x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Sale to prove there's no money like old money

In the first auction of Middle East banknotes, lots include top-condition first UAE notes, Dubai and Qatar riyals, and currencies from across the region from the collection of an Arab banker.

Clockwise from top left: this Dh1,000 note has been listed for £2,000 to £2,500 at the auction; a Dh100 note valued at £400 to £500; a Dh500 note, which is hoped to raise £1,500 to £2,000; and a rare Dh1,000 note, thought to be worth £3,000 to £4,000. Images courtesy of Spink & Son
Clockwise from top left: this Dh1,000 note has been listed for £2,000 to £2,500 at the auction; a Dh100 note valued at £400 to £500; a Dh500 note, which is hoped to raise £1,500 to £2,000; and a rare Dh1,000 note, thought to be worth £3,000 to £4,000. Images courtesy of Spink & Son

The first UAE banknotes and a rare currency once shared between Qatar and Dubai are among items on offer at the first Middle East banknote auction, in London on Thursday.

The George Kanaan Collection, which also includes notes from Bahrain, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Yemen, dating as far back as the mid-19th century, is expected to bring in £500,000 (Dh2.9 million).

The chairman of the Arab Bankers Association, based in London, Mr Kanaan has been amassing his well-preserved collection of 419 notes for more than 30 years.

"I have been a banker most of my life and have always loved history," said the avid collector. "Banknotes bring the two disciplines together and tell us a lot about history."

An example is Mr Kanaan's set of Qatar and Dubai riyals from the 1960s, of which the 25-riyal note is listed at between £8,000 (Dh47,572) and £12,000.

In 1966, before the formation of the UAE, Dubai and Qatar signed a currency agreement and for six years they shared the riyal.

The circulation of these notes continued until after the foundation of the Emirates in 1971 but were eventually replaced by the UAE dirham in 1973.

The collection includes 26 UAE notes, one of which is a rare Dh1 valued at £800 to £900.

The most expensive item from the UAE is a Dh1,000 note issued in 1982, which is listed for between £3,000 and £4,000.

"I consider myself an Arabist, and that is why I have collected and bought any note with Arabic writing on it," said Mr Kanaan."I have never sold any of my collection before and it is very difficult. It is like I am selling my own children."

One of the rarest and most expensive notes up for auction is a 50 Palestinian pounds note issued in 1929 and listed at a staggering £30,000 to £40,000.

When asked why he was letting go of his extensive collection, Mr Kanaan said the Arabian Peninsular notes were becoming too expensive.

"The interest in these notes is growing and so are their prices, making it more difficult to collect," he said.

He now wants to focus on notes from Syria and Lebanon, and from North Africa.

"Notes from these areas are cheaper and more available, and will allow me to continue collecting," Mr Kanaan said.

Barnaby Faull, director of banknotes at the UK currency auction house Spink, which is conducting the auction, said: "I've been trying to get this collection for over 10 years."

Mr Faull said the George Kanaan Collection was unique because of the condition of the notes.

"Usually notes from the Middle East are in a terrible state but George's notes are in fantastic condition," he said.

Mr Faull has known Mr Kanaan for more than 20 years, and about 30 years ago he also began to take an interest in banknotes.

"When we first started the bank-note community was very small," he recalled.

But it has grown steadily in the past 20 years, and rapidly in the past two, Mr Faull said.

"When I started the coin market was much bigger but now banknote auctions outnumber them four to one," he said.

Reasons for the growing interest include notes being more perishable than coins, their artwork and their historic significance.

"These are beautiful pieces of art and history that interest many," said Mr Faull.

He believes the interest and nostalgia will only grow as banknotes become rarer with time.

"Paper money is going out of fashion. How many times have you seen someone using a credit card to make purchases?" he asked.

Mr Kanaan believes there will be a significant Emirati presence at the auction.

"I expect Emiratis to lead in the participation of the auction," he said. "I have many good Emirati friends and bought from many Emirati collectors, who I now hope to sell back to."

tsubaihi@thenational.ae