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A fourree is a coin, most often a counterfeit, struck with a base metal core that has been plated with a precious metal to look like its official solid metal counterpart. The term derived from a French word meaning "stuffed,‟ is most applied to ancient silver plated coins such as Roman denarii and Greek drachms, but may be used to describe any plated coin.
The most obvious way to detect a fouree is a plating break exposing the base metal core. Often, however, plating breaks are not immediately obvious and the first indicator that coin is a counterfeit is unofficial style. The style of the Maximinus I Thrax denarius above is very different from that of an official Roman mint denarius. On this coin the copper core is clearly visible. Not all ancient counterfeits are fourree but coins with odd style should be closely examined under magnification to search for plating breaks and signs of a base metal core.
Copper and bronze are lighter (lower density) than silver and gold. Fourrees are almost always underweight. Although the style of the Athens new style tetradrachm above is quite good, on par with the official Athens mint, it weighs only 14.463g. That is more than two grams below the normal weight for the type. Plating breaks are clearly visible on both sides. Underweight silver, gold and electrum coins should be closely examined to determine if they are plated.
As soon as there were coins, there were forgers, counterfeits and fourree. The coin above is an ancient fourree electrum plated counterfeit 1/24 stater from Ionia, c. 650 - 600 B.C. This type was the very earliest form of coinage; a type-less (blank) electrum globule, weighed to a specific standard, with a simple square punch mark on one side. Signs of a base core are visible under a microscope. This coin was very closely examined, and the base core discovered, because it is underweight.
Ancient coins were often chiseled or test cut to ensure they were not plated. In Athens this testing became official policy. "To deal with [counterfeits], the Athenians passed a law in 375/4 B.C. which provided for a dokimastes or 'tester ' to sit near the banking tables in the Agora and in the market of Peiraieus. The judgment of this official as to the authenticity of any disputed piece was final. Any owl which was of silver and correct weight, whether it was struck in Athens or at a foreign mint, had to be accepted in commerce. Counterfeit pieces, on the other hand, were slashed by the dokimastes, withdrawn from circulation and dedicated to the Mother of the Gods. Such counterfeit owls have, in fact, been found near the Metroon, sanctuary of the Mother of the Gods." -- Greek and Roman Coins in the Athenian Agora, American School of Classical Studies at Athens (Princeton, NJ), 1975.
Silver fourrees are much more common than gold and electrum fourrees, presumably because genuine silver coins are much more common, but also because, their value was so high that gold coins were not used for ordinary daily transactions, and they were probably carefully examined each time they were used. Still, some ancient criminal counterfeiters could not resist the temptation, as proven by the Alexander the Great stater above.
Many fourrees seem to have been made by wrapping a blank base metal (usually copper or bronze) flan in two pieces of thin silver foil before striking. One piece of foil was applied on each side and folded over the other side, with the two pieces overlapping around the edge. The Mark Antony legionary denarius fouree above has lost one of the pieces of foil, clearly indicating the technique.
The edges of the foil were usually completely eradicated by the strike, but they are sometimes visible. On the Alexander the Great tetradrachm above, the edges of the foil are visible on the obverse. A number of folded flaps extend almost to the center of the coin.This coin may have been plated with a single piece of foil, rather than two pieces of foil. Most likely the foil edges were less visible when these counterfeits were new. It is also possible to see some foil edges on the gold fourree above. (Did you notice them before?)
Even if a fourree retains its complete silver plate and the foil edges are not visible, it is often possible to detect the plating. The coin above is an extreme example with many raised bumps on the surfaces, resulting from expanding corrosion of the bronze core. On the Alexander the Great tetradrachm above, the lower right on the reverse is raised due to underlying corrosion. (Did you notice it before? Or, are you learning!)
It is often claimed that some fourree were issued by official mints or in official mints after hours by moonlighting mint workers. While this may have happened, it was certainly extremely rare. Mints were were undoubtedly highly guarded and controlled in ancient times, as they still are today. There is, however, one well known verified plated issue by an official mint. Near the end of the Peloponnesian War against Sparta, 406 - 404 B.C., Athens issued silver plated bronze tetradrachms. The coin above is a rare example of this money of necessity or siege coinage, an official fourree. The vast majority of plated Athens tetradrachms are ordinary counterfeits, not from the siege issue. A match to the known official dies used for the issue is necessary for attribution as an official Athens mint plated siege coin. Nearly all fourree are unofficial counterfeits that were struck at illegal criminal mints.
Fourree counterfeits were a significant problem for the Roman Republic. Some denarii were struck with notched (serrated) flans. Perhaps it was just as a fashion, but more likely the extra effort was intended to prevent plated counterfeits. If the purpose was to prevent counterfeiting, the plated T. Vettius Sabinus denarius serratus above shows it was not entirely successful.
Ancient counterfeits often have mismatched obverses and reverses. Transfer dies were made using genuine coins which were destroyed in the process. Since making each die destroyed the coin, the same coin could not be used to make both dies. The destroyed coins were undoubtedly melted to contribute to the silver foil plate. Hybrids, coins with mismatched obverse and reverse types, should be examined for plating. The coin above combines an obverse die of Constantius II, 337 - 361, with a reverse die of Julian II, 360 - 363 A.D. The unlikely hybrid of types from different emperors and issues, the light weight, and the flan flaw on the reverse indicate it is a plated ancient counterfeit. Unlike counterfeit denarii, counterfeit siliqua are very rare. Siliqua are so thin, that striking counterfeits with a bronze core apparently did not provide most potential counterfeiters an economic benefit worth the effort and risk.
Cahn, H. "EIDibus MARtiis" in QT 18 (1989), pp. 229-231, 9a, 20a, and 25b.
Campbell, W. Greek and Roman Plated Coins. ANSNNM 75. (New York, 1933).
Crawford, M. "Plated Coins - False Coins" in NC 1968, pp. 55-59, pl. xiv.
Crawford, M. Roman Republican Coinage. (Cambridge, 1974), vol I., pp. 560-565, vol II, p. 570.
Lawrence, L. "On a Hoard of Plated Roman Denarii" in NC 1940, pp. 185-189.
Sydenham, E. "On Roman Plated Coins" in NC 1940, pp. 190-202.
Sydenham, E. The Coinage of the Roman Republic. (London, 1927 1952). pl. xliii-xliv.
Ancient fourrée coins from the collection of Aaron Emigh
Ancient fourrée coins from the collection of Aaron Emigh: Brockage Fourrées
Reid Goldsborough 's site on ancient coin fourrees
Warren Esty 's Educational Pages: Ancient Imitations of Roman Coins
Warren Esty 's Educational Pages: "Is it a fourrée? How can you tell?"
Doug Smith 's Fourrees page