COUNTERFEIT COIN NEWSLETTER Robert Matthews Coin Authentication
Home No. 1 December 2003

Welcome to the first edition of this small newsletter. This is intended to be a biannual publication. Copies of the Newsletter and any back numbers will be posted on my website, but if you would like the next issue e-mailed to you please contact me at

The Newsletter is intended to cover all items relating to counterfeit coins. Initially, as the main author, it will reflect my own interests which are British milled coins. As a scientist it is the facts, figures and the pieces themselves that interest me. I will try to avoid the romantic if not fanciful material that often surrounds some coverage of counterfeiting. Most counterfeiters are, like most thieves, unscrupulous characters, certainly not heroes to be lionised.

The Newsletter will contain items of news from around the world about contemporary counterfeiting. There will be items from ongoing research and at least one substantial feature on past counterfeiting per issue. I hope to publish submitted items and articles. So please if you have an interest in this subject or have any new research, consider sending me a contribution. Where I can access pieces or images I will illustrate the articles.

I would make a comment about the contents of the "News" items. As a UK citizen and resident I find it ironic how much easier it is for the outsider to obtain reliable information on euro counterfeiting compared with British counterfeiting. Europe keeps the essentials such as coin tolerances, electrical and magnetic properties confidential. It publishes information that the UK keeps secret not to prevent counterfeiting but because it is politically inconvenient or embarrassing. 1990 is the last year for which I can find UK records of prosecutions for forgery of coins and notes. Even these figures do not distinguish between the two classes and no record of convictions appear to exist. If you require the similar coin figures for 1900 they are available in great detail in the Royal Mint Annual Report. I hope Europe's good example causes Britain to change it's ways.

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Counterfeiting the UK 1 coin.
A counterfeit USA Eagle is identified.
An update on euro counterfeiting.
Counterfeiting snippets from around the world.

The counterfeiting of circulation coins in England and Wales in the first half of the twentieth century.

The counterfeiting of Britsh Victorian 5 gold coins in the 1960's.


Counterfeiting the UK one-pound coin.

On July 9th 2003 Paul Boateng, from the Treasury, stated in a Parliamentary answer that independent analysis commissioned by the Royal Mint, on a sample of one pound coins collected in late 2002, showed just under one percent were counterfeit. He stated that there is uncertainty as to the extent to which the sample could be regarded as reliable. This was slightly amplified by Gerald Sheehan, Deputy Master of the Royal Mint, in evidence to the Treasury Sub-committee on November 5th 2003. He emphasised that it was only an estimate but the survey showed about 13 million counterfeit one-pound coins were in circulation. He said it was very difficult to prove this figure one way or the other but stated that the anecdotal evidence from the banks and Post Office was that it was significantly less than 13 million. The Mint is to initiate a major study on the subject, in the next few months.

There are two main classes of one-pound counterfeits being produced, ref.1. The first are cast lead or tin based pieces coated with brass. The second are struck brass pieces. The lead or tin pieces can vary in quality but wear rapidly and are eventually identified by the banks and Post Office and withdrawn from circulation. It is my opinion that, if this estimate of numbers is correct, the vast majority of the pieces are the brass counterfeits. The banks estimates of numbers are probably not worth very much because their sorting machines and tellers cannot identify these pieces.

Obverse side of a 1996 dated brass
 counterfeit Edge of a 1996 dated one-pound
 counterfeit. It shows some of the millings have not been made.

Examples of one-pound counterfeits

The next questions that spring to mind are from where are the coins originating? And are the police being successful in stopping their manufacture? After scouring the local press of the last four or five years, I can find four court cases for manufacturing the lead or tin based pieces. They were in Scotland, the Midlands and the North of England. The most serious case involved two Blackburn men who had a "factory" in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire. In 2000, they were arrested with 20,000 worth of counterfeits on them.

It has only been possible to find two court cases involving brass pieces that had been put into circulation. The first involved the use of brass slugs in gambling machines. 90,000 pieces were innocently manufactured by a Sheffield company for a group involved in an estimated 900,000 fruit machine scam. Although details of the one-pound pieces have not been published it is presumed that they did not have any design on the faces. The second case involved a "factory" striking one-pound counterfeits in Essex. This appears to have been a substantial operation making thousands of counterfeits a day but little detail has been published.

Ref.1: "Caution--forgers at large" by D.J.Cane, COIN NEWS, February 2000.

A counterfeit USA eagle is identified.

Independent Coin Grading, a USA based coin grading company, has identified a counterfeit tenth-ounce platinum eagle. The piece, which was bought in an internet auction, consists of a copper coloured alloy with a white platinum coloured coating. The piece is considerably lighter than the genuine coin. It does not have the serifs present on the numerals and letters of the genuine coin. Other features reported by IGC are shown below.

Type Weight Diameter Reeding(millings)
2002 counterfeit 2.13g 16.685mm 79
Genuine coin 3.112g 16.680mm 102

ICG believe a computer-aided engraving machine made the coin die. This would be a very difficult theory to prove from just examining the piece. For more details and images visit the ICG article.

The common reverse of the
 2 euro coin.

The common reverse of the 2 euro coin
Weight: 8.5g
Diameter: 25.75mm
Edge thickness: 2.20mm

An update on euro counterfeiting

The European Commission did not report any results for counterfeit coins for the first half of 2003. The only comment we have is from the European Central Bank, who while reporting the biannual figures for counterfeit notes, in July 2003, stated that, "According to the European Commission, the number of counterfeit coins has remained low". The Deutsche Bundesbank has published the number of counterfeit coins found in circulation in Germany for the first 6 months of 2003 as 3,314 pieces. 3,224 (97.3%) of these were 2 euros. This compares with 1,032 counterfeit coins found in circulation in Germany for the whole of 2002. Although still small, the problem is increasing rapidly.

The report of the European Technical and Scientific Centre, ETSC, for 2002 published in March 2003 makes public a number of previous unknown items. ETSC estimated in 2002, that up to two million counterfeit coins may have been put into circulation. It identified eleven classes of stamped counterfeit. The quality of the stamped 2-euro counterfeits was relatively good and they circulated mainly in Germany with German, French, Belgian, Irish, Dutch and Spanish faces.

The one euro stamped counterfeit coins were mainly found in the south east of France with some others found in Germany, Italy and Austria. The national faces were mainly French and Italian but also German and Spanish. ETSC and the Italian authorities were both of the conclusion that these pieces had the same origin, the illegal mint detected by the Italians in October 2002.

Only one class of stamped 50-cent counterfeit coins had been identified. This corresponded with the coins seized by the Italian Carabinieri in June 2002 when an illegal workshop was discovered along with 70,590 counterfeits. The quality of the design of these pieces was considered very close to the genuine coins.

755 cast counterfeits were discovered and grouped into eight different local classes. They were mainly 2-euro pieces and concentrated in Germany. Their quality was considered to be mediocre.

In July 2003, Europol announce that, "three underground mint shops, equipped for the production of Euro coins, have been dismantled in Italy and Portugal since the beginning of the year". Press reports, in the second half of 2003 included examples of one euro counterfeit coins in Greece and claimed to have been imported from Turkey; and in Finland reports of small numbers of the first 2-euro counterfeit coins with the Finish design on one side.

The Japanese 500-Yen coin

The Japanese 500-Yen coin, introduced in 2000
Weight: 7.0g
Diameter: 26.5mm
Alloy: nickel brass
(Cu 72%, Zn 20%, Ni 8%)

Counterfeiting snippets from around the world

In 2003, there have been reports of counterfeit coins being found in: South Africa (Five Rand, R5), Japan (500-Yen), Vietnam (1976 1-Dong), India (5-Rupee), Hong Kong (10-dollar) and China (1-Yuan).

The Japanese reports are some of the most interesting. The new 500-Yen coin was introduced in 2000 to combat the persistent counterfeiting of its predecessor. The counterfeits were frequently used to slug vending machines. The coins are made of an eight percent nickel brass alloy not usually used for coins. Other anti-counterfeiting measures introduced were: a latent image, as with the UK 2 coin, a helically milled edge, micro dots within the paulownia leaves of the design and micro stripes applied against the background of the Chinese characters. Unfortunately all these properties require the coin using public to be aware of them and to examine their coins closely.

In November 2003, eight counterfeit 500-Yen coins were found in a supermarket in western Japan. The counterfeits were identified when staff put them into a coin counter at the end of the day. The pieces are made of brass plated with nickel. They do not appear to have the latent image but no comment has been made about the edge millings. The fact that a coin counter identified the counterfeits would indicate that the material used would not fool a vending machine with an electronic, conductivity based discriminator.


The counterfeiting of circulation coins in England and Wales in the first half of the Twentieth century

Criminal statistic are not absolute facts, their accuracy varies according to how they are collected, police procedures and prosecution practice. That said, they are often all we have to show us trends in criminal behaviour over time. For those interested in counterfeiting, the statistics in the Royal Mint Annual Reports published since 1870, are invaluable. I have been carrying out some preliminary work on these statistic between 1900 and 1950. The amount of detail reported varies and towards the end of this period because of a number of factors they become unreliable. However I have reproduce two of the graphs I have made to illustrate the changes in the amounts and nature of counterfeiting. Double click on the thumbnail images below to load the respective graphs and use your browser back-space arrow to return to this page.

Graph of the annual number of convictions
 for coinage offences in England and Wales, 1900 to 1950

The graph above is not as clear as I would wish. The one below uses a five yearly average of the convictions for making counterfeit coin. I believe it makes the trends clearer. However these should not be interpreted in a simplistic manner. We know the type of counterfeiting before World War I differed in character from that in the 1930's. Mr.Phelps, the Royal Mint's Chemist and Assayer, observed in 1932 that, "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."

5 yearly average of the annual number of
 convictions for making counterfeit coin in England and Wales, 1905 to 1950

I have more work to carry out on these figures, but hopefully in the future they will be the basis of a full article.


The counterfeiting of British Victorian 5 gold coins in the 1960's

The Public Records Office, Kew, has been recently given a "make over" and renamed the National Archives. Here are deposited the record books and official files of the Royal Mint. British law usually allows these to be examined after thirty years. One of these files, prosaically named: "Requests for examination of 5 pieces", Ref.2, allows us to find out about the glut of counterfeit 5 pieces which entered Britain in the late 1960's.

The file is documented to cover the periods 1965 to 1969. It starts with a request, in November 1965, from the Customs and Excise to the Royal Mint to examine a 1887 5 gold piece. This piece was one of a number imported from Kuwait by a Mrs.Akel, a Birmingham jeweller. It was alleged she was selling these pieces on to other small jewellers in the English Midlands. G.P. Warden, a principal scientific officer at the Mint, reported the piece was a counterfeit. This was based on the low weight and density of the piece, the incorrect number of millings on the edge and a number of visual defects on the coin. From the density of 17.05g/cc Mr.Warden estimated that the coin contained about 89% gold as against the 91.66% found in the genuine coins. The file contained a photograph of this coin and it is reproduced below.

1887 counterfeit gold
 5 ex. Mrs.Akel

Photograph showing the 1887 Jubilee gold 5 ex. Mrs.Akel

Type Weight Density Millings
Mrs.Akel counterfeit 39.7204g 17.05g/cc 188
Genuine coin 39.87549 to 40.00507g 17.45 to 17.55g/cc 184

The file does not detail the visual faults of the counterfeit but examination of the photograph reveals a number. On the reverse, the body of St.George had not been completely "made" during the striking operation. Both sides contained a large number of pimples and depressions. The pimples were especially noticable on the table next to the body and leg of St.George and on the bottom part of Queen Victoria's veil. There is also a small die crack visible near the top right hand side of the I of Victoria.

In early January 1966 Mr.Warden completed the examination of a further three 5 pieces for Customs and Excise. Two had been found on Mrs.Akel and the third had been alleged to have been sold to a jeweller by Mrs.Akel. These coins were 1893, 'old head', gold pieces. They were all found to be counterfeits but no photographic record has been left. Again the densities were low, see below. Mr.Warden observed that on the obverse there was a noticeable line emanating from the Queen's mouth. The reverse had a die crack near the edge above the horse's head. All three counterfeits were considered to have been made by the same dies.

Type Weight Density Millings
Mrs.Akel 1893 counterfeit 1 39.9601g 16.78g/cc 160
Mrs.Akel 1893 counterfeit 2 39.9326g 16.72g/cc 160
Mrs.Akel 1893 counterfeit 3 40.0545g 16.72g/cc 160
Genuine coin 39.87549 to 40.00507g 17.45 to 17.55g/cc 184

Later in January 1966 Mr.Warden reported on a further four 5 counterfeits involving Mrs.Akel. Eventually the Customs and Excise decided to take no action against Mrs.Akel under the Coinage Offences Act 1936. They knew she was returning home to the Middle East and did not believe they could prove she knew the pieces were counterfeit.

In their report of this case Customs and Excise mentioned the rumour that the counterfeits were made in Italy. In March, Mr. Warden wrote to a D.Sgt.Potter, New Scotland Yard, concerning these counterfeits. He wrote "The opinion here is that Interpol should make enquiries to find out where these coin are being made (rumour says Italy)". There is no evidence of a reaction from Interpol in the file.

In April 1966 Mr.Warden examined eighteen gold 5 coins belonging to a Mrs. Lorne Smith. She had purchased them in the Gold Market in Kuwait. She had obtained them from a Usif Babahani who told her they came from Beirut. She had bought them for about 20 each having been advised she would be able to sell them in the UK for about 70 each. When she took them to sell to Seaby they were declared counterfeit.

Of the eighteen pieces thirteen were dated 1887 and five 1893. The 1887 pieces were considered identical to those examined in the Mrs.Akel case. The 1893 pieces were not of a type seen before. It was noted that the density of these coins indicated a gold content of about 90%. No other details of the physical measurements on these pieces were recorded. The Forensic Science Laboratories took a number of photographs of these counterfeits. Photographs of one of the 1893 counterfeits are reproduced below.

Reverse side of 1893
 counterfeit gold
 5 ex. Mrs.SmithObverse side of 1893 counterfeit gold
 5 ex. Mrs.Smith







Photographs showing one of the 1893 counterfeits ex. Mrs.Smith




The file does not describe any visual defects noted. From the photographs a number of pimples and depressions can be seem. Perhaps the most prominent defects are the parallel lines apparent on the rump of the horse and the table behind the rump.

In a note on the file, dated 4th May 1966, E.G.V.Newman, the Royal Mint's Chemist and Assayer, noted that D.Sgt Potter, the police liason authority with Interpol would like three actions considered. They were: firstly for the Mint or the Treasury Solictor to approach the authorities in Beirut and Kuwait regarding the matter; secondly to approach UK based oil companies to warn them of the situation; thirdly to have a brief article on the subject published in one of the numismatic journals.

The file contains a letter from the Foreign Office to its representatives in Kuwait, Bahrain, Dubai and the other Gulf States, warning of the problem and asking them to inform British companies in the area. The file does not contain any feedback from this letter. Any further information held by the Royal Mint would be in files not yet released to the public.

The manufacturer of the coins was not identified up to 1969. The two probable source were Italy as mentioned previously or Beirut. My guess would be Beirut; that the counterfeiters had moved on from copying gold sovereigns. The profit on this had reduced when the UK resumed making the coins in 1957. These counterfeit five pound pieces are possibly the connection between the 1950's counterfeit sovereigns and the Harry Stock/Said Chaloub 1970's counterfeiting scandal.

Ref 2, [Royal Mint official file], MINT 20/3391, "Gold: Requests for examination of 5 pieces", date covered 1965-1969.

Copyright Robert Matthews 2003