|Maria Theresa as She Was|
|As the Middle East Knows Her|
This 2003 article in Saudi Aramco World gives a good summary of the coin's career in the Gulf. An excerpt:
And wherever it was used, the coin was subjected to careful scrutiny. "Locals would count the number of pearls on Maria Theresa's oval brooch, or check the feathers on the imperial eagle. (These were the features that the names abu nuqta and abu reesh refer to.) Recipients would reject coins out of hand if they did not precisely match the original 1780 strike," explains Semple."Semple" is Clara Semple, whose book, A Silver Legend: The Story of the Maria Theresa Thaler sounds fascinating, though from its current Amazon listing appears to be unavailable, at least at my budget. A good review of the book in The Guardian, however, does open with a good story:
At Talh market in northern Yemen, I once watched an old man pay for a fresh clip of Kalashnikov ammunition with some weighty silver coins. Neither Yemeni or Saudi riyals, these reassuringly hefty discs were date-stamped 1780 and bore the image of a large busty woman on one side, an impressively feathery eagle on the other. They were silver dollars of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the woman was Maria Theresa, empress from 1740 to 1780.
Despite generous offers from the market-trader to sell me various machine guns, bazookas and even a tank ("only two days to deliver!"), I bought the money from him instead, paying a small premium to avoid some obvious forgeries. Little did I know that in some senses all the coins were forgeries, and a bright copy made in the sands of Talh the day before was at least as interesting as my supposed originals. Those, as Clara Semple points out in her intriguing book, could easily have been minted in Birmingham in the 1950s, or Brussels, London, Paris, Bombay, Rome or Vienna at some time in the previous two centuries - almost all had that 1780 date. As for rarity, around 400 million are known to have been issued in that period.The review concludes:
These days the use as a trade currency is all but gone. Gold has replaced silver as the jewellery metal of choice and the American dollar as the currency. The generous bosom of Maria Theresa is only found in tourist bazaars and antique jewellery. To my intense pleasure, however, the last photograph in this delightful book is of that Yemeni market at al-Talh, a trader surrounded - just as I remember - with rifles, pistols and piles of Maria Theresa dollars. For a splendid moment I was back there, reliving my fantasy of becoming the first, and last, man to buy a T-64 Soviet tank with an 18th-century treasure trove.I'm not sure if he'd have been the first, and given the current situation in Yemen (the review is from 2006), I'm not sure no one has bought a T-64 with Maria Theresas by now. Silver is still silver.
There are earlier instances of currency strikes that continued long beyond the death of the monarch. One that may have endured even longer than Maria Theresa are the coins of Alexander the Great, though they were not copied with either the fidelity or the reliability of the content of their specie as the Maria Theresa. Bad copies of Alexander's coins were still being circulated in Nabataea and Arabia (and even in Italy), areas he never even conquered, centuries after his death.