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|Fakes and Replicas|
Cast Contermporary Counterfeit of 1820 Halfcrown
Immitation Sovereign with Arabic Countermarks
Replicas are generally reproductions of coins made for those who cannot afford or do not want to go to the expense of purchasing the real coin. They are not made with the intention to deceive collectors, although certain replicas, such as the electrotypes of Robert Ready, can be quite convincing.
Westair Reproductions Limited are a major manufacture of replicas, and their products can often be found for sale in museum shops, the initials 'WRL' identifying the origin of these replicas, can be found stamped prominently on one side, to make it even more obvious that they are not real coins.
The contemporary counterfeit is a 'coin' which is or was produced at the same time that the coin it is based on was in circulation. Sometimes, these coins can be quite convincing, but most are not. In earlier times, a coin's value was closely related to the value of its metal content, so the counterfeiter had to make his forgeries of a lesser fineness (or lesser precious metal content) in order for it to be worth his while making them in the first place. For this reason, an older contemporary counterfeit will usually be the wrong weight and/or thickness for its type.
Contemporary Counterfeit production is still a major problem today, and is by far the most common type of coin fake production. In Britain, the manufacturing of fake pound coins is a serious problem, with as many as 1 in 32 pound coins being counterfeit. Weight is a useful but not always reliable indicator in modern times, as the intrinsic metal value of the average circulating coin is already considerably less than its face value, and can be manufactured profitably using a similar or even higher quality alloy to the one used in genuine coins.
These fakes are often the most dangerous type of fake, as they are made with the specific intention of deceiving collectors and even dealers. Fortunately, most of these are easy to spot, especially the tourist fakes that are often bought in places like Greece, Turkey and Egypt from pedlars selling their wares near ancient sites. However, some fakes are dangerous even to highly experienced dealers. One example of this is the notorious Black Sea Horde, produced by a Bulgarian master forger who created over 1,000 fake Appolonia Pontika Diobals which were sold to a German dealer and went undetected for years. Fakes this good are, fortunately, an extremely rare occurrence.
Methods of Fake Production:
Forgers have many different methods of manufacturing fakes, and fakes can often be detected by those familiar with the characteristics of these methods of manufacture. The various methods have their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to producing convincing fakes, and serious collectors would do well to familiarise themselves with them.
Casting involves pouring molten metal into a die of two halves and then pulling the two halves apart to remove the finished product. Casting moulds are often produced by impressing a genuine coin into the die (sometimes something as crude as wet sand) in order to replicate the style of the coin without being a master engraver.
Fortunately for us, although the style is replicated faithfully, a copy loses its sharpness, and looks weak and washed out compared to the original. In addition, casting almost inevitably causes trapped air bubbles to form, which shows up as pitting on the surface of the fake. In addition, cast fakes often display a seam around the edge, as the result of the die being made up of two halves, and a sprue, were the molten metal was poured into the die will often be evidence. Forgers will usually try to remove evidence of seams and sprues by filing them down, but this will itself leave evidence of filing that the experienced numismatist will be able to detect.
Some cast fakes will be more convincing than others, but with experience, most cast fakes will become easy to detect. It should however, be borne in mind that some genuine coins, such as the Aes Grave coins of the early Roman Republic, were cast, quite obviously so, and should not simply be dismissed as fakes on this basis alone.
This process involves electroplating a mould, usually of wax or lead, of a coin using electrolysis to deposit the metal onto the mould. Each side needs to be done separately, and the two halves are then glued or soldered together, which usually leaves evidence of a seam around the edge. At first glance, the finished product can look very convincing, with a faithfully reproduced style, without evidence of pitting and without the 'washed out' appearance evident in most cast replicas. However, this production method makes almost impossible to get to the correct weight (the two halves, when soldered together result in a hollow product which must be filled, usually with a different substance, and very difficult to achieve without leaving air bubbles that will also affect the weight). In addition, the reproduction will fail the 'ring' test (the sound produced when gently tapping a genuine coin by the edge compared to the sound made be a replica).
Most electrotypes were not made with the intention to deceive collectors, but were made to use as educational items for those who could not afford, or were not willing to buy a real coin of that type. Robert Ready, an employee of the British Museum in the 19th century, used to produce electrotypes for members of the public or for institutions on demand. His electrotypes are collectable in their own right and are identifiable by the initials 'RR' stamped on the edge of his replicas.
Despite being cosmetically convincing at first glance, electrotyping is not a particularly dangerous method of fake production, because they are relatively easy to detect by the inevitable seam around the edge and are noticeably light weight compared to that of a genuine coin.
False Die Striking:
Obstensibly, this method would seem to be the best way of making convincing forgeries, and in many ways, it is. It is difficult to garner information using the difference in methods of manufacture, because they are often struck in almost exactly the same way as their genuine counterparts, resulting in the kind of flow lines and other features that one would expect from a coin struck either by hand or by a mechanical minting press. These coins, often made of the correct or very similar alloy, can also be of the correct weight and 'ring true'.
However, the problem with this method is that the original die engravers are usually long since dead, and no matter how good an artist is, copying the style of another is incredibly difficult, like trying to replicate exactly somebody else's signature. To put it another way, if Michaelangelo or some other very talented painter had tried to copy Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, he would have painted it in a subtly different way using his own unique style that would have been detectable to an art specialist familiar with the differences in their methods of painting.
Some engravers are extremely talented, and the most talented fake die engravers, such as Carl Becker (1772 – 1830), have produced fakes that are very collectable in their own right. However, to a specialist in a particular coin type, even the products of the most talented false die engraver are detectable by their subtle difference in style from the original.
Although these fakes are often excellent, they are usually of the rarest and priciest coin types, because they are quite expensive and time-consuming to produce and the average coin collector will not have to worry about them. For those who do collect these rare coin types, they are much more likely to be closely scrutinised by genuine expert specialists and detected. The more times a coin changes hands, the more likely they are to be spotted, which is one reason why many collectors are keen to collect coins with an established pedigree.
Often, the false dies have been manufactured using modern machine tools, rather than hand engraved, as was the case with many older coins, particularly ancient ones. This can be detected by a specialist who is familiar with the tell-tale signs of machine tool engraving. This technique is somewhat less useful in detecting fakes of coins produced in more modern times whose dies were manufactured using machine tools.
The term 'restrike' is often used as a euphemism, when a more appropriate term would be 'replica', because they are not, as the term might imply, produced using the original dies. They are not generally sold with an obvious intention to deceive, and can quite easily be filtered out by any collector with some basic knowledge. However, genuine restrikes also exist, struck using the original dies sometime after the original issue. Usually, dies are destroyed after they have worn out or when the production run of that particular coin type or variety has finished. If not, the dies are usually kept securely under lock and key so that they cannot be used again to produce restrikes without authorisation by the Mint responsible, which is not usually forthcoming. However, one exception to this is the copper cartwheel issues of 1797, which were restruck using the original dies during the Victorian period. These restrikes can be identified by the impression left by rust spots on the original dies, which were not present when they were used in 1797-1799, when the original coins were struck.
Who Manufactures Fakes?
If a coin is a replica, they are often made by reputable companies making an honest living as they are not intended to deceive. As has already been discussed, even the British Museum has engaged in the practice of manufacturing electrotype replicas in the past.
However, many fakes are intended to deceive, and surprisingly, in some countries, this is perfectly legal. These days, the People's Republic of China is a notorious hotbed of fake production, and fakes are produced literally on an industrial scale in factories that operate openly and 'legitimately'. Although producing fakes with the intention of selling them as genuine coins is illegal, they can be sold as 'replicas', although they are clearly marketed to sell to those of questionable integrity who do intend to sell them on as something that they are not. A simple search on Ebay will uncover many sellers from China and nearby countries selling fake coins, often with strenuous disclaimers to avoid any harsh legal consequences, but it is difficult to think of any real reason why these people could make a reasonable living offering bulk purchases of unmarked and non-obvious replicas to people who didn't have nefarious intentions.
Many ancient fakes are created to sell to tourists in places like Egypt, Greece and other places were the honest selling of antiquities is banned or severely restricted, these fakes are usually obvious to experienced collectors, but to the uninitiated, they can appear convincing.
In our own particular specialist area, sovereigns, there exist many types of fakes. Contemporary counterfeits are fairly easy to detect, because they will not have the correct gold content and will either be too light or too thick. The Spanish platinum forgeries (produced when platinum was less valuable than gold) are one exception to this however, as they will be close to the correct weight, or even slightly heavier, but these forgeries are so scarce that they are often more valuable than the coins that they are based on.
The fake sovereigns produced after Britain came off the gold standard in 1932 can be slightly more problematic however, because once inflation had created a large gap between the sovereign's face value and its intrinsic value, counterfeiters had a good reason to create sovereigns that were at, close or even more than the intrinsic gold worth of a genuine sovereign, because of the premium that sovereigns commanded over their intrinsic worth due to their popularity throughout the world as a trusted bullion coin.
Many sovereign fakes emanate from the Middle East, were the sovereign still circulates today as a popular bullion coin. Most of these fakes are obvious, and are stamped with Arabic numerals or other marks indicating the fact that they are replicas, due to the often extremely harsh penalties for counterfeiting, however, others are more deceptive, and have to be examined more closely.
How to Avoid Fakes:
Differences in style, colour, weight, appearance and even die axis can hint at coin's authenticity or lack thereof. However, there are variables to take into consideration and even genuine coins can have unusual aspects.
The best way to avoid buying fakes is to buy from reputable sources, and to gain experience by handling and seeing as many coins as possible from your particular field of interest. Education is also a key factor, and many authors have written useful books and articles on the subject of fake coins. We would recommend Wayne G Sayles, Dr Ilya Prokopov and Ken Peters, all of whom have produced useful and informative sources on the subject of fake coins that are invaluable to the serious collector. On the subject of sovereigns, goldsovereigns.co.uk contains useful tracts on fake sovereigns and how to avoid them. Remember that fakes are very rare compared to genuine coins, and with knowledge, experience, and a predisposition towards buying from reputable sources, you can minimise the risk of buying fake coins.
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