King of Siam set sold for $8.5 million

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – A coin collector paid a record $8.5 million for a set of rare coins said to have been a gift from former President Andrew Jackson to the King of Siam.

Steven L. Contursi, president of Rare Coin Wholesalers, bought the set of 19th century gold, silver and copper coins from an anonymous owner described only as “a West Coast business executive,” according to Donn Pearlman, the buyer’s publicist.

In this photo provided by Ira and Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, shown is the coin set, presented in 1836 then President Andrew Jackson to the King of Siam, now Thailand, in Beverly Hills, Calif., date unknown. The set was purchased for $8.5 million (euro7.1 million) on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2005, by Steven L. Contursi, President of Rare Coin Wholesalers of Dana Point, California. The seller was only unidentified “West Coast business executive.” (AP Photo/Ira and Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Lyle Engleson) (Lyle Engleson - AP)

“It’s the largest single transaction for a single item ever in coin history,” Contursi said. “It sounds like a lot of money, but when you put it into perspective, it seems like a good price. There are paintings going for millions.”

The coins were last purchased for more than $4 million in 2001. At face value, they range from a copper half cent to a $10 gold piece, Pearlman said. A collectibles firm brokered the purchase Tuesday.

In 1836, then President Andrew Jackson presented the King Ph’ra Nang Klao (Rama III) of Siam, now Thailand, with the diplomatic gift. The Broadway musical “The King and I” fictionalized the king’s son, Rama IV, who inherited the coins.

The set includes a U.S. silver dollar marked 1804 and known as the “king of coins,” Contursi said. One of only eight known “Class I” U.S. silver dollars, the coin could fetch more than $6 million if sold as a single item, he said.

“This set is a national treasure. It opened trade routes for our young nation to the Far East. So it’s more than just coins, it’s U.S. history,” Contursi said.

Kenneth E. Bressett, a rare coin historian, added that “because of its pedigree, we can trace it back to the very day it was made. It’s very unusual to trace back a coin. Most are sold and spent.”

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(Photo courtesy of AP)

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