Fourrees - Plated Coins

Greek Plated Coins

If you have not seen the first parts of this series, please visit my: First Plated Coins page.

To an extent even greater than the Roman, Greek plated coins are a varied lot. With no central coinage authority, Greek cities employed a wide variety of techniques to produce official coinage issues. So did Greek counterfeiters. My personal expertise in Greek coins is far from deep enough to state with authority whether any particular style is correct or not. Workmanship of regular issue coins varied from the highest art to exceedingly crude. When counterfeiters copied the best of Greek coins, the results were often obvious and hideous. Fourrees, however, exist that have style very similar to the issues they mimic. Whether this is evidence of production by the regular mints, I can not say. This drachm of Arados is pleasant and well made.

Larissa - Fourree drachm - 400-344 BC - 5.5g
Compared to Roman coins, many Greek issue were struck with high relief designs. This facing head drachm from Larissa is certainly a fine example. To execute this high relief, great care in flan preparation (heating) and forceful striking was required. These same factors tend to hide the telltale plating seams discussed on the Roman pages. Hidden among the scratches on the reverse of this coin are fine traces of a seam including a place at 5 o'clock where the core is exposed. Wear has revealed the core on the tip of the nose and on some edge beads on the obverse. If the dies used to produce this coin were not official, they seem well done.

Not all Greek fourrees are so attractive. This Athenian tetradrachm is a horrid fake. It was cast from a mold made from a real coin so the style is acceptable. Surface bubbles and loss of sharpness betray it as a cast fake. This loss of sharpness was made worse by dipping the cast in molten eutechtic alloy to achieve plating. Since the 72% AR/CU alloy melts at a lower temperature than copper, the coin itself was not melted in the process. The coin used for a master for this process bore test cuts on Athena's neck and on the face of the owl. Since these were in place before the coin was plated, there is silver at the bottom of the cuts. The counterfeiter probably hoped that these cuts would be accepted as evidence the coin was solid. A much better (foil technique) fourree owl was discussed on a page of its own. Athens provides the one documented example of production of official fourrees. A silver shortage at the end of the Peloponnesian War (c.405 BC) required the production of plated silver coins. Neither of the two examples discussed here date to that emergency. Many coin dealers (whether through ignorance or deceit?) claim there plated owls to be 'Emergency Issues'. The fact remains that there are fourree owls from every period of Athenian coinage but only those showing the proper style for that one year can lay claim to being 'Emergency' coins. I regret I have none to show. This terrible cast was probably made to circulate far from Athens where the actually appearance of real coins might not be known. Such items are commonly found in the Middle East. In common with the 'real' Emergency coins, this cast (12.6g) made no attempt to meet proper weight standards. The better fourree owl, probably made closer to home, was struck slightly oversize so the weight (16.5g) would be nearly correct for a solid silver coin.

Hellenistic Greek silver is also found plated. This tetradrachm of Ptolemy VI dated 162/1 BC (LK) with Paphos mintmark was thickly plated by the foil technique. A seam shows near the edge of the obverse and several plating breaks expose core on the portrait. The thick silver on this coin withstood wear well but spotty corrosion of the core probably produced bubbles like that shown on the Trajan denarius shown on the Imperial page. Such eruptions leave many plated coins ugly compared to their original appearance. Cleaning a plated coin is a risky matter. It is easy to make them look even worse by removing even more silver. Corrosion of the cores have left some fourrees as delicate hollow shells.

Plated coins are found across the coin issuing 'Greek' world. There are fourrees of Celtic Britain, Spain (left above), the Eastern Empires (left below) and most, if not all, of the coining authorities of Greece itself. Some issues are so commonly found plated that we suspect that they were officially issued. Unfortunately, other than the Athenian 'Emergency' discussed above, we lack documentation of this. For collectors, it is best to consider plated coins as interesting ancient sidelights but not official unless there is specific evidence that points to their being products of the government rather than counterfeiters. All plated coins sold should be clearly identified as such! The market value of these items is much less than solid items. This discount can be as much as 99% depending on the attractiveness (or ugliness) of a given specimen. In most cases, fourrees are much less common than the same issue in solid silver but this rarity does not impart any value to the coin to collectors. However ancient and interesting, a peeling and ugly fourree is considered untouchable by the majority of collectors. Perfect specimens with absolutely no core exposure are worth less than half the price of a solid coin. In recent years there has been an increase of interest in this sideline of collecting ancient coins but I encourage those wishing to participate in that speciality to use common sense when buying coins with so limited a market for potential resale. Let us be clear: Fourrees are not recommended as investment items for those interested in capital gain.
Segobriga, Spain - Fourree drachm
204-154 BC - 3.0g
Persian Empire - Fourree siglos
450-330 BC - 4.1g

Kroton - SOLID silver stater - c.300 BC or later? - 6.7g

An important point regarding plated coins is made by this stater of Kroton. Some solid coins have been mistakenly condemned as plated. The flaws shown on this coin were caused by the removal of corrosion or horn silver from the coin. This exfoliated the denser surface layer of the coin and exposed the spongier center. Striking places considerable stress on the surface of coins resulting in a distinction between the surface and core. Some mints made this worse by 'pickling' flans in an acid bath that leeched away base metals from the surface layer. The resulting purified silver layer was compacted by striking leaving a fine silver surface over a less pure silver core. This could make an 80-90% silver flan appear to be 100% silver. Some, but not all, mints used these 'pickled' flans. The technique would have no effect on the pure silver used by the best mints but could improve greatly the product when using lesser quality silver. I can not state for certain that the technique was used on this coin. The coins is a bit underweight as appropriate considering the loss of metal to the cleaning process. I disagree with the (now out of business for reasons more serious than not being able to tell a plated coin!) major dealer who sold this coin as fourree. Other solid silver coins encrusted with copper deposits have been sold, incorrectly, as plated. To be fourree, the copper needs to be on the inside and the silver outside, not vice-versa.

Unless I miss my guess few people who started this series will make it to this point on the page. I realize my ramblings on coins will bore most people. I have fun with my hobby. If you are interested only in the investment value of your coins, I can not imagine why you read this far. This 4th century BC fourree drachm of Kalchedon is peeled to a point of true ugliness but even here a true coin fanatic can find beauty or interest. The enlargement shows a point of core exposure on the reverse (5 o'clock). Did you ever look at clouds and see figures in the shapes? My mother taught me this game and I hope someday my daughter passes it on to grandchildren yet unborn. The game can be played with fourrees. Here I see a pretty little Celtic horse facing left. Do you? I would love to hear from anyone who read this far and has any ideas for how I can improve my pages. Meanwhile, have fun with your coins. If you don't, you might as well have put your money in an investment more likely to provide a positive return (stocks?).

Please visit the other two parts of this series:
Republican/Imperatorial Plated Coins
Roman Imperial Plated Coins

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An excellent book on this subject complete with great micro-photographs is: Campbell, William, Greek and Roman Plated Coins, Numismatic Notes and Monographs No. 57, American Numismatic Society, 1933. Numismatic used book sellers often have it.

1997 Doug Smith