The concept of money has been used for many thousands of years. In ancient China, shells were accepted as currency. Some 5,000 years ago, Mesopotamians had a rudimentary banking system where people could “deposit” grains, livestock and personal valuables, for both safe keeping and trade.
The first coins, as we know them today, first appeared about 600 B.C. in Lydia, a kingdom in ancient Greece and now part of modern day Turkey. They featured the stylized head of a lion and were made of electrum, a natural alloy of gold and silver. This led to expanding trade networks with relative ease.
The inauguration of coins had an important impact on society. Within a few decades, the countries and city-states in the Mediterranean, mostly adopted the Lydian experience. Now, coins were made of either gold or silver. In short order, Athens, Aegina, Corinth and Persia developed their own uniquely designed coins. Often designs reflected religious, cultural values, heroes and animals that were important to the local culture. Eventually, especially in Europe, standardization of weights and measures of different monetary systems, were now formalized.
There is a standard joke concerning coins. The day after coins were invented, counterfeiting began. Why work for a living? Just duplicate what governments were doing and get rich quickly. When counterfeiters were caught, sovereign governments treated them very harshly. There are known instances where the hands of counterfeiters were cut off – clearly a warning to others who might be considering that line of work.
Black Sea Counterfeit Coins
The threat of counterfeit ancient coins on a large scale is an on-going concern to both dealers and collectors. A disproportionate number have been found at the Black Sea. In late 2003 and early 2004, a hoard was supposedly unearthed in the modern day nation of Bulgaria. There were approximately 300 coins. They were offered to a very reliable dealer of unquestionable integrity. He then purchased them from one of the major U.S. coin companies. What must be emphasized repeatedly is that every dealer that was involved in the dispersal of this hoard has the highest standards of ethics and professionalism in the profession. Yet, all were deceived.
Initially, because of the variety of dies, the metal quality and surfaces, no one had any doubts that this hoard was real. The hoard was recently dug up out of the soil. This led to the conclusion there was no doubt about the “realism” of these coins. Once the surface dirt was removed, there was no doubt to the authenticity. However, in a few days, phone calls from Europe indicated that there were questions regarding the authenticity of the hoard. With the accumulation of information, the conclusion became crystal clear. Everyone involved with these coins were victims of a very clever, deceptive counterfeiting scheme.
Another example of a Black Sea hoard occurred in the early part of the 21st century. These fake coins were produced by casting. The initial process was followed by an additional electro galvanic silver plating for further surface shaping. When completed, an artificial patina was applied. It was very easy to be mislead if you looked at these fake coins without using a magnifying glass at least seven time magnification. The weight and appearance of these fakes were fairly exact copies of the genuine ones.
In my family, a cousin decided to sell her aunt’s forty eight (48) “Ancient Greek” coins and I was tasked with the job. Over a three-month period, several different ancient coin specialists analyzed and examined the coins and in every case, deemed all forty-eight coins counterfeit. As the specialists explained, these modern fakes were made in local garages. The coins were put into polluted water for several months to give them an “aged” look. After removal, the coins were dried and sold to gullible tourists. My cousin was devastated when she learned that her aunt and uncle spent a considerable sum for modern fakes.
AMERICAN COUNTERFEIT GOLD COINS
In the October 10, 2010 edition of Coin World, there was a lengthy article concerning fake American gold coins. Here is what was disclosed: “Counterfeits are known for every regular issue United States gold coin from dollar through $20 double eagle.” The article further points out that the fakes have become more sophisticated. To this day, the major threat is the fabrication of American gold coins in China. Unfortunately, some have been sold on ebay.
In the last few years, China has been producing a substantial number of fake American coins. In its January 2009 edition Coin World, had a comprehensive article about the enormity of this situation. “How deceptive are the Chinese made counterfeit coins entering the U.S. market via ebay?”
This is an on-going problem; producing American fake coins is legal in China as well as a sore point between the two countries. Not only are fake coins being produced in China, but also fake coin holders (known as “slabs”) and fake certification labels matching information found on proper labels.
Counterfeit US coins was also the subject of an August 28, 2009, the COIN DEALER newsletter page one article. It explained how American 19th century coins were reported by Chicago area dealer. The article concluded: “There is no single greater threat to the long term health of the hobby than an influx of counterfeit US coins entering into the marketplace.” Today’s technology can make counterfeiting lucrative.
Counterfeit coins are not only for coins made in yesteryear, but those minted today as well. Within the last year, the Independent carried the following headline: “Discovery of largest ever stash of fake Euro coins sparks fears the British two pound coin could be next”. The article stated that the discovery of 500,000 Euros worth of fake Euro coins from China sparked concern that the British two pound coin could be also forged in China as well. One of the main concerns is that these fake coins are likely to be accepted in vending machines.
Caveat Emptor, Buyer Beware. Counterfeiting is a continuous and costly problem. Not only have coins been illegally reproduced, so has currency, furniture, sports cards, just to name a few.