COUNTERFEIT COIN NEWSLETTER Robert Matthews Coin Authentication
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No. 10 July 2008

CONTENTS

EDITORIAL


NEWS

Chinese counterfeit coins spread

Hong Kong circulation coin counterfeiting

A coin dealer's bizarre plea bargain sees him "banished" from three Florida counties.

Busy news period for UK one-pound counterfeiting

COUNTERFEITING SNIPPETS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Circulation coin

Collector coin

MY COIN DIARY


ON-LINE RESOURCES

Keeping up to date with the literature of counterfeit coins


IN PRINT

"A Recent Forgery of a Palaeologan Anonymous Billion Tornese"

Coin Forgeries and Replicas 2007

FEATURE
"Circulating coin counterfeiting in Britain and its colonies in the first part of the twentieth century"

EDITORIAL

Welcome

This edition of the newsletter sees the introduction of "MY COIN DIARY". This is an attempt to introduce a more informal and personal section that allows brief items to be mentioned that are more coin than counterfeit coin related. It is hoped it will gradually take on the tone of some of the better blogs. As usual comments and feedback are welcome, but please if you expect a reply identify yourself. Pseudonynyms may be customary on the web in blogs etc. but they are, to say the least, rude in person to person correspondence.

Dr. Prokopov in the introduction to his latest publication [see the review at In Print] states, "There are two clearly distinguished flows of fakes. The first are almost impossible to detect and they easily infiltrate into the market." Unfortunately this type of counterfeit will rarely feature in this newsletter. Occasionally an expert such as S. Bendall [again see review at In Print] will publish some excellent forensic work. However, usually such counterfeits are either not detected, or if a serious doubt is raised when they are in the possession of one of the big dealers, they quietly disappear with the minimum of fuss.

How large is this problem? It is impossible to know. There is a climate where dealers claim, "all's right with the world" and worry about, "not frightening the horses". Some collectors do not even know there may be a problem while the rampant paranoia of others sees every other coin as counterfeit. It is only by coin dealers and auctioneers being open and welcoming discussion and publicity for such issues that the scope of the problem will be known. It is a situation crying out for some leadership from those prominent in the world's numismatic community be they, dealers, societies or scholars. Unfortunately, with one or two distinguished exceptions, they are failing at the moment.

Be clear this newsletter is not saying there is a large unknown counterfeit coin problem in the high quality end of numismatics at present. Just that we do not know. So let us all in a visible way work to find out whether there is a problem.

NEWS

A Chinese press making fake Morgan dollars

A photograph of a Chinese press making "copies" of Morgan dollars. Reproduced with permission from Susan Headley's blog at About.com. The original photograph reproduced courtesy of Jinghua Shei.

Chinese counterfeit coins spread

During the last six-months there have been a number of news items showing how Chinese coin counterfeiting is growing in size and spreading into more and more collector coin areas.

1.0 In March PCGS confirmed that they had identified a number of counterfeit PCGS slabs containing counterfeit coins and being sold on eBay from China. This follows a recent similar announcement by NGC [see Counterfeit Coin Newsletter 9]. The blog-sphere has been full of opinions that other authentication service slabs have been counterfeited but no other company has confirmed this.

PGCS have appealed to collectors to boycott online auctions from China. However they have not given a detailed note on the differences between the authentic and counterfeit slabs similar to NGC. Possibly they have concluded this will only assist the counterfeiters in improving their copies. The counterfeit coins contained in the slabs identified by PCGS include counterfeit Chinese silver and gold dollars, USA silver dollars and Mexican 8-reales.

2.0 In April Susan Headley posted a series of photographs showing a relatively large Chinese minting operation producing copies of coins from numerous countries. This is a perfectly legal operation provided the coins are sold as copies or replicas. Certainly the apparent source of these photographs, Jinghua Shei, appears to have an eBay shop, jinghuashei, selling a large number [550 items on 8th July 2008] of replicas correctly stamped for the USA market. However it is obvious from the photographs that the replica stamp is added after the main coining operation. This means these copies could be sold unstamped and subsequently sold-on as genuine. The release of the photographs appears to be part of a marketing ploy to show off the minting operation and the various products available. However their release does allow people such as Susan Headley to use them to show the scale of the problem numismatics faces from such operations in China.

3.0 An arrest in Winnipeg, Canada in June pointed out the dangers of the operation described in 2.0. A fifty-two year old man was arrested for allegedly selling four counterfeit Canadian coins to a collector's shop. The shop owner originally thought the coins were genuine and paid $1,000 for them but later realised they were fake. The accused was arrested when he later returned attempting to sell more counterfeits. Forty-eight more counterfeit coins were found in the home of the accused.

The counterfeit coins were copies of coins from 1870 to 1929. The police said that genuine coins of this type had nominal values of between $300 to $9,000 dollars. The accused was alleged to have bought them, via the internet, as unstamped replicas from a dealer in Hong Kong. The police estimated that the accused could have made up to $50,000 by selling all the counterfeits as genuine. A CTV report carries a short video news report and some coin photographs.

[Sources: PCGS, About.com, eBay shop jinghuashei, Winnipeg Sun, CTV Winnipeg, Winnipeg Free Press, cnews]

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The 1993 Hong Kong ten dollar coin

Photograph of a genuine 1993 Hong Kong ten dollar coin, reproduced from http://www.info.gov.hk. The outer ring is made from a cupro-nickel alloy and the inner portion a nickel brass alloy. The reverse features the raised image of a bauhinia flower.

Hong Kong circulation coin counterfeiting

Professor K.C.Chan, Hong Kong's Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, announced on 7th May that the HK Monetary authority, "has no plan to stop issuing $10 coins." This announcement was in response to a Legislative Council member's question that stated, "Hong Kong people travelling on the Mainland or in Macao often encounter shops, food premises and transport operators refusing to accept Hong Kong $10 coins." The figures of counterfeit $10 coin withdrawals between 2005 and 2007 announced at the same time showed a gradual reduction in the number of counterfeits found. This statement and the figures appear to be an attempt to downplay the seemingly successful reduction of a serious counterfeit coin crisis that hit Hong Kong in the early part of the twenty-first century. The reduction is confirmed by the Government Laboratory reports of 2004, "There was a sharp decline in cases over the past three years as a result of the decrease in counterfeit coin cases" and 2005, "..further decreases in the submission of counterfeit HK$10 coins."

Three scientists from the Hong Kong Government Laboratory told the American Academy of Forensic Science in 2005 that the $10 was being counterfeited within six months of its introduction in 1994. They said that, ""The quality of the counterfeit ten-dollar coins which were first found was crude....However, as time progressed, forgery techniques appeared to have improved to such an extent that counterfeit HK$10 coins were almost indistinguishable to the untrained eye from corresponding control coins."

The annual withdrawals of counterfeit HK $10 coins between 1997 and 2007 [sources: HK government answers to LCQs (Legislative Council questions) 5, 24th April 2002 & 16, 7th May 2008, Fight Crime Committee Report No. 25, 2005. It has not been possible to obtain the figures for 2002 and 2003]. Left click on this image, to see a larger image.

For most of the twentieth century Hong Kong had a significant circulation counterfeit coin problem. This can be glimpsed by reading the 1936 Report of the Government Analyst. The introduction of the relatively high value $10 coin towards the end of the century made this problem worse. Every effort was made to incorporate all the most modern anti-counterfeiting features into the coin. This included using a bimetal coin and an interrupted fine milled edge. As the problem worsened the material of the coin was changed but this did not appear to stem the problem. By 2001 the numbers of counterfeit $10 coins withdrawn had quadrupled and the first quarter figures for 2002 [160,000] showed a threefold increase over that previous year.

So despite what appeared to be vigorous efforts by the many authorities involved, including the police in Hong Kong and the mainland, the situation appeared to be getting out of hand. At this time Hong Kong issued significant numbers of an updated version of the existing moribund $10 banknote. Nowhere can the editor find any acknowledgement that this was a response to the coin counterfeiting. However from this time, that is 2002/2003, the main currency used for the $10 value became the note rather than the coin. The downgrading of the importance of the $10 coin was assisted by the growth of the Octopus electronic payment card. Originally introduced in September 1997 for public transport payments, by 2002 9 million cards had been issued. This reduction in the importance and use of the $10 coin appears to have affected its counterfeiting. Even with these changes in emphasis the number of $10 coins issued up to and including 2007 was slightly over 108 million.

Large numbers of the counterfeit $10 coins originated outside Hong Kong in the adjacent Chinese Mainland provinces. In May 2002 an answer to a Legislative Council question it was stated that, "In recent years, the Guangdong Public Security Bureau detected two workshops which manufactured counterfeit Hong Kong $10 coins. The Hong Kong Police also noticed that some Hong Kong residents smuggled counterfeit coins from the Mainland to Hong Kong." Again in March 2007 Legislative Council minutes stated, "A local syndicate which manufactured counterfeit $10 coins had also been combated with the cooperation from the Shenzhen authorities in 2006."

However, home grown counterfeit coin manufacture was also present. The 2003 Hong Kong Police Review stated, "In December 2003, a counterfeit $10 coin manufacturing and distribution syndicate was shut down. This was the largest counterfeit coin production centre in the history of Hong Kong." The Standard reporting on this case in December 2003 said thirteen people were arrested including the "technician" who ran the counterfeit factory and the "mastermind" behind the syndicate. These counterfeits appeared to have been struck. According to Hong Kong's local newspaper, "The Standard", it cost about one dollar to make these counterfeit coins and they were sold by the syndicate for between four to five dollars.

[Sources: numerous documents from http://www.gov.hk/en/ , AAFS Conference Abstracts 2005 pages 53-54, Hong Kong: Annual Report of the Government Analyst for 1936, Wikipedia, The Standard 5th December 2003 ]

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The obverse of a 1935 Buffalo Nickel

The reverse of a 1935 Buffalo Nickel

Photographs of a genuine 1935-P Buffalo Nickel from the collection of Robert Hairgrove, © 2008 Robert Hairgrove

A coin dealer's bizarre plea bargain sees him "banished" from three Florida counties.

In April 2008, John H. Green, owner of AAA Coin and Jewellery, Mulberry, Polk County, Florida was arrested and charged with selling counterfeit coins. According to "baynews9", "Detectives said they were tipped off by a customer who said he bought coins from Green for more than $1,000, but when he had them appraised by two experts he found out they were counterfeit." Undercover officers from the sheriff's office then bought three coins from Green and these were found to be counterfeit. The allegations involved counterfeit buffalo nickels and "collector" pennies. Green's shop was then raided and thousands of coins and a 900 pound hydraulic press and die stamps seized. One of the undercover officers from the sheriff's office was quoted by "baynews92 as saying, "Some of those impressions on some of the die stamps would lead us to believe that he was making some U.S. currency, collectible coins".

In a plea bargain at a trial in July, Green agreed not to carry out any business in the three Florida counties of Polk, Hardee or Highlands while he was serving an eight-years probation. "The Ledger" reported that Green's lawyer, "emphasised that his client pleaded no contest to the criminal charges". The "baynews9" report alleged that, "Green was convicted in 2000 and served a one-year federal sentence for selling counterfeit coins through the mail". It has not been possible to confirm this allegation.

Comment

To an observer living in a system that does not allow plea bargaining this appears a very bizarre outcome. If Mr. Green was guilty of selling counterfeit coins then it would appear likely that it was to a much larger customer base than the three counties he has been "banished" from. The local legal authorities appear to have been more concerned about removing a nuisance from their jurisdiction that protecting the coin buying public.

[Sources: Fox35, baynews9, Orlando Sentinel, TBO.com, The Ledger]

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Police find
 counterfeit £1 coins in London

PC Alan Bolye and Sergeant Ron Neil with the counterfeit one-pounds found in Hounslow, London. Photograph reproduced with permission of the Metropolitan Police.

Busy news period for UK one-pound counterfeiting

The completion of the trial of Marcus Glindon [see report in CCN9] did not lead to a quiet period in the news of the counterfeiting of one-pound coins. Firstly in January two London police officers searched a suspicious van and found a large quantity of counterfeit one-pound coins hidden in metal barrels. The Metropolitan Police claimed, "It is thought to be one of the largest seizures of its kind in the UK. It is estimated that the barrels contained in excess of 100,000 coins." The van driver and a passenger have been charged with possession of counterfeit coins and Class A drugs.

In February, Marcus Glindon was back in court for a confiscation hearing. The materials and machinery used in his counterfeiting were ordered to be forfeited. He was also ordered to remain in gaol for a further six-months unless he paid back the £320,000 the police calculated he made from this scheme.

April saw the conviction of gambler Patrick Campbell and his wife Susan for various counterfeiting and money laundring offences. A July 2006 raid on the couples six-bed roomed Skegness house uncovered a "coin-making workshop" with 11,000 counterfeit coins, a hydraulic coin press, sheets of brass, coin counters and equipment to bag and seal the counterfeit coins. Receipts were found for the purchase of brass sheets indicating the operation had been running for at least eighteen months. The couple were also found guilty of transferring the proceeds of criminal activity.

According to "this is lincolnshire", "Campbell confessed he had run up large gambling debts and had begun working for the people he had owe money to. He told police he was only a minor player in the operation, putting edging on the finished coins. He refused to name other gang members, saying he feared for his safety."

Campbell was sentenced to seven years in prison and his wife to two years. Police are hoping to confiscate the couples' assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

In May, a seventy-year old pensioner was arrested by Essex police in Basildon. He was alleged to be trying to buy goods at a car boot sale with counterfeit one-pound and two-pound coins. When police searched his home in Islington, north London they found a furnace, a mould and scrap metal.

Finally, in June the "Bucks Free Press" printed a police appeal for help in tracing a man. This man had attempted to exchange for notes, a £500 bag of counterfeit one-pound coins at a local branch of the National Westminster Bank. When the cashier identified the coins as counterfeit he hurriedly left with the bag of coins.

Comment

The arrest of the Islington pensioner appears to be a case of him supplementing his income by making some cast, counterfeit coins. This type of case could be found in the UK at any time in the last two-hundred years. The other cases seem to point to the deep involvement of organised crime gangs in producing struck, counterfeit, one-pound coins.

[Sources: Metropolitan Police News item, Enfield Independent 29th February 2008, Skegness Standard, this is lincolnshire.co.uk, Echo, Bucks Free Press]

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COUNTERFEITING SNIPPETS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Circulation coin

Ugandan butcher arrested for making 500 shilling coins

The Uganda 500 shilling coin

Photograph of a genuine Uganda 500 shilling coin reproduced with permission from http://worldcoingallery.com. The coin reverse features a creasted crane. It has a diameter of 23.5mm and weighs 9.6g.

Ugandan police have arrested a 25 year old butcher for allegedly making counterfeit 500 shilling coins. They claimed he was found with 59,000 shilling worth of counterfeit coins and equipment that he had used for making the counterfeits. Uganda is an east African country with an estimated population of over twenty-six million people. It is boardered by amongst others, Sudan to the north, Kenya to the east and Rwanda to the south. It former dictator, Idi Amin [1971-1979] was portrayed, in an Oscar winning performance, by Forest Whitaker in the 2006 feature film, "The Last King of Scotland" .

The material and manufacturing technique used by the counterfeiter is confused in the press reports. allAfrica.com reported Regional Police Commander Seowen as saying, "the suspects get aluminium from old car batteries. They allegedly heat up and melt aluminium from battery terminals, which they then turn into counterfeit ... coins." This appears to have been carried out by melting and casting the metal into the correct 500 shilling shape and then impressing the image onto the hot casting with a metal stamp. Finally the counterfeit coins were sprayed silver(?). Some of the confusion is because the usual metal used in car batteries is lead and the 500 shilling is a pale yellow coin.

500 shilling is equivalent to 0.19 Euro, 0.15 pound sterling or 0.30 USA dollars [conversions from CoinMill.com]. In a developed country's eyes it would not seem worth counterfeiting these coins. This is not true in a relatively poor African country.

[Sources: allAfrica.com, The New Vision Online]

The number of euro counterfeit coins withdrawn annually 2002 - 2007
The number of euro counterfeit coins withdrawn annually 2002 - 2007. Click on the image to view a larger one.

Twenty-seven percent rise in euro coins withdrawn from circulation in 2007

A January 2008 Europa press release stated that a total of 181,100 counterfeit euro coins were withdrawn in 2007. This was an increase of about twenty-nine percent compared with 2006. The encouraging news was that the annual rate of increase appears to be reducing. Eighty-six percent of the counterfeit coins were two euros. The reduction in the rate of increase has taken place while the European Commision has been attempting to improve the checking of coins in circulation. However Olivier Louis, OLAF/ETSC, told a European Vending Association Technical Forum in November 2006 that, "Problems of recognition of a particular type of 2-euro counterfeits by most sorting machings have appeared in 2005." This makes it difficult to judge the reliability of these withdrawal figures.

Two illegal minting operation were closed in 2007. One was in Italy and the other in Spain. In April 2008 eux.tv reported that a "Most sophisticated fake euro coin network" had been uncovered in Italy. The EU was quoted as saying that the counterfeits were "considered as the most sophisticated type".

[Source: Europa, OLAF, eux.tv]

and briefly

There was news from Bangalore and Bihar, India of the increasing use of counterfeit coins and other "slugs" in public phone booths. Blog rumours claimed that there was an increase in the occurence of counterfeit Israeli coins. There were two news reports of individual finds of counterfet Canadian $2 coins. A Royal Canadian Police source was quoted as saying that in the last year about 800 counterfeit coins had been examined in their laboratory in Ottawa.

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Collector coin

Yemen acquits a French man of smuggling antiques when they were found to be "fake".

Yves Lebourgeois, 58 years old, was acquitted of smuggling antiquities by a Sana court in June 2008. The Archeology Department of Sana's University had declared the "antiquities" to be fake. Amongst the thirty-two items seized when Lebourgeois attempted to fly to Paris were sixteen fake 2000 year-old coins. It is assumed that these fake coins are modern counterfeits. No details of the types of coins seized have been published.

[Source: AFP, Yemen Observer]

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News from the coin authenticators

In January, Jay Turner, a NGC authenticator, wrote in NGC's January eNewsletter describing the "continued emergence" of fake silver Pandas. Specifically he describes counterfeit 1995 Pandas. While in the February NGC eNewsletter, Skip Fazarri, gave tips on identifying added mint marks.

Michael Fahey in his monthly counterfeit column in "Coin World" has recently seem to concentrate on dollars. Three of his columns during the period described counterfeits of the 1875-S Trade dollar, the 1893-S Morgan dollar and the 1795 Draped Bust Small Eagle silver dollar.

Dr. Ilya Prokopov joined the Forum coin site as a coin authentication consultant in July 2007. Recently he has added a number of examples of Bulgarian counterfeit ancient coins.

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MY COIN DIARY

January 2008

January seems to be my media month with enquiries from BBC Radio, Sky News and science magazine "Nature". The first two concerned one-pound coin counterfeiting, Nature wanted a comment on Mototsugu Suzuti's paper on using sound to detect counterfeit coins [see Counterfeit Coin Newsletter 9]. It reminds me of the old British grumble about waiting for a bus, none come and then three come at once. In the six-years of my retirement occupation of counterfeit coin authentication these are the first times I have been consulted by the non-numismatic press.

The start of the 1817 Indenture

The start of the 1817 Indenture. The Master of the Mint at this time was William Wellesley Pole, brother of the future Lord Wellington. Lord Wellington was commander of the British forces at the Battle of Waterloo and a future British Prime Minister.

This month I managed to buy printed copies of the Royal Mint Indentures for 1770 [printed 1813] and 1817 [printed 1819] through the ANTIQBOOK website. These indentures were contracts between the Crown and the Mint governing all the Mint's coining activities. Until the 1870 Coinage Act they governed the weight and tolerances of all British coins. The Indenture also laid down the salaries for the Mint Officers. In the 1817 Indenture the King's Assayer was the highest paid officer at £900. I was obviously born at the wrong time. Also listed was, "the Necessary Woman", to be paid £30. It is very tempting to speculate what were the duties of this position. The collector in me loves owning these copies, while the researcher feels the need to read the primary sources for this information rather than relying on secondary sources such as books.

February 2008

21st February, my six year old pc finally collapses. Most of my data was backed up but I lost some coin photographs and an almost completed webpage on twenty-first century one-pound counterfeit coins. Apologies to anybody trying to connect to this page it will be rewritten as soon as possible. My new Dell was received one week later. I had heard of some worrying reports about Vista, Microsoft's new operating system but so far no problems. Dealing with references in the latest edition of Word has been so-o-o easy.

March 2008

The birth of my first grandchild and supporting the Welsh rugby team winning the "grandslam", very much pushed coins into to the background this month.

22 March, I found an interesting small item on the Dutch website, Museum Security. It offers a possible explanation for the disappearance of Michel van Rijn's website last year. It also mentions that "Arthur Brand", a self-described battler against counterfeiting, has a role in what appears to have been a rather disreputable antique smuggling episode. How factually correct is this article? I do not know, hopefully with time the truth will emerge.

I recognise that I may sound self-righteous but it is my strong belief that it is not possible for either coin collectors, dealers or "fighters against counterfeiting" to put their ethics to one side to deal with smugglers and then condemn counterfeiting. Supping with the devil even with a long spoon inevitably compromises one.

April 2008

2nd April, the British Royal Mint announced the new reverse designs for the seven circulation coins ranging from the penny to the one-pound coin. Winning designer Matthew Dent used the design of the Royal Shield for the one-pound and split elements of this design between the other coins. Each of the other coins' reverses make up sections of the Royal Shield design. This is an ingenious design concept but in my judgement the five pence and twenty pence designs do not really work as standalone designs. It was amusing that all the hype and publicity about the new designs failed to mention the one-pound edge design. It took an email from former colleague Kevin Clancy, Curator of the Royal Mint Museum, to clarify the position to me. The decision is to change the one-pound coin edge back to the DECUS ET TUTAMEN edge lettering previously used. This is to be warmly welcomed as an anti-counterfeiting measure.

1887 proof sovereigns reverse varieties, regular left side,
 new variety right side

The 1887 proof sovereigns reverse varieties, regular left side,
new variety right side

8th April, I sent an article on a new variety of the 1887 proof sovereign to the editor of Spink's Numismatic Circular. This is the first time I have sent an article to the NumCir and I was surprised to receive a quick acceptance. I know its acceptance is not due to my peerless(!) prose. The numismatic magazines are always looking for interesting material. Any reader who has not considered writing a piece should. We all have some coin expertise that we can share with others.

May 2008

17th May, although the internet has tried to take the place of postal coin and book lists, for me there is still nothing to replace the excitement of finding the new list of a favourite dealer on the doormat with the day's post. Today brought the new Galata list with its large collection of numismatic literature, both popular and obscure. I rapidly ordered a number of Royal Mint Annual Reports. When my order arrived I was puzzled that one of the reports [1949] was stamped, "Assay Department, Royal Mint". This was my old department and I would be concerned if this meant the Mint are selling off such records.

June 2008

1896 South African shilling obverse

The obverse of my £2 1896 South African shilling

1896 South African shilling obverse

The reverse of my £2 1896 South African shilling

8th June, I made what is rapidly becoming my annual visit to the Midlands Coin Fair. Living in South Wales, I find this monthly fair very easy to access. It is sited in Birmingham's National Motor Cycle Museum, on the roundabout of the National Exhibition Centre/M42 motorway junction and has free car parking on the Museum site. For me it is so much easier to visit than one of the London fairs.

The fair appeared to be well supported by a number of good dealers. I made a few small purchases of a couple of shilling [1887 and 1912] coins for reference purposes and a few old auction catalogues. I also could not resist buying a cheap [£2] rather battered South African shilling shown above. I have not been able to pinpoint what appeals to me about the coin. Is it the stern-faced portrait of the Afrikaner President Kruger with his absurd beard? Or is it the attractive oak-leaf wreath [copied from the British design] on the reverse? Perhaps it is knowing that my grandfather's brother fought in the Boar War [1899-1902] just after this time.

The Rector's Palace, Dubrovnik

The Rector's Palace, Dubrovnik

When holidaying in Croatia I visited the Rector's Palace in Dubrovnik. Between the fourteenth and early nineteenth century Dubrovnik was the capital of an independent city state called Ragusa. It maintained its independence by paying an annual "tribute" to the Ottoman Empire. During most of this time there was a mint at Dubrovnik making silver and copper coins. The Rector's Palace contained a gallery devoted to the coins and seals of Ragusa. Unfortunately while the majority of the displays in the Palace had dual Croatian and English explanatory notices the coin gallery only had Croatian notices which I could not understand. Subsequently I have found it difficult to find much information about these Ragusa coins, although there appear to be some evidence that this mint also produced "copies" of some other countries coins. The coins were exhibited in glass cases with a number with an accompanying magnifying glass to improve the viewing experience. Also displayed were a handful of dies presumably from the Dubrovnik Mint. This was a fascinating but frustrating experience. Yet again it demonstrated to me the vast areas of numismatics that I still have not explored.

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ON-LINE RESOURCES

Keeping up to date with the literature of counterfeit coins

The old advice to coin collectors has been, buy the book before the coin. For those concerned about counterfeiting this is not always as easy as it seems. New counterfeits are being produced and identified all the time. How does one keep up to date with this literature? One method is consulting the ANS series of publications "Numismatic Literature". New volumes of this are published regularly covering books and articles in numismatic journals etc.. New copies of this series can be purchased from the Oxbow Books website.

However the ANS have under development an on-line version that is accessible by all web users. This allows the individual entries to be browsed by either: subject, author or date added. "Modern Forgery" is one specific subject area. Unfortunately contemporary forgeries [to the editor, contemporary counterfeits] do not have a specific subject area.

The coverage in "Numismatic Literature" is by no means comprehensive. Certainly scholarly articles in the scientific and archaeological journals seem to be scarcely covered and even the coverage of numismatic books seems patchy. The current on-line editions, numbers 144 to 149 appear to cover publication dates from 1999 to 2004 and yet have no entries of the Prokopov series of books covering Bulgarian counterfeits of ancient coins. It is difficult to know whether this is because of editorial decisions or a lack of resources to cover the whole subject area. One final small criticism is that the on-line references usually do not indicate the language of the original article.

Even taking into account the drawbacks mentioned above "Numismatic Literature" is an invaluable current awareness resource. It can be complemented by the use of Google scholar which does not usually cover purely numismatic sources but covers scientific and archaeological journals.

 

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IN PRINT

"A Recent Forgery of a Palaeologan Anonymous Billion Tornese", S. Bendall, Spink Numismatic Circular, February 2008, Vol. CXVI No.1, pp 9

This article describes two examples of these Palaeologan coins that have appeared in recent auctions. They are compared with three coins in the Dumbarton Oaks collection and two in the author's own collection. Two coins sold recently by well-known auction houses can be die linked, no other die linked examples of this coin are known. The weight of the two coins is heavier than the other examples and although they are in better condition than the five comparison coins this was considered suspicious. This distinguished, Byzantine coin expert carefully describes the many stylistic differences found, leading him to conclude, "that the authenticity of these two coins is extremely doubtful".

"Coin Forgeries and Replicas 2007", Ilya Prokopov, published as on-line pdf book by Provias, Sofia, 2007, price $9

The editor was in a quandary as to which section to place this latest of Dr. Prokopov's reviews of Bulgarian counterfeits of ancient coin. This is very much an on-line offering but to maintain consistency with the rest of the series it has been kept in the "In Print" section. The customer of "Coin Forgeries and Replicas 2007" uses PayPal to send the small amount of $9 and is sent an email with a web address containing the pdf document. This needs to be saved to the purchaser's pc. The pdf document has almost the identical layout to the previous books with the added advantage of allowing one's pc to magnify the coin images. Those requiring a hard copy can still print out the pdf document.

Dr. Prokopov describes in the foreword that following the market in counterfeit coins is becoming more difficult. He states that, "for me it is already hard to see fakes offered on the local market. Frauds have realized the new situation and now they do not offer coins in the country they were produced, but directly export them to the end clients in Western Europe and North America." This is worrying because this makes it almost impossible for one expert or regional group of experts to produce a comprehensive listing of counterfeits from a region or country.

This "book" consists of 80 pages and covers 146 counterfeits; 63 of Roman coins and the remainder Greek. Dr. Prokopov states that, "From now on I will avoid the catalogue description of coins which I now consider as unnecessary". A large number of the counterfeits described are relatively poor quality casts. However the examples are sprinked with a number of more dangerous good quality counterfeits including a few previously undocumented "Lipanoffs".

The editor regrets the decision not to attempt a more scholarly catalogue description. A number of the remarks made previously in reviews in this newsletter about books in this series could be applied to this volume. It must be emphasised that for those buying ancient coins especially on the web this series is invaluable.

Note: an index to all the counterfeits published in this series of books is available free of charge at http://sp-p.net/. It can be downloaded as either an Excell file or pdf document. Dr. Prokopov is to be congratulated on this useful addition.

 

FEATURE

Circulating coin counterfeiting in Britain and its colonies in the first part of the twentieth century

In the first Counterfeit Coin Newsletter in December 2003 two graphs were published showing the number of counterfeit convictions reported by the Royal Mint between 1900 and 1945. The editor promised to return to this subject at a later date. Well the majority of the editor's research into the counterfeiting in this period is now complete. He is now about a fifth of the way into writing this up into an article. It will be interesting to see if any journal will be prepared to publish it. This short piece is hopefully just a taster for the full article.

The production of British counterfeit coins in the first fifty years of the twentieth century must be viewed against the wider turbulent events of this period1. It contained the death of Queen Victoria, the reigns of four Kings, an abdication, a new political party being created and reaching government, the start of the modern welfare state, two world wars, depressions, mass unemployment and a general strike. The century started with Britain at the peak of its Imperial power; built on it being one of the birthplaces of the industrial revolution. It ended with a country and empire almost bankrupt and deeply in debt due to a debilitating war. The coinage reflected these events. The First World War saw the end of gold as a circulation coinage metal and just after the Second World War (1947) silver followed. These events and changes certainly affected the nature and scale of the counterfeiting of circulating coin.

 

The scale of the problem

Total counterfeit related
 convictions 1900 to 1947

Table I: England and Wales coinage offences in the first half of the twentieth century3

Table I shows how the counterfeiting of circulating coin almost stopped during the two world wars. It gradually reappeared again after the first world war. However five years after the second world war the number of counterfeiting cases was still insignificant.

In 19392 A. Scott-Dodd, the Edinburgh City Analyst, attempted to produce a background paper for his fellow public analysts on the counterfeiting of coins. This paper appears to have been produced from mainly published sources but with very little reference to the Royal Mint. However it does give us one of the only independent, contemporary surveys of the counterfeiting of circulating coin before the Second World War. Scott-Dodd stated2, "Coining offences are not nearly so common in this country as in some parts of the British Empire". This appears to be more of a personal impression than a conclusion based on any research.

The Royal Mint reported3 181 counterfeit coinage related convictions in England and Wales in 1910, the highest annual figure prior to the First World War. This included 17 convictions for making counterfeit coins and 29 convictions for possessing counterfeiting equipment. In 1932, the peak year for counterfeit related convictions between the wars, 127 convictions were recorded by the Royal Mint. This included 51 convictions for making counterfeits and 44 for possessing counterfeiting equipment. In 1900 in an article4 in "The Weekly Dispatch" a Scotland Yard spokesman was quoted as stating, "that something like £300 worth of counterfeits was being got rid of in London alone every week". In 1932 John Phelps, the Royal Mint Assayer estimated5 that, "there would be about 2,000l. nominal placed in circulation annually", that is £2,000 face value of counterfeits. It would appear that although the number of counterfeit conviction rose to pre-war levels after the mid-1920s the number of counterfeits made did not.

The number of colonial cases appeared to vary considerably according to the nature of the colony, its economic development and the relative value of its highest denomination circulating coins. The Government Analyst for the Straits Settlements reported6 examining specimens from nineteen [19] cases in 1932. In 1936 the Hong Kong Government Analyst reported7 that, counterfeit coin "batches were being brought in several times a week". The number of cases involved with these "batches" is unclear from the report. It would appear that, apart from Hong Kong and probably India, there were significantly more counterfeiting cases in Britain than in most of its individual colonies but probably less than the total number of cases in all the colonies.

The vast majority of British counterfeiting cases during this fifty-year period involved cast, low-melting point metal alloy, counterfeit coins. There was a small amount of coating lower value coins and attempting to "utter" them as of a higher value denomination. Prior to the first World War this usually involved attempting to pass gilded sixpence coins as half-sovereigns8. Between the wars this involved using mercury to coat farthings and attempting to pass them as sixpence coins4. During the fifty years covered by this article there were only two significant court cases involving struck counterfeits. The first9 took place in the early 1900s and concerned counterfeit low-fineness silver half-crowns made in Syracuse in Sicily. These counterfeits were then distributed via Tunis and Barcelona across continental Europe with some finding their way to mainland Britain. The second10, 11 significant case of struck British coins occurred in Scotland in 1930 and involved two craftsmen, James Steele and Robert Ramsay. These two ex. soldiers produced very good copies of half-crown coins made from "German" silver. "German" silver is a white alloy of copper, nickel and zinc and was purchased by the counterfeiters from commercial sources.

Although the number of counterfeiting cases in England and Wales appeared to recover to previous levels after the First World War the type of counterfeiting changed significantly. Before the First World War counterfeiting was often carried out by groups of associates, "gangs". Many of these gangs had different individuals making and "uttering" [passing] the counterfeits. Some "gangs" specialised in making the counterfeits and sold them on to others to utter, often through making low value purchases in shops and public houses. This meant that before the First World War only about thirty to forty percent of counterfeit court cases involved production of counterfeit coins. By the 1930s ninety percent of counterfeit coin court case involved making counterfeits. These counterfeits were characterised by the Royal Mint12 as, "the great majority of the counterfeit pieces which have come to light are in the smaller denominations, clumsy pieces of work, intended mainly for use in automatic machines."

In 1948 W.A.C. Newman, Chemist and Assayer of the Royal Mint, was able to report13, "Following the outbreak of the late war the number of counterfeit coins reported to the Royal Mint decreased materially. After the war there appeared to be a slight increase in the annual number during the years 1945-7. That, however, has not been maintained." By 1950 the counterfeiting of the circulating coinage in Britain had almost ceased to exist.

1 A.J.P.Taylor, "English History, 1914-1945", Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1965

2 A.Scott-Dodd, "Counterfeit Coins", Analyst, 1939, 64, pp 861-866

3 Royal Mint Annual Reports 1900 to 1951

4 "Base Coiners' Factory", The Weekly Dispatch, 11 February 1900, page 11

5 Royal Mint Annual Report 1932

6 "Straits Settlements: Annual Report for the Year 1932"

7 "Hong Kong: Annual Report of the Government Analyst for 1936". This can be viewed at a
webpage on the Royal Society of Chemistry site

8 Old Bailey Proceedings Online [http://www.oldbaileyonline.org]

9 Royal Mint Annual Report 1902

10 The Scotsman 22nd February 1930

11 Royal Mint File at the National Archive, MINT 20/1167

12 Royal Mint Annual Report 1932

13 Royal Mint Annual Report 1948

 

Copyright Robert Matthews 2008

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