|Carl Becker, 1772-1830, forgery of Pertinax denarius (top)|
with the genuine Roman coin of the same type (bottom)
photos: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
Celtic coins that are not in the classical styles present a problem as they are not of an artistic style that we emulate today, and there are only two ways to detect a forgery : from analytic methods such as the observation of minute details in comparison with known genuine examples, or metallurgical or metrological methods, or that gut feeling that comes when one has handled enough genuine coins of the period. Our unconscious minds are recording everything, but is is only upon some sort of stimulation that this information comes into our consciousness. A year or so ago, there was a British Celtic coin type that became fairly plentiful in dealer's catalogues. The very first one I saw, bothered me. I felt that it was a modern forgery, but I could not explain to anyone what made it a modern forgery. I started to compare it with other examples and that is when I discovered that there had been a small number of them offered for sale in recent years. When I saw that each one of them had exactly the same details visible on the coin (unusual for many Celtic coins which are often off-struck and you have to look at a number of them to see the complete design), I was confident in my original assessment. A good forger only copies what is seen and knows better than not to invent part of a design as it will never be quite right.
Finally, I took all of the photos to my friend Robert Kokotailo of Calgary coin who has handled tens of thousands of ancient coins over many decades and also personally collects and studies forgeries. I told him that I was sure the coins were all fake but could not explain what gave them away. He took one look at the inscription on the coins and told me, "In every ancient coin I have seen that has beading in the ends of the lines of the letters, the die engraver cuts these dots first to use as a guide for the lines of the letters. On these coins, all of the beads were done after the letters were engraved". Then it became obvious to me too.
Novice collectors should familiarize themselves with the coins they want to collect even just by looking at illustrations in books before they start to buy their coins. Do not rely on certificates of authenticity, these are often used as a confidence trick to prevent buyers from being suspicious, but do buy from dealers who have a good reputation in the trade and will refund your money if anything turns out to be false (and some forgeries are very clever and can fool even seasoned dealers). Anything can be faked, and that includes provenance and find-spot information. Some ways to tell bad fakes are simple: a lost wax-casting of an ancient struck coin will feel soapy to the touch because the presence of raised bubbles and these bubbles can also be found in the smallest of lines of a pressure-cast forgery such as in the inscriptions of the silver coins of Syracuse. It might take a microscope, however, to see these bubbles in a good pressure cast fake. Most modern coin forgeries are of relatively modern coins: There are Chinese "copies", for example, of eighteenth century American dollars that are made very skilfully. With ancient forgeries of Celtic coins, the question is more "Are these really fakes or some sort of token?" Finally, do not take any web-page feedback as an indication that all is safe: many people can be fooled by fakes and will give positive feedback.
Tomorrow, an amusing example of journalistic(?) hype.
John's Coydog Community page