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At last the British authorities start to address the counterfeit one-pound problem.

"Fake Britain" TV show repeated

LAMQS analysis applied to ancient Egyptian bronze coins

Coin "doctoring" on both sides of the Atlantic

A new but false countermark for J.Leckie of Campsie

28th July 2010

At last the British authorities start to address the counterfeit one-pound problem.

In a Parliamentary answer on 22nd July 2010, Justin Greening, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, announced that nearly two million counterfeit one-pound coins were withdrawn in 2009-10. This is a twenty times increase on the numbers being withdrawn five or six years ago. The various authorities involved are to be congratulated on at last waking up to the problem. Unfortunately the results of the latest Royal Mint survey of counterfeit one-pound coins in circulation announced at the same time show an increase of the number of counterfeit found [2.81%]. The increase means about 41 million counterfeits are now in circulation. My rough calculations are that with the almost 2 million counterfeits withdrawn this means that about 6 million counterfeits were distributed last year. So although the authorities have started to address the problem they still have a significant way to go before they are on top of the problem. This especially applies if my suspicion that the withdrawn counterfeits are probably some of the older poorer quality counterfeits is true.

Returns showing the numbers of counterfeit one-pound coins returned to the Royal Mint:

DateTotal withdrawals
2010-11 (to June 2010)187,000


25th July 2010

"Fake Britain" TV show repeated

In January 2010 a five show series of various aspects of counterfeit goods was broadcast on the BBC in Britain. The series included a programme on various aspects of counterfeit money. I was asked to carry out a survey of counterfeit one-pound coins in a London Market for the show. Unfortunately this series was broadcast at 9.15 in the morning and only seen by the retired, unemployed etc. This show has now been edited to half-hour and is due to be repeated tomorrow, Monday 26th July at 7.30 pm on BBC 1. I am hoping my contribution has survived the editing.

24th July 2010

In Print

"LAMQS analysis applied to ancient Egyptian bronze coins" by L. Torrisi, F. Caridi et al, Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physical Research Section B: Beam Interactions with Materials and Atoms, May 2010, vol. 268, Issue 10, pp 1657-1664

This paper describes how some Egyptian bronze coins dated from about the sixth to seventh century AD were analysed by a number of techniques including LAMQS, laser ablation and mass quadrupole spectrometry. The interest for the student of counterfeits is the identification of a group of "fake coins produced in Alexandria in the same historical period". Note: only the abstract of this paper has been read.

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The obverse sides of six sovereigns from the RMS Duoro

The reverse sides of six sovereigns from the RMS Duoro

Six sovereigns from the RMS Duoro which was sank on a voyage from Australia to Britain in 1882. The top three coins are "Ansell" sovereigns and the bottom left hand side coin is a Sydney sovereign. These coins were recovered covered in iron corrosion products and this needed to be removed before they were auctioned.

23rd July 2010

Coin "doctoring" on both sides of the Atlantic

Ever since coins have been collected there have been individuals who have attempted to improve the appearance of a coin in order to increase its retail value. I can still vividly remember about eight or nine years ago standing chatting to a coin dealer in an antique market. While we chatted he was casually sitting behind his stall examining his stock and vigorously polishing with a brush any coins that he felt needed attention. If only he could have seen these coins under a microscope he would have realise the damage he was doing to the coins' surface. Strange as it may seem I did not buy any coins from this dealer.

The subject of improving a coin's appearance hit the coin news headlines at the end of May this year when USA coin grading company PCGS announce that their parent company, Collectors Universe, Inc., had, "filed a Federal Court suit in United States District Court, Central District of California, against several individuals claiming they engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity, breach of contract, conspiracy, unfair competition and fraud for allegedly submitting 'doctored' coins to PCGS for grading on multiple occasions for a period of years." The suit claims that, "coins ... were deceptively altered in an attempt to increase their value." It said, "Defendants knew that these coins had been 'doctored", and that, "Their methods included lasering the surfaces of extremely rare proof gold coins to remove surface imperfections, building up commonly-worn or weakly-struck portions of coins, and other physical and chemical processes."

I must admit to surprise as to the extent of these problems in the USA's coin trade. In the UK I have not come across or at least identified practices such as laser cleaning and adding filling material to a coin surface. However a group of silver coins I have examined recently certainly brought home to me that it is not only at its bottom end that the UK market has problems of its own. This group of relatively high-priced, milled coins showed evidence of chemical dipping to remove tarnishing or toning, significant abrasive polishing and in one case tooling.

When examining the subject of "improving" coins one must be very careful not to treat every type of operation as bad. One certainly must be very clear about definitions. Cleaning a coin means removing material that has been deposited onto it. It does not cover removing any corrosion such as tarnishing where the coin's metal surface has chemically reacted with its environment. Removing corrosion products such as sulphide tarnishing also removes metal that was once part of the coins surface. This may be acceptable in treating coins recovered from archaeological excavations but certainly have no place in treating milled coins. There are obviously categories of coins and treatments that fall between these two extremes and drawing up the boundaries between the two can be difficult. Certainly openness about the treatment a coin has received has to be the minimum requirement. To me hiding if coin has had any treatment is tantamount to fraud.

In my own professional life I have been involved in a number of coin improvement treatments, most I have judged to be acceptable. Readers may like to judge for themselves. Mainly I have often taken a coin and removed any dirty or grease by placing it in a dilute soap solution in an ultra-sonic bath, rinsed it in deionised water and dried the coin by dabbing with a paper tissue. I doubt many would worry about this operation as it does not remove any metal or cause any abrasion of the coin surface.

One of the more interesting operations I was involved in was assisting in removing a large amount of iron oxide[rust]/chloride from the gold sovereigns recovered from the wreck of the Royal Mail Steamer Duoro. I used a very strong and aggressive, hot acid that did not attack the 91.7% gold alloy used in sovereigns. This operation gave me the chance to examine numerous interesting and rare nineteenth century sovereigns. These included George IV and William IV sovereigns, Victorian "Ansell" sovereigns and early Victorian Australian sovereigns. How I wish I had had the knowledge I have now when I examined them. My judgement was that this case was similar to an archaeological excavation and acceptable.

[Sources:PCGS, ]

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21st July 2010

In Print

"A new but false countermark for J.Leckie of Campsie, Sterlingshire, with notes on other forgeries in the countermark series" by Michael Dickinson, Numismatic Circular, May 2010, vol. CXVIII, no. 2, pp 70-72

This article describes the examination of a 1809 Spanish-American 8-reales with a J.Leckie five shillings countermark. Only one other example of a J.Leckie countermark is known on a coin held by the British Museum. The author concludes that the examined coin is genuine but its countermark is fake. This conclusion is based on a detailed visual examination of the coin comparing it to the BM example. The author then continues to speculate on the origin of the piece. The provenance points to the countermark originating in the twentieth century. One possibility being that the piece was produced for New York dealer William C. Wells by Hans Schulman. Harry Manville is described as saying that the contemporary joke was that his company "Schulman Coin and Mint", was more accurate than he perhaps intended. It must be emphasised there is no firm proof that Schulman was involved in manufacturing fake coins. Another theory is that the countermark is of very recent south-east Asia origin.

The first of these blogs was posted in July 2010. The blog will remain posted for a month and then will be archived. The archives can be examined by date via the coin information page.

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