AUCTIONEERS had touted them as the world's two largest gold coins and had predicted they would sell for record prices in a private sale in Geneva this month.
But officials of the art auction firm of Habsburg Feldman S.A. of Geneva said that because of disappointing bids the unidentified owner of the two large 17th-century Islamic ceremonial coins declined to sell them. The villain, spokesmen said, was last month's stock market crash.
"There were two serious buyers, who after Black Monday, just did not turn up," auctioneer Geza von Habsburg said after the much- promoted sale failed to materialize.
The record price for a single coin is the $725,000 paid in 1979 for a mint condition Brasher doubloon. According to the presale publicity generated by the relatively young Geneva firm, there seemed little question that the two coins from India would set a new record. After all, there have been record prices recently for art and stamps. Why not coins, said the promoters.
Officials of the auction house said they had an advance bid of $10 million for the 8-inch wide 1,000-muhur coin which tips the scales at 26 pounds. The firm said even the smaller 100-muhur, about four inches wide, was supposed to have drawn a $4 million advance bid.
But the sale of the two coins, minted in the 17th century by India's mogul emperors, failed to draw adequate bids. Habsburg said the sale drew only an $8 million bid and the house, expecting more, entered a bid of $8.5 million and withdrew the coins from the sale.
The two coins are so huge that some collectors were skeptical of their classification as money. They reportedly were minted as gifts to ambassadors and high officials.
As many as four thousand of them are said to have been struck, each carefully inscribed with Islamic verses, but most are believed to have been melted down for their bullion.
Plans for their sale along with a number of items of Islamic art were well promoted by the Habsburg house, a relatively new auction firm founded by Habsburg, the 47-year-old great grandson of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary.
The auction house brought the two gold coins to New York prior to the sale and distributed a scholarly article by Michael Bates, curator of Islamic coins of the American Numismatic Society, to support the view that the coins were indeed legitimate.
Bates verified that, despite their size and odd appearance, the coins are, indeed, geniune "provided that we understand the special function of these coins.
"Contemporaries regarded them as coins and their weight is based on the weight of current (contemporary) coins . . . ." Bates wrote. "On the other hand, these pieces did not circulate as current money."
Most accounts indicate that they were kept by recipients "as much as a sign of royal favor as for their precious metal content," Bates said. But when hard times came, most ended in a smelting pot.
Negotiations to sell the coins are underway, said Karl Wellner, the auction firm's New York representative. He held out the prospect the Indians coins may yet set a record price. For the moment, however, the Brasher doubloon, a gold coin minted in 1787 by New York jeweler Ephrain Brasher, has got a firm grip on the record.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing's search for hidden marks on recent U.S. stamps is continuing at the rate of four stamps a week but with no discoveries, a spokeswoman said.
The Bureau launched the review in mid-August after it was disclosed that a tiny Star of David had been secretly etched on the $1 stamp honoring Bernard Revel, a Hebrew educator and founder of Yeshiva University.
As of mid-November the Bureau reported its staff had reexamined the dies for 47 of the 217 stamps produced since 1980 that will be examined. At the current rate, that means it will be about 42 weeks before the review is completed.
Bill McAllister is a reporter on The Post's national staff.