Ethiopia EE1917 birr pattern

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Heritage 3012, lot 23808
Courtesy Heritage Auctions

The coin shown is a one birr pattern, dated 1917 (Ethiopian Era). On the obverse is a portrait of Empress Zewditu. The date is along the base and is written in a format particular to Ethiopia, with and extra digit denoting magnitude. The reverse has the crowned lion of Judah with Amharic script in exergue.

Empress Zewditu became ruler of the Ethiopian Empire after the death of her father Menelik II. The young Ras Tafari Makonnen was regent to the throne. Previous to her father's reign, transactions were by barter, salt, or by imported coins such as the Maria Teresa Thaler[1]. Ethiopia dates its coins using the Julian calendar, which is backdated approximately 7 years from the Gregorian calendar.

This specimen was lot 23808 on Jan 2, 2011, at the 2011 January New York Signature World & Ancient Coins Auction #3012 by Heritage Auctions. It brought $43,125. The catalog description reads:
"Empress Zauditu silver Pattern Birr EE1917 (1925), Gill-Z5 but struck in silver instead of tin and not uniface. Aged cabinet patina over full mint brilliance, a choice UNC piece. This extremely rare and exotic pattern was unknown to Gill when he wrote his ground-breaking reference on the coins of Ethiopia, but two examples have now come to light. The obverse features the crowned and veiled bust of Zauditu with the designer's name, M. Dammann, below her chin and ESSAI in the lower right field. The reverse depicts the fierce version of the Lion of Judah with the designer's name, J. C. Chaplain, to the right of the lion's left paw. There are no Paris Mint privy marks and the edge is fully lettered. Zauditu was the daughter of Menelik II and acceded to the throne in 1917. She was forced to share power with Ras Tafari, the new Regent, who later became the Emperor Haile Selassie."

Recorded mintage: unknown.

Specifications: 28.10 g, silver.

Catalog reference: unlisted in Krause.


  • [1]Gill, Dennis, Coinage of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Italian Somalia, New York: Printing Mart of Long Island, Inc, 1991.

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