|COUNTERFEIT COIN NEWSLETTER||Robert Matthews Coin Authentication|
No. 7 December 2006EDITORIAL
The explosion of the World Wide Web and its many sources of information has brought significant benefits but also problems. One of the most difficult problems for your editor is the reliability of its numismatic information. Before the internet one had newspapers, magazines, books and the word of mouth of an "authority". A newspaper's history and reputation was a guide, but it had to be remembered that a general journalist rarely knew anything about coins. Scholarly magazines and books had their expert referees and editors. Authority by word of mouth was hard earned and usually required respect from known collectors, dealers or academics. This rather cosy world is now split asunder by this upstart Internet.
Now many people from around the world are publishing numismatic information and opinions on the web often anonymously and sometimes with malicious intent. How do we judge those that are important and truthful? Disagreements appear, many with rapid, poorly considered contributions. It would appear that all opinions are equally valid but of course they are not.
So what are the guidelines used by your editor as he compiles this little newsletter. Firstly the bedrock is still those books and scholarly journals of the old media. They or their function may migrate to the web in the future but they have not been replaced yet.
Next this newsletter will always attempt to indicate the source of its information, either within the article or more formally at the end. Hopefully this will allow the reader to make an intelligent judgement as to its validity. Where possible two or more sources will be used to confirm facts.
Finally where possible if an "expert" is quoted an indication of their expertise will be attempted. Sometimes this is difficult, as often a numismatist will create a website or contribute to one without describing who they are, what their background is and how long they have been involved with coins.
Readers will have to decide how well these aims have been achieved.
COUNTERFEITING SNIPPETS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
A study of the silvering process of the Gallo-Roman coins forged during the third century AD
"Part IV: Platinum roubles as an archive for the history of Platinum"
Rumaging in the Archives
In November 2006 Rhode Island state police, working with a number of other agencies, arrested and charged a sixty-four year old local resident, Louis "The Coin" Colavecchio, "on 10 counts of...forgery, counterfeiting, or alteration of trademark". Police allege that at Colavecchio's home and his business premises they found counterfeit casino tokens and the equipment needed to manufacture them.
At the time of his arrest Colavecchio was still on probation after being sentenced to 27 months prison in January 1998 for similar offences. One press report claims that Colavecchio, while still in prison, acted as a paid consultant on counterfeit coins to a number of casino companies. He also published a video on how to beat the casinos. This was still available on-line in November 2006.
Police claimed Colavecchio made tokens varying in value from five dollars to one hundred dollars. The tokens were for Connecticut casinos (Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun), New Jersey (Trump Marina, Trump Plaza, Atlantic City Hilton, Taj Mahal, Sands and Caesar's Palace) and Las Vegas (Harrah's and Bogata).
In the past casino slot machine tokens have been counterfeited especially with relatively simple cast lead based alloys. Colavecchio during his previous arrest and conviction was described as a tool and die maker. This training and skill meant he was able to use relatively sophisticated techniques in the nineties and is now alleged to have used similar techniques again.
In the nineties Colavecchio used a laser cutting machine to manufacture coining dies and a 150 tonne press imported from Italy. This time amongst other items the police allegedly seized were rubber moulds, dies, strips of metal and a heavy-duty press. The police have displayed some of the items seized and these have been illustrated in some of the press coverage. One article's photographs show numerous coinage dies, rubber moulds and scissel (coinage strip after blanking). Another article shows counterfeit bi-metal tokens of undoubted quality.
Police spokespersons have been quoted as saying that Colavecchio took rubber mould impressions of genuine tokens. He then melted the token and sent it for chemical analysis. He then purchased strips of metal of the correct composition and these were blanked and struck into tokens. It is currently unclear how the dies were cut but the rubber impressions were used as the starting point.
The Sasanian, Sassanian or Sassanid Empire
Starting about 224AD, Ardashir I took a decade to establish the Sasanian Empire. It grew to include modern Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and a large part of what was Soviet Central Asia. This empire continued for over four hundred years until replaced by the early Islamic Caliphate.
Ardashir I started a new coinage with his own profile effigy on the obverse and a Zoroastrian fire-altar on the reverse. Most of these coins were silver but there were also some gold and copper coined.
A possible counterfeit Sasanian coin offered for sale on an Internet auction site
A series of die matched Sasanian coins have appeared for sale over the last two years. They have now mostly been shown to be cast counterfeits perhaps made in China. Below is a brief account of some of the published actions that exposed these fakes. It is an encouraging story of worldwide co-operation by Sasanian enthusiasts.
In July 2005, Paris based "daifulei" posted on to the zeno website details of a Kushano-Sasanian coin he(?) considered doubtful. "Daifulei" had obtained the coin in Beijing two years previously. The coin was silver in appearance, weighed 3.8g and had a diameter of 28mm.
Details of this coin and similar ones were then posted onto the forgerynetwork.com run by Australian based Mark Naber. "Daifulei" also posted details to the specialist Yahoo discussion group, Sassan-L, asking for opinions on its authenticity. To allow comparison, San Francisco based Tom Mallon posted a series of images of similar die matched coins that had appeared between November 2005 and January 2006. Leading dealers had sold some of these coins but the majority were sold on eBay. On Sassan-L, Mallon wrote that the coin ex. Elsen was, "sharper more defined than the others". He wondered if this could be the 'real' one and the 'mother' of the rest."
Francois Gurnet, a Brussels based specialist in Sasanian coinage replied on Sassan-L, "I think we have to be very cautious here. Same die does not mean fakes." Gurnet then bought a similar coin via an eBay auction. Gurnet wrote, "It's clearly a beautiful fake! The patina comes off easily with a brush and small bubbles are then visible here and there. It seems that the injection occurred at the bust level". Finally American coin dealer David L. Tranbarger attempted to warn a wider audience about these fakes on eBay via the Yahoo Coin Forgery Discussion List [CFDL].
It had been generally accepted that there were not many counterfeits of Sasanian coins. The "Bulletin on Counterfeits" first published photographs and details of six gold Sas(s)anian Dinar counterfeits in its October 1978 edition [Vol.3, No.3, pp58-59]. The general description was of them having, "a satiny appearance". This description often applies to many cast counterfeits. The forgerynetwork.com has put images of these and five other Sas(s)anian counterfeits, subsequently described by the "Bulletin on Counterfeits", on to its website; just search for "Sassanian".
[Sources: Sassan-L, zeno-ru [Oriental Coins Database], Tom Mallon-Mccorgray (Grifter Web site), CFDL, Wikipedia and "The Coin Atlas"]
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A 1796 counterfeit silver dollar
In a rundown area of central Los Angeles known as Skid Row, police seized an assortment of goods being sold by two men from an upturned cardboard box. Amongst the dubious DVDs etc. police found 24 silver dollars with dates varying from 1794 to the early twentieth century. The coins were being sold for twenty dollars [£11] each, although if genuine some of the coins would be worth well over 50,000 dollars.
Initially police seem to be assuming the coins were probably stolen. When Ron Guth, president of the Professional Coin Grading Service, examined the coins he said, "all you have to do is give them a once over with your eyeballs to know they're fakes". It subsequently emerged that police had seized small numbers of similar coins over the last couple of months from local drunks and drug dealers.
It is doubtful that the counterfeit dollar coins contain any silver. kcal9 have put an interesting video news report onto their web-site site showing the coins, how and where they were seized and the police initial reaction.
The police are attempting to find the source of the counterfeits. There are many older counterfeit silver dollars from numerous sources in circulation. These LA counterfeits are certainly very similar to counterfeit coins originating in China. If this was the source then although wishing the police luck they would be advised not to be too optimistic. Is it too much of a coincidence that the Chinatown area is also in this central LA police district?
[Sources: The Guardian, LA Times, Associated Press, abc News and kcal9]
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The genuine Philippines 5 and 10-peso coins
The 5-peso coin
The 10-peso coin
On 17th October 2006 a joint operation of agents of the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation [NBI] and the Philippines National Bank [BSP] raided premises in Valenzuela City. They found counterfeit coins with a face value of five million peso and the equipment for manufacturing counterfeit coins. A Taiwanese national, who lived in Valenzuela City, was arrested on suspicion of manufacturing and distributing counterfeit coins.
The counterfeits and equipment were found in premises rented by the arrested suspect. The seizures included mainly fake 10-peso coins with a small number of fake 5-peso coins. The seized equipment included "stamping machines", an air compressor, coin counters, a "packaging and polishing machine" and a "set of P5 cliché or electrotype plate" [It is assumed this means coinage dies].
The NBI said the suspect had been producing counterfeit coins since April 2006. They claimed he said his operation could make five million pesos worth of counterfeit coins per week. The profit was about 50 pesos for every batch of coin with a face value of five hundred peso. At just over ten percent this seems to be remarkably low by international standards. The NBI estimated that up to 120 million peso worth of counterfeit coins could be in circulation.
The BSP issued a memorandum on the 20th October 2006 describing the characteristics of the counterfeit coins. Both the 10 and 5-peso counterfeit coins were described as having a low relief and a coarse appearance with surface bubbles. The 10-peso counterfeit was described as magnetic, differing from the genuine bi-metal coin that is made of non-magnetic aluminium bronze and cupro-nickel alloys. No details have been reported as to the material of these ten-peso counterfeit coins but with the bubbling described it is possible the outer is nickel-plated steel. The scallop design on the 5-peso reverse is described as touching the rim on the counterfeit coins.
The police believe that the arrested man was part of a syndicate making and distributing the counterfeit coins. Within days of the arrest nearly 30,000 peso worth of counterfeits were handed into the police from a cockfighting arena. Subsequently five people were arrested exchanging fake coins for genuine ones at a 24-hour convenience store. The NBI were puzzled that only 5-peso "templates" were recovered. They have intelligence that two other counterfeit coin syndicates may be operating. The arrested suspect was believed to have used coinage blanks imported into the Philippines from China.
In November, with a bizarre symmetry, two Taiwanese nationals were arrested in the Philippines for attempting to smuggle six tons of flattened genuine one-peso coins to China. The metal content of the coins was worth more than their face value.
[Sources: Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, The Manila Times, Manila Standard Today, ABS-CBN, Sun.Star, ing7.net and Daily Mirror]
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COUNTERFEITING SNIPPETS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Chinese arrest man for selling counterfeit 2008 Olympic coins
The China Daily reported in early December 2006 that the Beijing police had arrested a man in a market in the Haidian district of the city. He was accused of selling fake 2008 Olympic mascots and coins. The coins were described as having the Olympic logo and "manufactured in a rough way" [cast?]. These had not been made by the Chinese Banknote Printing and Minting Corporation, the sole authorised manufacturer. On the stall of the accused the police found more than 20 kinds of commemorative coins. It was claimed he was the first to be arrested for selling fake 2008 Olympic goods.
Counterfeit Athenian "Owls"
The silver Athenian owl tetradrachm is probably the most well known of all the ancient coins. It circulated in the fifth century BC. It consists of an effigy of the helmeted Athena on the obverse and an owl on the reverse. A version of this owl features on the modern Greek one-euro coin.
USA-based, Reid Goldsborough, who has one of the most popular counterfeit coin sites on the web, has compiled an informative web page on some of the varieties of counterfeit Athenian owl coins. Each of the eighteen examples is illustrated, fully described and the weight of the example is usually recorded. He describes how these counterfeits appear to mainly originate in Bulgaria and the Lebanon. Reid is still looking for further examples and asks any collector who can help to contact him. This appears to be a very useful site for all "owl" collectors especially for those relatively new to the hobby.
A series of scandals hits Turkey's Museums
In the middle of 2006 the Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister instigated a series of investigations into the inventories of thirty-two Turkish museums. This follows the arrest of nine men, including the director of the Usak Museum, on suspicion of stealing and replacing with forgeries a number of the items from the treasure of King Croesus of Lydia. This treasure dating from 560-546BC contains the famed "Winged Sea Horse Brooch" as well as a number of coins and was only recovered from New York's Metropolitan Museum in 1993 after a lengthy legal battle.
The investigations reportedly revealed that at Kahramanmaras Museum 545 coins, dating from 333 to 361BC, had been stolen and replaced with copies. Other reports alleged that counterfeit coins were knowingly and corruptly bought as genuine by some museums. The scale of the problem is still unclear but with an estimated 1,658,275 coins in ninety-two Turkish museums the scope of the problem could be vast. None of the current reports describe the origin, type or quality of the copies found and whether the authorities have destroyed them.
In the last six months media coverage has included: counterfeit Panda coins in "Coin News", August 2006, vol. 43, No.8 and the NGC November 2006 eNewsletter; the "Flooding" of fakes on to London's collectables market by Russian gangs [Mosnews]; fake Iraqi artefacts being sold in London to fund terrorists [The Independent] and the conviction of a UK coin dealer for attempting to sell coinage dies bought from the bankrupt Birmingham Mint [icBirmingham].
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Canadian police find a counterfeit coin "factory" near Montreal
According to CBC, the Canadian police have accidentally stumbled onto one of the most sophisticated counterfeit coin manufacturing facility ever found in Canada. In early October 2006 the police were accompanying tax officials on a tax evasion raid of a metal token factory when they found counterfeit one and two dollar coins. Police alleged that the factory in Repentigny was taking in metal sheets and turning them into counterfeits of the same weight and very similar appearance to genuine coins. One person was arrested, questioned and release. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, RCMP, have not responded to a request from the editor for information asking whether any charges have been laid concerning this "factory".
Changing to notes, the Bank of Canada has acknowledged that it has one of the worst counterfeiting problems in the world. In 2004 there were 470 fake banknotes for every million genuine notes circulating. This reduced to a still very high 326 in 2005.
Finally the Toronto Transit Authority, TTC, has spent 1.7 million dollars on the introduction of a new bi-metal token. Officials are quoted by 680 news as saying, "new technology in the tokens make them next to impossible to reproduce". This statement seems to be a very large hostage to fortune. A TTC spokesman said that they are suing an unnamed U.S. mint that made the counterfeit tokens reported on in a previous article in Counterfeit Coin Newsletter 6.
Champion collector of fake UK one-pound coins?
Correspondent Alan Humphries is from the North of England. In addition to his more conventional interest in ancient coins he has been collecting one-pound counterfeits. He now has more than two hundred distinct varieties. It is difficult to believe this is not a record, unless somebody out there knows better? Alan's samplings lead him to believe the number of counterfeits is about two percent of circulating one-pound coins. This is twice as much as the Royal Mint's estimate. The difference may be due to regional variations or sampling differences.
Channelnewsasia.com, on the 11th August 2006, reported the arrest of a Malaysian man attempting to smuggle 2,000 fake Singapore one-dollar coins across the boarder from Malaysia to Singapore. On the 13th August Singapore Press Holdings reported a police raid on premises in Pontian, Johor, Malaysia where "metal stamping machines", counterfeit Singapore one-dollar coins and counterfeit Malaysian 50-sen coins were found. The Star reported, on the 22nd August, that the owner of the premises, a blacksmith who only spoke Mandarin, was brought to court for faking 30,000 coins. The trial was fixed for the 13th December 2006.
11th September 2006, Shanghai, 120,000 counterfeit one-yuan coins were seized by Nanchang authorities and twenty-one suspects arrested. [Shanghai Daily]
30th October 2006, Wulan, seven suspects were arrested and two underground facilities for making fake coins "uprooted". Police seized 195,000 fake one-yuan coins, 700,000 semi-finished coins, five machines and 50 molds(?). [Shanghai Daily]
3rd November 2006, Shenzen, the Shenzen Bus Corp. has installed machines on 120 buses to check if coins and banknotes tendered by passengers are genuine. The city's buses had been receiving over 40,000 counterfeits per day. Over ninety percent of these were counterfeit one-yuan coins. [Shenzhen Daily]
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For the editor one of the enjoyable aspects in producing this newsletter has been exploring the vast areas of the numismatic world of which he has very little knowledge. This website on the coins of South Asia [India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and the Maldives] is one such area. In a part of the world with so many divisions it is refreshing to read that one of the groups main aims is, "..to promote and celebrate the commonality of culture and history between South Asian countries. Hence, please refrain from religious or nationalistic postings."
The site is easily navigated and scholarly in nature. It contains an abundance of resources including maps, language and script notes, what appears to be a comprehensive bibliography and a coin cabinet with images of typical coin examples. The "Counterfeits/Forgeries Section" contains a number of sub-sections perhaps the two most interesting being a bibliography of articles on the forgeries of South Asian coins and a "Forgeries Database". The database is not large, 35+, but it appears to contain examples of counterfeits across many of the main areas. The tone of the database is struck by the example cited to demonstrate its construction; this is Chinese cast cash coins and under the heading "Current situation" is the comment "Hopeless - fakes and originals indistinguishable". Commendably honest and a warning how other areas of numismatics could go without vigilance.
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"A study of the silvering process of the Gallo-Roman coins forged during the third century AD"
Deraisme A., Beck L., Pilon F. and Barrandon J.-N, Archaeometry 48, 3 (2006) pp 469-480
"This paper focuses on the silvering process used during the third century AD to produce false coins called antoniniani (..also called 'radiates')". It compares official coins produced in Trier (Germany) for Postumus (AD 260-269) against unofficial issues found in two hoards one in Holland and the other in France. The bulk analysis of the coins was established using fast neutron activation analysis (FNAA). The crystal structure was examined by metallography using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) with an energy-dispersive x-ray spectrometer (EDX) attachment.
The official coins of Postumus were found to be made of an alloy containing between 13 to 20% silver. The unofficial coins consisted of a mainly copper alloy with between 0.4 to 4.5% silver. These unofficial coins were coated with a silver alloy with a thickness varying from 20 microns to 100 microns. The official coins had a crystal structure consistent with striking but the unofficial coins had a mainly cast structure. The authors' produced a similar structure by wrapping copper discs in silver foil and heating them in a pot covered in charcoal at 950 degrees centigrade and then cold striking the discs. They accept that dipping a disc in a molten silver alloy could also produced a similar structure.
The paper should be understandable by the non-scientist. The work is not startling original, but just the same interesting. A good review of all the then known silver-plating technologies used for contemporary forgeries of ancient coins is "Technology of silver-plated coin forgeries" by Susan La Niece in "Metallurgy in Numismatics, Volume 3" published by the Royal Numismatic Society, London 1993, pp 227-236 + 3 pages of plates.
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"Part IV: Platinum roubles as an archive for the history of Platinum"
Rehren, Thilo, Platinum Metals Review, vol. 50, Issue 3, July 2006, pp 120-129, link
"This paper augments a series of articles on Russian roubles in this Journal..[see review in Newsletter 3] with a summary of recent research into the manufacturing history and materials characterisation of these coins. The results are not only significant for the identification of genuine roubles issued between 1828 and 1845, ‘Novodel’ issues produced in the late 19th century, and outright forgeries of the 20th century,".
The author explains that the "Novodel" coins were coins struck by the Russian Royal Mint for collectors in the late nineteenth century using the tooling from the much earlier issues. He states this means it is almost impossible to distinguish between the two issues numismatically. Perhaps the only clue is that none of the "Novodel" coins were issued into general circulation.
The paper reports the results from the examination of eight 3-rouble coins and a modern Russian platinum coin used for comparison. The 1828 coin examined was in uncirculated condition and from its analysis etc. identified as being a "Novodel" issue. The paper opinions that identification of a "Novodel" coin requires consideration of the whole of the impurities present in the coin not just the iron. This means that just using the analytical results from an energy dispersive spectrometer(EDS) attached to a electron-microscope is insufficient. The poor limits of detection on this instrument do not allow the measurement at low concentrations of a number of important elements.
This is an important and comprehensive paper examining the minting of the platinum roubles within the context of the development of the techniques of platinum refining. The paper is not easy reading and may cause the non-scientist some difficulties. It is also unfortunate that two of the four references on the analytical techniques used have not been published yet.
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The editor loves nothing better than browsing in second-hand bookshops. One of his "must do's" of every year is a visit to Hay-on-Wye. This small, self-styled "town of books" nestles just inside the Welsh boarder and is full of second-hand bookshops. Although it now has its own website nothing can beat the thrill of searching the musty bookshelves and finding that little gem. The book may have been something that has been sort for years or it may be something one did not know one must have until it was found.
Lucas stated that, "it is generally necessary to determine the weight, specific gravity and composition of the suspected coins." The composition was often used to establish a link between a counterfeit coin and a manufacturing facility. He emphasised that, "the most important points to which attention should be directed are first the details of the design." He also described a method of counting the number of ridges on a milled coin by colouring the edge of the coin with ink, except for one ridge, and rolling the edge on paper. The overall impression from the chapter is the similarity of approach between 1921 and a nearly century later with mainly just the technology available to carry out the same tasks having been transformed. Perhaps the main area not considered by Lucas but of importance now is the examination of the metal crystal structure. Currently this provides evidence to help explain the manufacturing technique used to produce a counterfeit coin.
For those looking to buy numismatic and second-hand books there are many interesting web-sites. The editor can recommend two that he uses regularly. British based Galata is run by a husband and wife team who are coin enthusiasts and it shows. The books are honestly described and realistically priced. Abebooks was started in Canada and is now a worldwide grouping of second-hand bookshops. It does not include many specialist numismatic book dealers. However often the price set for coin books by general dealers appears more reasonable than that set by the specialists. The editor is very proud of the two volume set, "Catalogue of the Coins, Tokens, Medals, Dies and Seals in the Museum of the Royal Mint" by William Hocking, published 1910, that he bought earlier this year via Abebooks. This set cost £75 while a similar set offered by a specialist numismatic dealer at the same time was priced at £150.
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