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XXI

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Ancient Coin Authentication 101

Know the Coin or Know the Seller

If you are a new collector, do not expect to immediately learn to authenticate ancient coins. Many fakes are obvious but some are very difficult to detect. It is impossible to authenticate most ancient coins from photos. An important mantra of ancient coin collecting is, "know the coin or know the seller." This means you should either know the coin is genuine based on your own expertise OR know the seller is reputable, with expertise and a guarantee of authenticity without time limit. As a new collector, you do not need expertise, you do not need to fear buying fakes, but you should only be buying from reputable ancient coins dealers.

New collectors do not need to be able to authenticate coins but they must avoid buying from dealers they do not know are reputable and have the expertise to authenticate ancient coins. Most modern coin dealers lack the expertise to authenticate ancient coins. Pawn shops, yard sales, flee markets, etc. do not usually have the expertise to authenticate ancient coins. A reputable ancient coin specialist dealer will offer a guarantee without time limit. 

New collectors should avoid unknown eBay sellers. Feedback on eBay is NOT a useful indicator of a seller's reliability or expertise. Buyers completely unaware they have purchased a fake  ancient coin will leave glowing praise. If a buyer returns a fake coin, negative  feedback is removed. Many fake sellers have high feedback. See our list of eBay frauds using the link below.

FORVM's Notorious Fake Sellers List (NFSL)

Want To Buy AUTHENTIC ANCIENT COINS With Confidence? Buy from Forum Ancient Coins!

See Our Silver Coins Priced Under $100!
See All Our Coins Priced Under $50!

Forum Ancient Coins Authentication Resources

Dr. Ilya Prokopov's Fake Coin Report Study Images

Start here to learn some signs that an ancient coin might be fake...

Is it a Real Ancient Coin?

The following questions should be asked when authenticating an ancient coin...

Does the style match the expectations for the type?  (Strange style may mean pressed or struck with modern dies.)
Does the metal match expectations for the type?  (Many replicas are made in a different metal than the genuine original.)
Does the fabric match expectations for the type (thick, thin, squared, oval, round, etc.)?
Does this coin have the expected edge for the type (ragged, with or without sprues, beveled, straight, etc.)?
Does the strike match expectations for the type (weak, strong, even, uneven, centered, off center)?  (Perfect on a type that is almost never perfect needs close examination.)
Do the flow lines match expectations for the type with similar die wear?  (Particularly for some Roman silver, the more apparent die wear, the stronger the flow lines should be.)
Does it have edge cracks and splits within normal expectations for the type?  (Too few for the type may indicate casting. Too many for the type may be a sign of machine pressing.)
Does the weight fall within expectations for the type? (Some types are never light. Some often are, but underweight is still a reason for a closer look.)
Does it have casting bubbles?
Does it have casting pearls from bubbles in a mold created by casting?
Does it have a ghost line indicating the edge of an original coin used to make the mold?
Does it have missing legend or parts of the type and indications that it was cost from a mold made with a coin with those parts off flan?
Does it have waves in the fields (from uneven cooling after casting)?
Are the fields unusually flat? (May indicate machine pressing)
Does it have filing on the edge? (Filling often indicates an effort to hide a casting seam).
Does it have a casting or electrotype seam on the edge?
Are the edge cracks and splits real? (Real cracks and splits are rough inside and difficult to fake with casting).
Does it have an unusually high number or larger size edge splits than usual for the type? (May indicate machine pressing).
Does it have tooling?
Does it have a natural patina or an artificial patina?  (A genuine coin may have an "enhanced" patina, but a fake coin will never have a natural patina.)
Does it match any fake in the fake coin reports?
Is the price especially low? If it is on auction, are others not bidding it up to the normal price for the type/quality?
Is the seller also listing other fake or questionable coins (if you suspect one coin, look at the rest of the offerings).
Is it for listed on eBay by a member of the Notorious Fake Seller List (NFSL)?
Is it for sale on eBay and the seller says no returns or has private listings?
Is it for sale on eBay and it is a very rare type or emperor, misattributed as a common coin?

The challenge of authentication is not just knowing what to look for generally, but also knowing what is normal for the particular type.

Ancient Coin Authentication Links

Toronto Group Tracking: http://www.chijanofuji.com/ancientforgeries.html
Athenian Owl Forgeries: http://rg.ancients.info/owls/forgeries.html
Alexander the Great Ancient and Modern Fakes: http://rg.ancients.info/alexander/modern_forgeries.html
Cherresosos Lion Bulgarian School Forgeries: http://rg.ancients.info/cherronesos_bulgaria.html
New York Hoard Counterfeits of Apollonia Pontika Drachms: http://medusacoins.reidgold.com/newyork.html
Parion Hemidrachms, Imitations, and Forgeries: http://medusacoins.reidgold.com/parion.html
Thracian Tetradrachm Forgeries and Replicas: http://thracecoins.reidgold.com/forgery.html
Warren Esty's Fakes Page: http://augustuscoins.com/ed/imit/
Ed Snible's Christodoulos the Counterfeiter  http://www.snible.org/coins/christodoulos/
Ed Snible's Black Sea Hoard (Apollonia Pontika)" Fakes page:  http://www.snible.org/coins/black_sea_hoard.html
Ed Snible's Cast Greek AR? The silver units of Parion in Mysia:  http://www.snible.org/coins/cast.html
Museum Reproductions: https://www.museumreproductions.co.uk/shop/
Westair Reproductions:  http://www.westair-reproductions.com/
Frederic Weber's Forgeries-Fakes: http://www.fredericweber.com/liens_sites_faux.htm
Forgery Network: http://www.forgerynetwork.com/
Calgary Coin Fakes, Forgeries and Counterfeits: http://www.calgarycoin.com/reference/fakes/fakes.htm
Falsificaciones, Reproducciones e Imitaciones de Monedas Antiguas (Spanish):  http://www.imperio-numismatico.com/fake-coins-h49.htm
Estudio Monedas Antiguas Y Falsificatones Study:http://monedas-fake.foroactivo.com/

Fake Ancient Coin References

Abramson, T. Anglo-Saxon Counterfeits: Fakes, Forgeries and Facsimiles, A.D. 600 – 1066. (London, 2011).
Balcer, J. "The archaic coinage of Skyros and the forgeries of Konstantinos Christodoulos" in SNR 1978.
Carson, R. "The Geneva Forgeries" in RNS Numismatic Chronicle, Vol. 18 (1958), pp. 47-58.
Dimitrov, D., I. Prokopov, & B. Kolev. Modern Forgeries of Greek and Roman Coins. (Sofia, 1997).
Estiot, S. "Aurélien et Tacite: monnaies d 'or et faux modernes" in BSFN 9 (1990), pp. 923-7.
Hendin, D. Not Kosher: Forgeries of Ancient Jewish and Biblical Coins. (New York, 2005).
Hill, G. Becker the Counterfeiter. (London, 1924).
Kinns, P. The Caprara Forgeries. (London/Basel, 1984).
Larson, C. Numismatic Forgery. (Irvine, CA, 2004).
Metcalf, W. "A Hoard of Forgeries from Luxor" in Revue Belge de Numismatique CXXII (1976), pp. 65 - 77, pls. 1 - 2.
Prokopov, I. Cast Forgeries of Classical Coins from Bulgaria. (Sofia, 2004).
Prokopov, I. Coin Forgeries and Replicas 2006. (Sofia, 2007).
Prokopov, I. Contemporary Coin Engravers and Coin Masters From Bulgaria "Lipanoff" Studio. (Sofia, 2004).
Prokopov, I., K. Kisyov & E. Paunov. Modern Counterfeits and Replicas of Ancient Greek and Roman coins from Bulgaria. (Sofia, 2003).
Prokopov, I. & R. Manov. Counterfeit Studios and Their Coins. (Sofia, 2005).
Ravel, O. Numismatique Grecque Falsifications. (London, 1946).
Salyes, W. Classical Deception: Counterfeits, Forgeries and Reproductions of Ancient Coins. (Iola, WI, 2001).
Svoronos, J. Christodoulos the Counterfeiter. (Ares Pub, 1974).

Sermarini's Recommended Precise Language of Fake Ancient Coins

When referring to ancient coins...

Fake should only be used when referring to modern copies or ancient coins that have been altered.  A fake patina or modern patina is an intentionally created chemically induced patina.  

Forgery should only be used when referring to modern fakes meant to deceive collectors.  An ancient counterfeit may also be called a forgery but I prefer to use the more specific term counterfeit for forgeries that were intended to circulate as money.  

Replica refers to modern fakes that are not meant to deceive collectors.  

A "tourist fake" is a fake sold by locals at ancient sites, often misrepresented as genuine, but which will not deceive most collectors.  Tourist fakes sometimes do not even remotely resemble a genuine ancient coin type and are often less realistic than replicas.  Before describing a coin as a tourist fake, consider that your comment may insult the owner because it implies they lack basic knowledge and perhaps should have known better.      

Counterfeit should refer to ancient fakes meant to circulate as the genuine original.  Counterfeit is sometimes used to describe modern fakes made to deceive collectors but I prefer to use the term counterfeit only for forgeries intended to circulate as money (ancient forgeries).  For greater clarity "ancient counterfeit" is better than just "counterfeit" and "modern forgery" is better than "modern counterfeit."  

The term "contemporary counterfeit" is sometimes used to describe ancient counterfeits (genuinely ancient coins but from an illegal or unofficial mint).  "Contemporary" has multiple meanings, two of which follow: 1) existing, occurring, or living at the same time, 2) of the present time, modern.  See the problem?  We have received many questions from new collectors confused by the use of the term contemporary.  "Contemporary" should not be used to describe any coin, modern or ancient, official or unofficial.  

To remove any possible confusion, we recommend using the terms "ancient counterfeit" and "modern forgery" and avoiding the terms "contemporary counterfeit," "contemporary forgery," "ancient forgery" and "modern counterfeit."    

A fouree (various spellings possible) is a plated ancient counterfeit (silver plate on a bronze core for example).  A plated modern fake should be called a plated modern fake, plated modern forgery, or a plated replica, but not a fouree.

Imitative refers to ancient coins that copy another type, but which probably were not meant to circulate as the genuine original.  Some imitative types were used as currency in an area outside the area the original coin was issued.  Some may have been used as substitutes for the original coin in areas where coinage was in short supply.  

Barbaric imitative refers to imitative coins of a non-Greek or non-Roman style, usually but not always crude.    

Tooled or tooling refers to mechanical alteration of a coin, for example engraving to change the letters of the legend or to sharpen details of a portrait.  

Smoothed or smoothing refers to a less damaging form of tooling that penetrates beyond the patina and into the metal but which is limited to smoothing rough surfaces. Smoothing does not include strengthening, changing, or creating detail.  

Not Recommended                      Preferred Alternative
contemporary counterfeit                  ancient counterfeit
contemporary forgery                       ancient counterfeit
ancient forgery                                 ancient counterfeit
ancient fake                                     ancient counterfeit or ancient imitative
modern counterfeit                           modern forgery (or fake, or replica)
modern fouree                                 plated modern forgery (or plated fake, or plated replica)




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