the empire in which the piastre of 40
paras or 120 akches was adopted for silver. From this time
paras began to be struck at Cairo, more or less equal to the
old medini, but they didn't get around to larger silver
coins for another hundred years.
Early in the 18th century a new smaller gold coin was
introduced, the zeri mahbub, which became a popular standard
and is common today. Gold multiples were also made, and
these are rare. There are a few rare coppers, and there
have been a few large hoards of paras of Abdul Hamid I and
Selim III, feeding enough of these coins into the market to
drop the price to a few dollars.
Selim III became sultan just as the revolution began in
France. He had to deal with the offspring of the French
Revolution, Napoleon, who occupied Egypt for three years
from 1798, ostensibly to support the Ottomans against the
Mamluk nobles. While there he struck imitations of Selim's
coins dated to the Sultan's 13th year. These are rare and
popular coins of course, and hardly ever offered, as witness
the line drawings in the SCWC.
With Napoleon departed the normal coinage of paras
resumed, followed shortly by silver multiples (low grade
billon by now) up to the piastre. These coins can actually
be obtained, but they usually come holed.
The next Sultan, Mustafa IV, ruled only a year, and his
coinage is rare.
The coinage of Mahmud II is complex. There were several
successive standards, ending with a reform to Europeanized
coins which presaged the Turkish "Mejidi" coinage a few
years later. Pre-reform billon coins show up from time to
time, usually with holes. There has been at least one large
hoard of paras in AU. Pre-reform gold is easy enough to
obtain from the specialists, again often holed. Pre-reform
copper is rare. Of the post reform issues only the copper 5
paras are anything near common. All the silver coins are
rare, the 10 and 20 qirsh extremely so. Small post-reform
gold can be obtained, but the pound is extremely rare.
For Abdul Mejid the only common coin is again the copper
5 para. His gold 5 girsh seem to show up from time to time,
but not the larger gold. Everything else is scarce to rare.
In the reign of Abdul Aziz the Egyptian government began
dealing directly with Europe, to the detriment of
Constantinople. Specifically, the Cairo mint contracted for
European blanks and machinery. Thus there is a series of
common coppers with European dies on nice smooth European
planchets. These were supplemented later in the reign with
scarce cruder coins of the same design struck with homemade
dies on rough local planchets. With the exception of the
odd 20 para or girsh the silver coins are hardly ever seen.
Small gold shows up, including the occasional pound, but the
5 pound coins are never offered. In this period the Suez
canal was built.
Coins of Murad V are all rare. You need to be able to
read the toughras to distinguish from otherwise identical
coins of Abdul Hamid II.
During the Abdul Hamid period Egypt found itself so
deeply in hock to its European creditors that it basically
turned over its finances to European bankers. This is
reflected in the reform of 1885, in which the coinage was
thoroughly Europeanized. Of the pre-reform issues only the
silver qirsh can be called common, but all of the
post-reform types are fairly easy, and most, even most
dates, can be found in XF or better. All the gold is
Coinage of Muhammad V is a tad scarcer, but most can be
found in XF-AU. There is no gold.
BRITISH OCCUPATION & KINGDOM
In SCWC the period 1914-22 is listed as that of British
occupation. Actually the British had been occupying Egypt
since 1882, when they had crushed a nationalist revolution
against foreign financial control. Nevertheless, with the
start of World War I, Britain declared a Protectorate over
Egypt, formally ending an Ottoman presence which had been
not much more than a shadow for 100 years.
The British used Hussein Kamil as their puppet sultan,
and issued coins in his name. Most of his coins are common,
and most can be found in Unc. Hussein Kamil died and was
replaced by his brother Ahmad Fuad. Fuad's coins as sultan
are all scarce and rare. However, he succeeded in formally
ending the British protectorate, establishing a kingdom
which proceeded to negotiate for the progressive removal of
British influence. Fuad's coins as king are all available,
if a bit difficult in Unc.
Fuad died in 1936 and was succeeded by Farouk. That same
year a treaty was signed converting the British occupation
into a 20 year military alliance. Except for the gold 5
pound all of Farouk's coins are common, and most can be
found fairly easily in Unc.
All the Republican coins can be obtained in Unc of
course, but a couple of the little milliemes will take years
of looking. Circulated sphinx coins are sucked up by
jewelry manufacturers, driving up the price. You can sell
any sphinx in any grade for $2-3, but usually the jewellers
think the Unc price is too high, so us collectors can get
them. The three silver commemoratives are too common in XF,
a bit difficult in choice Unc. The gold can be found.
All United Arab Republic coins can be found in Unc. Many
of the base metal coins exist in massive wholesale
inventories. The silver commemoratives are in plentiful
supply, and the gold is there if you want it.
As for the "Arab Republic of Egypt," between 1971 and
1990 is has issued at least 275 different types, mostly
commemorative of course. Some of these are low mintage gold
which no one has ever seen, but most are silver or base
metal commemoratives issued in relatively large numbers. A
few of the silvers are much more common than the others,
notably the Faisal pound of 1976, Isis suckling Horus of
1979, and the Peace Treaty coin of 1980. And virtually all
the base metal coins are available or have been in the
recent past. Some of the silvers are scarce though, and are
unappreciated sleepers. There are two problems causing the
general lack of appreciation with the series. Of course
they're inscribed in Arabic, which most of the target market
can't read. But the big problem is the vast quantity of
issues, which boggles the average collector, who goes
looking for a more manageable series. This is too bad,
because some of these coins, especially the ones with
ancient motifs, are very nicely done.
There is a rich series of tokens running from the Suez Canal
pieces of the mid-19th century through current parking
tokens and private issues. There is no comprehensive
reference, and prices tend to be high for whatever is