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$8.5 million for Siam set

It’s the stuff of legend, and now the fabled King of Siam proof set has been sold for a record price of $8.5 million.

Originally given as a diplomatic gift on behalf of U.S. President Andrew Jackson to the King of Siam (now Thailand) in 1836, the set was purchased by Steven L. Contursi, president of Rare Coin Wholesalers of Dana Point, Calif., on Nov. 1.

“I watched this extraordinary set sell at two auctions over the years, and I always wanted to own it because it’s a national treasure. It is history, adventure and artistic beauty,” said Contursi.

Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles of Beverly Hills, Calif., sold the set on behalf of an anonymous owner described as “a West Coast business executive” who purchased it for over $4 million four years ago. 

Ira Goldberg and his cousin, Larry Goldberg, issued a joint statement about their role as brokers on behalf of their unidentified client: “It has been our dream to handle the sale of the King of Siam proof set ever since its existence was first made known to the numismatic world in 1962. We are proud that we’ve sold it three different times over the past 15 years, twice at public auctions and now by private treaty. This was the most exciting sale because it shattered the previous record. It’s the number one numismatic treasure.”

It comes in the original, custom-made yellow leather and blue velvet case that housed the coins when U.S. State Department envoy, Edmund Roberts, presented it to King Ph’ra Nang Klao (Rama III) of Siam in April 1836 during an overseas trade mission.

The king’s son, Rama IV, was the subject of the book, Anna and the King of Siam, and the famous Broadway musical, “The King and I.”

Minted sometime in late 1834,  Roberts took the set with him on a voyage aboard the USS Peacock in 1835 and arrived in Siam in the spring of 1836. The original ship’s log from the voyage of the Peacock in 1835 was included in the sale to Contursi.

“Measured in terms of collector appeal, rarity, romance and value, this set is unparalleled and will forever hold its place as one of the most desirable numismatic items in the world,” said Kenneth E. Bressett, a former president of the American Numismatic Association and co-author of a reference book about the set, The Fantastic 1804 Dollar. Bressett served as a consultant to Contursi in this transaction.

“New price records have been broken with each sale of comparable individual items that are included in this set, and it is likely that all records may be shattered with the sale of this monumental set,” Bressett added.

It is believed the King of Siam’s son, Rama IV, later gave the coin set to his British governess, Anna Leonowens, who died in 1915. More than 120 years after their presentation to the king, two descendants of Leonowens sold the coins to a London, England dealer in the late 1950s.

Word of the existence of the King of Siam set hit the numismatic world in 1962, according to Bressett.

The set contains one of the eight original “Class 1” 1804 silver dollars along with other numismatic treasures struck in 1834.  It is believed that four sets were originally assembled as gifts to world dignitaries, but only two were ever delivered before emissary Roberts died. The others were returned to the United States Mint and eventually broken up.

The set also contains an 1833 gold medal depicting President Jackson. Although believed to be part of the set when delivered to the King of Siam in 1836, the half dime and Jackson medal were not included when the set turned up in London a half century ago. The two present replacements were included by subsequent owners more than a decade ago to fashion the set as it probably looked when presented to the king.

The individual items in the set were authenticated, graded and certified by Professional Coin Grading Service in June 2004. They are: an 1804 $10 Plain 4, PCGS PR-64 Cameo; an 1834 $5 Classic Head, PCGS PR-65 Cameo; an 1834 $2.50 Classic Head, PCGS PR-64 Cameo; an 1804 $1 Class 1, PCGS PR-67; an 1834 half dollar, PCGS PR-65; an 1834 quarter, PCGS PR-65; an 1834 dime, PCGS PR-67; an 1834 half dime, PCGS PR-66; an 1834 large cent, PCGS PR-66 red/brown; an 1834 half cent, PCGS PR-66 red/brown; and an 1833 Andrew Jackson gold medal, PCGS PR-63 Cameo.
The King of Siam coin set was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in 1983 and for a year at Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas when it opened in 1999.

Contursi plans to publicly exhibit the King of Siam set at the Long Beach, Calif., Coin, Stamp & Collectibles Expo in February. Earlier this year, Contursi paid $3 million to buy the first gold coin made in the United States, a unique 1787-dated Brasher doubloon. He also owns what is believed by many experts to be the first silver dollar struck by the U.S. Mint in 1794.

If the set is considered a single numismatic item, its price of $8.5 million would eclipse the $7.6 million record paid for a 1933 U.S. $20 gold piece sold at public auction in 2002.

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