BEWARE OF FAKE
by Michael E. Marotta (ANA R-162953)
(C) Copyright 1999 by Mercury Atwell
is no easy way to tell a modern fake from a genuine ancient coin. The
ANA educates collectors through _The Numismatist_ and its books and
videotapes. However, these only provide clues to identifying the
heavy-handed forms of forgery, such as gluing on a mintmark, and die
casting from an original model. What cannot be known easily is the
careful work of a skilled die maker. It is not hard to strike a coin
that looks like ancient workmanship.
Shopfloor practices at an automobile plant involve tolerances at
the micron range. (A micron is a millionth of a meter, a thousandth of
a millimeter, 40 millionths of an inch.) One of my cousins makes
custom race car parts in his garage with a Bridgeport milling machine
almost 100 years old. He works to thousandths of an inch, a few tenths
of a millimeter. Computer Aided Design (CAD) coupled with Computer
Aided Manufacturing (CAM) means that you can manufacture any object
that you can get a picture of. CNC (Computer Numerical Control)
machinery is available in aftermarkets at surprisingly low prices.
This technology is universal. You can find it in China, Bulgaria,
Israel and Libya. I taught it at a vocational school in 1985.
Everyone who actively collects ancients knows about the infamous "Black
Sea Hoard" of fakes from Bulgaria. The salient details are (1)
the initial victim was the Seaby Group and (2) they got a hot tip that
the coins were fake and (3) an argument for the authenticity of the
fakes was based on atomic-absorption spectroscopy. The conclusions are
that (1) even experts can be easily fooled by modern fakes and that
(2) if no one betrays the gang, they can get away and (3) technology
is not helpful in culling out fakes.
I have doubts about the huge hoards of Roman imperial coins that
are available. I do not mean the Third Century Bronzes ("uncleaned...
unsearched" at 65c to $2 each), but the silver denarii from
Trajan through Septimius Severus and the antoninionni of Severus
Alexander, Gordian III and Philip the Arab. These coins sell well
without a second glance. A gold coin of Julius Caesar or even a silver
denarius of Galba would merit close inspection (if not worship), but
common coins in large numbers get easy acceptance. In December of
1998, while on a second honeymoon, I attended a couple of shows in
warm weather and cold and I visited a few dealers in several states.
There is just too much stuff out there and too many people selling it
and I cannot tell by looking at a coin when it was made. Obvious fakes
are obvious. It is the not-obvious ones that scare me.
What scares me more is when dealers get coy. Like the smugglers
they buy from, some dealers do not like to reveal their sources. As a
result, there is no history, no "provenance." Buying from
auction houses that give provenances is the only easy way for the
average collector to be sure that the "ancient" coin was not
made last year. However, only coins from important old collections
have these histories. A new find, however real and authentic, is
indistinguishable from a newly-minted coin. When a dealer will not say
where he got the coin from, then I fear making a foolish purchase.
* DO NOT BUY UNIDENTIFIED, UNATTRIBUTED COINS
* DO NOT PATRONIZE A DEALER WHO IS NOT A MEMBER OF A PROFESSIONAL
SOCIETY: ANA, PNG, OR IAPN.
The _Celator_ carries the advertising from the 100 or so real
professionals in ancient coins. From "big names" like Harlan
Berk and Jonathan Kern to the "down home folk" like Kirk
Davis and Arthur Noot. If you compare the advertising from five years
ago to the ads today, you can see who has experience.
Even so, "let the buyer beware" because dealers get
burned, too. If the dealer has been cheated, how will you ever know?
Most likely, you will simply hold your coin in the false belief that
since the dealer is an ANA member and promised to refund your money if
the coin is fake then the coin must be genuine.
For these reasons, I have stopped buying ancient coins until the
technology of detection surpasses the technology of manufacture.
Having some facility in this area, I still look at coins and catalogs,
but I look twice. In December, I bought two classical Greek drachmas
for $6.00 each. They were fakes. I did not know that. I saw them in
the case and handled them and used my lens and when I asked the price,
I expected to hear something close to $200. The dealer told me they
were modern copies brought back by a tourist. We admired the
workmanship and talked out our feelings for the details. Then I added
them to my examples of bad coins. These two Greeks represent a quantum
leap. Diogenes the Cynic would have been impressed.
A final note: Bags of common Roman Imperial denarii are easy to
sell. There are no bags of 1877 Indianhead Cents or 1916-D Mercury
Dimes. However, the potential for deception is undeniable. NEVER BUY A
"KEY" COIN UNLESS IT IS SLABBED BY AN UNIMPEACHABLE
Copyright Michael E. Marotta |
Technical Writer | ANA Member 162953
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