I was born a collector,” says Abdo Ayoub, the man who has put together the world’s largest collection of Lebanese Lira notes. Since 1985 the former Sleep Comfort co-owner has collected more than 500,000 individual banknotes, all issued as legal tender in Lebanon between 1920 and the present day.
As a youngster he hoarded his weekly Tintin newspaper comics before moving onto stamps, filling some 800 albums. Ayoub also holds one of just 23 complete Michelin Guide collections, dating back to 1900 and including an ultra rare edition issued by US military intelligence in 1939. The last full collection sold for 60,000 euros.
Valuing Ayoub’s cash cache would be a mammoth task, but with some of his more rare notes worth more than $15,000 alone, the figure is likely to be staggering.
This decidedly Lebanese collection comes from surprisingly cosmopolitan sources, including archives at the Banque du France, auction houses in London and paper money conventions in Italy and Belgium.
The majority of the collection is carefully catalogued and stashed in neat boxes around Ayoub’s cavernous library. Not content with just one example of each of the lira’s many manifestations, the consummate collector has hundreds of each, preserved sequentially in neat display books. Dusty stacks of notes still lie on the library floor, awaiting their carefully catalogued home.
Although the most recent addition arrived just a month ago, Ayoub says that after 25 years he’s winding down his collecting and looking to sell some 15,000 of his rarest specimens to a bank or museum.
One hole remains, however: a 1920 LL100 note, worth around $100,000 today due to its immense rarity. “I don’t think we’ll ever find that one,” says Ayoub. “It’s already 90 years ago.”