Counterfeit Coins

"Omega" counterfeit of High-Relief Saint-Gaudens twenty-dollar gold piece,
with the omega symbol buffed off the eagle's claw


Counterfeit coins have always been a part of the world of money and the world of collecting money. Some collectors put their heads in the sand and try to avoid thinking about coin forgeries. Some dealers would prefer that people not talk about them for fear of scaring off collectors. Some people are so impassioned by the issue that they seem to think that studying coin counterfeits is the equivalent of making them, calling those who study them "devil worshippers" and those who collect them the equivalent of heroin dealers and terrorists.

As irrational as this is, the fact is, counterfeit coins are scary. You can get cheated out of lots of money with them. The coin pictured above cost its buyer $3,500 in losses. The buyer, a dealer who asked to remain anonymous, bought it as a raw coin at a local coin show from a collector who he had seen before, a guy who he said looked like Newman from the Seinfeld TV show (Newman!). He never saw him again. Before buying it, the dealer showed it to other dealers at the show. Nobody saw anything wrong with it.

Ironically, after buying it, the dealer didn't submit the coin to a respectable grading company but rather to a bottom-tier service. It came back authentic, as AU-55. Later, another grading company evaluated the coin in its slab and condemned it as being an "Omega" counterfeit, with the same diagnostics as the famous fakes, including tooling marks in the rays above the date (visible only under magnification), but with the famous omega symbol buffed off the eagle's claw. The dealer later donated this piece to the American Numismatic Association. The lesson: Never buy a raw high-end coin from anybody who looks like Newman.

The real lesson is that counterfeit coins such as the above can be interesting to study, and studying them can protect yourself from becoming victim.

Some people differentiate between the terms "counterfeit" and "forgery," using "counterfeit" to refer to fakes created to circulate and "forgery" to refer to fakes created to deceive collectors, though I'm using these terms interchangeably.

Coin replicas, on the other hand, weren't created to deceive anyone. Sure, they can be schlocky knockoffs, but they can also be interesting variations on a theme, honoring the coin they copy. The U.S. Mint does this, in fact, with its American Eagle series.

Counterfeit and replica coins are sometimes called pseudonumia. Here are some pages I've put together about counterfeit and replica coins, ancient and U.S., from early times to more recent:

Counterfeit Coin Detection Primer

Athenian Owl Forgeries

Athenian Owl Replicas

Alexander the Great Forgeries

Alexander the Great Replicas

New York Hoard Counterfeits of Apollonia Pontika Drachms

Parion Hemidrachms, Imitations, and Forgeries

Bulgarian School Cherronesos Hemidrachms

Medusa Pseudonumia

Thasos and Thracian Tetradrachm Forgeries and Replicas

Julian II Bronze Copies

Deks: Three Ancient Greek Dekadrachms, Fake and Real

Ancient Coin Fourrees

Ancient Coin Imitatives

Ancient Coin Replicas

Slavey Replicas (and Imitations) of Ancient Coins

The Lipanoff Studio in Bulgaria

Draped Bust Dollar Counterfeits

Draped Bust Dollar Replicas

Fake Silver Dollars from China

Barber Fakery

Saint Replicas



Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins

© 2013 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.