|READ THIS WELL!: Coins shown on this page are modern fakes made to fool collectors or tourists. They should not be confused with ancient imitations, barbaric copies or other forms of collectable items. The contents of this page will do almost nothing to protect you from fake coins. The ONLY safe way to avoid fakes is to buy from a trustworthy dealer who guarantees his coins FOR LIFE. Fake ancient coins are not really a serious problem and not nearly as prevalent as fakes of modern coins. Do not be afraid to collect coins; collect coins wisely. A few of the major types of obvious fakes are represented on this page. None of these are dangerous IF you arm yourself with a little knowledge and a healthy realization that there are many types, many much more deceptive, not covered on this (or any) page.
We will begin with a fake I find to be particularly painful. I bought it from a respected dealer who should have known better. I was a beginner searching for junk coins in a bargain box at a show. When I handled this coin, the dealer said that it was a rare item. I said "Clodius Albinus". He complimented me and lowered the price to $8 as a reward. When I got home and looked at the coin more carefully I discovered that it was lead painted with copper paint. The next time I saw that dealer at a show, I told him about the coin to hear him reply, "It was still worth what you paid for it." I believe that the dealer did not know he was selling me a bad coin and thought he was being funny with his smart comeback. I did not press him to accept the return but now, years down the road, I buy from him only when I really want the coin and am convinced that it is good. Notes requesting the name of that dealer will be ignored. Don't waste your time asking. What is the moral of this story? Buy coins from dealers you trust.
L to R (top row) Augustus, Augustus, Caligula
(2nd) Nero Claudius Drusus, Pertinax, Pescennius Niger
(3rd) Septimius Severus, Gordian I, Gordian II
(bottom) Trajan Decius, Herennia Etruscilla, Alexander the Great
Our next group of fakes are what are called 'Slaveis' after the man who openly produces them. I have heard that he claims to make replicas for use in jewelry rather than to deceive. Since they are NOT marked as copies and do not have a obverse reverse orientation that would allow both sides to be 'up' when mounted, I am not sure I believe this claim. Some of his coins are better than others, I have heard that his Greek and late Roman are even better but I have little experience with them other than the Alexander shown here (I hope). All of the above are struck on flans thinner than appropriate. All are struck with great force giving sharp detail but none really have proper fine detail in the hair. This is shown well in the enlarged portrait of the Caligula. Most copy rather rare coins. The common Emperors are represented by rare varieties. The Septimius Severus is ordinary except for the bust wearing an aegis; the Trajan Decius is very rare as a denarius. Portraits are all quite recognizable as their subjects but the styles are still a bit off. I see more of a problem with the coins of the Emperors I know best than with the others so I suspect all are similarly off base to someone who really knows the subject. Reverse figures tend to be proportioned realistically even when the real coins would not have been (especially the Pescennius Niger). All are struck on flans of similar fabric in the same metal. This is rumored to be from melting down old European base silver coins. The first century copies are too base while the Pescennius Niger is much too fine. It is interesting that an attempt was made to duplicate the diameters of the coins with the Augustus being much wider than the later coins. Bright silver when I got them, these samples are starting to tone. A little larceny and dirt could make them look much 'better'. The complaint of poor hair detail could be masked if the copies are subjected to natural wear. I strongly suspect that there are people out there with a pocketful of these planning to sell them to you in a few years. Caveat Emptor.
This Gela tetradrachm has been the subject of more inquiries to me than any other 'coin' since I have started this site. This particular copy was produced as an advertisement for a book on Ancient Greece and was sent to thousands of addresses glued to a paper ad. My memory tells me that this was a Reader's Digest book but the correctness of this memory and the date will require confirmation. Please help if you recall this promotion or bought the book they advertised. (Thanks to the friend who sent me a picture of two of these glued to a paper calling them 'golden coins' but not identifying the book. I still need help here.) The copy is clearly stamped 'copy' but many I have seen have been scraped to remove these recessed letters. The item was produced by casting and no effort was made to remove the seams along the edges where the two halves of the mold were joined. Our illustration includes edge images of two examples. The characteristic loss of sharpness and bubbled surface of cast fakes are clear on these coins. About the thickness and diameter of a US quarter, these copies are much too thin for the Gela coins they imitate. The pot metal castings were treated to produce a dark patina. Since the item was clearly marked and circulated as a copy, there can be no fault found with the publisher. Unfortunately, a percentage of these found their way into hands of persons with larceny in mind. They are often seen for sale in antique shops.
I suspect the Widow's mite was produced for a purpose similar to the Gela above. There is a considerable demand for coins mentioned in the Bible and that includes both deceptive fakes and legitimate replicas like this one. It is clearly marked 'copy' and looks nothing like the average miserable little lepton. In fact it is so good that, if genuine, it would be worth big money. It is too round and too well struck showing too much detail. This copy made no attempt to deceive. It looks like what the original designer had in mind but was not able to realize given the production techniques available to him. These are seen with the 'copy' scraped away and dirtied up a bit but still are too round and bold to be really deceptive.
Only slightly more deceptive is this unmarked cast fake of a denarius of Nero. It is a fake with a long pedigree. The die was cut by the 19th century master Karl Becker but his struck originals are much better than this. The type was carried on in the 20th century by the faker Peter Rosa whos products were sold as replicas in more than one level of quality and metal. The 'pot' metal here is silvery but not silver. Fuzzy detail and surface pock marks betray the item as a cast. Interestingly, this coin weighs 3.14 g which is the average for real coins of this type. Persons who rely on scales alone to spot fakes will not always be safe. The edge of this coin shows no sign of a casting seam or file marks to remove them. Once upon a time this coin would have fooled me as good. After handling a few thousand denarii, I consider this one obvious. Experience is a great teacher.
Even worse is this tourist grade fake of a denarius of Septimius Severus. Why would anyone go to the trouble of faking a common denarius? This level of fake is sold to tourists by merchants and children in the Mediterranean. The surfaces are badly impaired with casting bubbles and there is an overall fuzziness to the details. The edges bear a weak seam where the two halves of the mold were joined. No effort was made to remove the seam. File marks going around the edge would be equally suspicious. The metal is not silver but has white metal content to give a gray color. A dark patina was applied chemically and the reverse shows a layer of dirt that is missing from the obverse. The fakers put some effort into this coin but poor detail and the seam give it away. Since it is unmarked and artificially toned to look old I assume it was made to be sold as a genuine coin. It should fool no collector with even a little experience handling genuine coins.
The hoard consisted of two varieties - both diobols about 1.15g. Shown at the left above is the coin of Mesembria (450-350 BC) with obverse type of an empty helmet and reverse of a wheel with legend META. At the right is the diobol of Apollonia Pontica (400-350 BC) showing a facing head of Apollo and reverse with anchor and crayfish. But here's the catch! One of my coins is definitely a fake from the hoard. I bought it as a fake for $5 and it screams 'fake' according to the guidelines later published to help us distinguish hoard coins. The other coin cost me $74 and was sold as genuine 'not hoard' by a dealer I trusted back then (but that is no longer in business so I'm stuck if we were wrong). Which is which? I'm not going to tell you. If you want to know, do the research, compare the coins to all the photos and read all the hints. What I am going to tell you is that no one should buy either of these coins without doing the research AND patronizing a trusted dealer who not only guarantees his coins but who actually can explain to you the difference between the good and the bad. This is tough love time, folks. A lot of collectors lost a lot of money on these coins. If you are foolish enough to follow in their footsteps after being warned, so be it. It gets worse. A decade after these two coins were establised as fakes we started seeing other types in other denominations from the Black Sea region. It seems the regional passtime of choice was die engraving and some were pretty good at it. Now, in 2012, I am a bit hesitant to buy any coin of the Black Sea region without doing a little extra research and talking heart to heart with a dealer who I believe has done 100 times the research and is a power of ten better equipped to protect me than I am myself. Am I of the opinion that the guys that cut these dies ONLY faked Black Sea coins? No, I'm sure some of them are getting better at making fake coins of other types. It might be a good time to study hard and deal with a trustworthy dealer on all purchases. Will we do that? Probably not but it would be a good idea if our #1 goal is fake avoidance.
Our next fake is actually a fake of a fake. During the Renaissance, ancient coins were quite popular. Fine artists including (but not limited to) Giovanni Cavino (1500-1570) in Padua, Italy, produced medallions copying or inspired by rare ancient originals. As a class these replicas are termed 'Paduans'. Original Cavinos are worth good money as art in their own right. This is a cast replica of a Paduan original. Like other casts the detail is fuzzy with some bubbles seen on the surface. This coin has been tooled lightly to smooth the fields but the lack of crisp detail is obvious in the letters. The edge seam was removed and replaced with a fine stipple which looks better than the usual coarse file marks but still is not really deceptive. At 34mm, this copy is smaller than a genuine medallion of this period (usually about 40mm). Still it is an attractive item and frequently sold to the unsuspecting. A genuine medallion in this condition would be worth thousands of dollars. Collectors need to be wary of bargain medallions with poor detail and 'funny' edges.
Not all casts are modern products made to fool coin collectors. The arid sands of Egypt have yielded clay molds once used by counterfeiters to produce fake coins with the intention of them passing for current money in the marketplace. I regret I do not have an example of one of these to show but I do have an obvious cast coin that certainly appears to be the product of such an operation. This coin really does not belong on this page because, at least I hope, it is ancient but just unofficial. It shares a lot of characteristics with modern 'tourist' cast fakes made to fool those who do not know better and I may be perfectly wrong in saying it is ancient. Either way it shows a lot of the most diagnostic signs of a cast: porous suffaces, fuzzy detail and a definite place on the edge where the metal entered the mold and was later separated from the sprue. Will I ever know for certain when this item was cast. Unlikely.
Our next item is a thing of beauty and, if genuine, worth a lot of money. Unfortunately it is just as cast as the preceeding two coins. It is just a better job so the poor details and casting bubbles are not nearly as evident. It also lacks an edge seam as shown on the Septimius Severus denarius or a doctored edge as shown on the medallion. It does, however have two points that condemns it without question. The style is not Roman as used in 193 AD but more of the spirit of the early modern era. Perhaps it is not as old as the Paduan period but the original from which it was made was original artwork by a sculptor of the 16th to 19th centuries when Roman coins were flattered by imitations to fill holes in collections of the wealthy (whether they knew they were copies or not is another question). Second, the patina is painted on. The color and texture is not what you get from being buried in the ground but what comes out of a paint can. Genuine sestertii of this type sometimes do show a remnant of the casting of their blanks so the edge irregularity is not completely certainly to be a third sign (but it is hardly a point in the coin's favor). I have sought in vain a listing of this coin but it is not among the known Paduans or other big name copyists. It is, however, decent work. It should not fool anyone with a background in coins of this period and coins as valuable as Divus Pertinax sestertii should not be purchased from anyone lacking that background. I paid about 1% of what the real coin would be worth. Was I a fool?
This coin should scare you. I bought it in August 2012 from a dealer who thought it was genuine. I did, too, until I touched it and some of the patina came off on my hands. Looking closer, I saw a few raised balls of metal ('pearls' - including the one in the inset) that are sometimes diagnostic of certain mold making prosseses. Do not confuse the knots on the tails of the ribbons that secure the emperor's headgear. They are OK. The one I'm pointing out is just above the P in IMP. That made me curious so I went to the Forvm Ancient Coins Fake Reports and found an exact duplicate of my coin.
The listing provided the information that this fake was produced by lost wax casting. Now that I look at it using my 20-20 hindsight the coin strikes me as obviously bad but I sure bit on it when I bid! As it happened I only paid $18.50 which the seller kindly refunded. Perhaps the lesson here was worth $18.50. You might ask a couple questions here: "Should I be looking up every late Roman under $20 coin I buy to be sure it isn't in the Fake Reports?" Well, those reports are a great resource and they might help you avoid mistakes like this. "How does someone make a living selling such good copies of such cheap coins?" I have a little trouble with that one, myself but point out that $20 is a lot of money for a nickel's worth of copper and this one got caught because they made more than one that could be compared with each other. I wonder if the fakers might make fewer of the coins they plan to sell for $10,000? We can't let coins like this make us afraid to take part in the hobby but we can let their existence make us tread a little more carefully when we reach for our wallets.
My next fake I bought knowing full well it was a fake. Actually the correct term is 'fantasy' because it does not copy anything that really exists or ever existed. Technically, I believe it is a genuine ancient coin. What it is not is a coin of Zenobia whose name appears on it. There are so many mistakes here that the coin becomes funny but I consider it a work of art and a document in the sociological history of numismatics. The coin started out life as a Roman as, probably of the Flavian period (?) but was "tooled" or reengraved to bear Zenobia's legends. The cutter apparently knew that Zenobia had no asses of the Roman style (and certainly not of 1st century style!) so the legend was cut in Greek. The original Spes reverse coin had SC in the field which would be inappropriate for a Provincial coin so the cutter changed them a bit (but I'm less than clear on what the intent was here). The portrait was altered to look like someone's concept of Zenobia. I wish I were more clear on whether the excellent nose was from the original coin or was the work of the tooler. The coin is obviously bad in so many ways. It is so bad that it is 'good'. Why did I buy it? A numismatist of considerable note said that collectors like to to have coins in their collection that their friends don't have. Do you have an as of Zenobia? I didn't think so! Seriously, I consider this item's existence to be a statement about our hobby. Someone put a lot of work into creating it. I wonder if they succeeded in selling it to someone with more money than sense (other than me, of course) who actually believed it was a coin of Zenobia? I wonder when it was made? I'll guess the 19th century but that is a guess. When the coin arrived I was thrilled to see it was accompanied by a label showing that it had been submitted for slabbing to a respected expert service who refused it but weighed the coin and provided the label "8.95g Extensively Tooled to change I.D." That someone actually thought enough of the item that they sent it off to be slabbed frightens and amuses me. That it was refused, confirms my faith in the professionalism of one particular service. Why did I buy it? This is a hobby to me. I'm in it for the fun not for the money; not for the fame; not for being able to thumb my nose at my friends none of whom have a Spes as of Zenobia with Greek legends. When it is a hobby, you don't have to take it all that seriously and I got my $15.50 worth of fun out of it already even if it is the silliest fake in my collection.
Our little survey of a few fakes was intended to be entertaining. After reading it, anyone who feels protected from buying fakes is simply a fool. Over 99% of ancient coins offered on the market are actually ancient. Some are ancient fakes, another subject altogether. I have posted pages on this site discussing some of them and consider them very collectable. Considering the 1% that are not ancient: Experience gained by handling thousands of coins will protect you from 99% of coin fakes. That 1% of the 1% will still fool many of us much of the time. Handling many coins will help the beginner learn the characteristics to be expected or avoided. Attending shows where ancient coins are sold is a good opportunity to see and handle coins. Joining an ancient coin club and taking every opportunity to talk to other collectors are both good ideas. Comparing notes about dealers at a club can be very worthwhile. May I repeat: The best protection from fake coins is to buy only from a trusted dealer who offers a lifetime guarantee for refund if a coin is discovered to be fake. Unfortunately there are a few dealers who try to make their product look better by casting doubts on coins purchased from other sources. Time spent talking to dealers will teach you as much about that dealer as about the coins they sell. On the other hand, 99% of ancient coins offered to tourists by rustic locals in the Mediterranean are fakes. In some countries it is illegal to sell a genuine ancient coin but fooling a tourist is almost a national sport. Who said: "A fool and his money are soon parted"?
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(c) 1998 - 2012 Doug Smith