Clara Semple, author of 'A Silver Legend: The Story of the Maria Theresa Thaler' will visit the Society to discuss one of the most remarkable and distinctive coins ever known, the beautiful silver thaler or dollar of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria that was first minted in 1741. For nearly two hundred years this coin with its portrait of the voluptuous Queen circulated throughout Arabia and the Horn of Africa - countries which at that time had no currency of their own. It became enormously popular as a trusted and indispensable medium of exchange.
The Maria Theresa thaler, however, was much more than simply a coin of trade. It played a crucial part in the dowry payments during marriage and was much prized by women as a component in jewellery and also as an amulet to protect the wearer from the evil eye. On account of its high silver content, it was a vital source of silver in the making of the much-coveted traditional jewellery. From Kuwait to Kano millions of thalers were melted down to satisfy the demand for silver ornaments of every kind.
Travellers’ accounts from the 19th and 20th century give vivid insights into its use as well as the difficulties and frustrations of transporting heavy sacks of coins across high mountains and vast deserts. Consular reports and government records reveal its involvement not only in commercial ventures but in military expeditions and diplomatic intrigues. Such was the demand for it abroad that the Vienna mint continued to produce the Maria Theresa thaler long after the death of the Empress in 1780 although all subsequent issues bore that date frozen in perpetuity. To this day this legendary coin is still being minted in Vienna no longer for use as currency but as a collector’s item and it is still to be found in the marketplaces throughout the Arabian Peninsula.