Modern Forgeries:
Alexander the Great
Fakes

Gold Bulgarian School forgery of an Alexander III stater, 8.6g. This is superficially deceptive forgery, made of solid gold and the correct weight and diameter. But both Nike and the inscription are globularized, with pronounced dots used in the engraving. It appears to have been originally engraved and machine pressed by one of the Bulgarian forgery workshops.

In an email exchange with a Bulgarian dealer, he said that said it was probably made by one of the students of Slavey Petrov from the city of Dimitrovgrad in Bulgaria. It's a copy of a coin from an uncertain mint in Greece or Macedonia with an ant symbol, c. 310-275 BC, M.J. Price 831.

   
   
                   
    Modern forgeries are an inevitable part of the ancient coin marketplace. Ancient coins were engraved and struck by hand and exist in a great multitude of types and varieties.

Despite the denials of some ancient coin dealers, forgery is a bigger problem with ancient coins than with modern coins. It goes without saying, on the other hand, that ancient coins can be considerably more interesting, for their age, their history, and their beauty.

Ancient coin forgery isn't a problem collectors should run away from, or that dealers should hide, or that anybody should sensationalize, but a challenge that can be fun, much as scoring deals on coin purchases can be fun. There are far more authentic coins on the market than forgeries at any given time, but the forgeries are there. You can reduce the uncertainty when buying, but you can't eliminate it. If you can't live with uncertainty, you should probably be trying to fill Whitman folders with pocket change.
   
    Cast forgery of an Alexander III stater, 6.0g. This lightweight fakes has the casting pits, muddy details, filed edges that are common in cast copies. It came from a collector who's father won it, as an authentic coin, in a poker game during the 1970s from another guy also originally from Greece. The mint mark is a wreath on on a tripod. It's a copy of alifetime coin from Sardes, Lydia, Asia Minor, c. 334-323 BC, M.J. Price 2537, SNG Cop. 645. M.J. Price F22-23 (same flan shape as F23).    
   
   
                   
    One way to reduce the uncertainty due to counterfeits is to buy only from experienced dealer/numismatists and high-end auction houses, whose knowledge can greatly reduce the chances of getting stuck with a fake. Another way is to gain knowledge yourself, about forgeries, replicas, and authentic ancient coins, which will open up less costly buying sources, including fellow collectors, European importers, and other value sellers, while providing a measure of security. Buying from different types of sellers, both toney and bargain-priced, can enrich the experience of collecting ancient coins.    
    Gold-plated lead forgery of an Alexander III stater, 9.0g. M.J. Price F48.

This is a copy of a possible lifetime stater from Macedonia, but it's significantly overweight for a gold stater. This, along with the pitting on the reverse, indicates it likely is gold plated with a lead interior. The styling is sloppy and amateurish as well. It was probably created through hand-cut dies and a hydraulic press. This fake is documented in Price as Price F48.

This forgery was offered for sale as an authentic coin in a private eBay auction (which prevents people from warning bidders) by a seller from Cyprus who indicated the coin was located in the United Kingdom. The seller's previous auctions were all public. In the auction description, the seller wrote, "This coin is certificated to be authentic and at least 2300 years old... Was given to me to place on eBay by my anty in UK. It belonged to her late husband Proffesor Karapatakis. His collection of Greek and Roman coins is of the highest quality."
   
   
   
The forgery problem is more prevalent at the low end, on eBay and at in-person flea markets. As the coins below and on the following pages illustrate, eBay has been host to many long-running scams involving the sale of forgeries of ancient coins as authentic coins, scams that have cheated many hundreds of people out of many hundreds of thousands of dollars. I've seen estimates of the percentage of forgeries on eBay ranging from 2 percent to 25 percent of all ancient coins up for auction at any one time, though in all likelihood the number is below 5 percent. eBay represents only one part of the market, but it's an important part in terms of both the total number of ancient coins sold per year and its impact on new collectors.

Forgeries are a problem at the high end as well. Forgeries are regularly withdrawn from the catalogs of the toniest U.S. and European auction houses, typically very quietly. I've heard from a highly reliable source that in some instances, when a large auction house learns that one of its coins is a forgery, rather than withdraw it, it continues with the auction, then informs the winning bidder of the mistake and doesn't proceed with the sale, thereby admitting its mistake to only one person. In either case, when withdrawn, these forgeries are returned to the consignors.
Silver forgery of an Alexander III stater, weight unknown.

This is a copy in silver of the previous fake. Notice how with the first fake the spaces between design elements are filled in with the gold plating, such as the curls in Athena's hair and the hatches in the lightning bolt in the reverse left field.

   

Most ancient coin auction houses have return policies lasting only a short period, often a week. This is too little time to send the coin out for a second opinion to David Sear's Ancient Coin Certification Service or to others. I've heard that auction houses will accept the return of a coin that has been deemed a probable fake by someone with the stature of Sear, but I've also heard that there have been disputes, with auction houses refusing to accept the return of a coin, disagreeing that it is false.

   
Bronze cast tourist fake of an Alexander III stater, 2.8g.

I bought this piece at a local coin show as a tourist fake for $5. The flan size and styling are realistic enough but the piece's color and the casting pits indicate its true nature. I'm calling it a modern forgery, but it may have been made as a jewelry piece, not meant to deceive. In person, it's thin, which along with its consisting of bronze, accounts for its very low weight. It copies Price 3716.

                   
    Two incidents in recent years show how forgeries are a problem at the high end at coin shows as well. At the most prestigious ancient coin show in the U.S., the New York International Numismatic Convention, top dealers were fooled in buying thousands of forgeries of the same coin types as authentic coins in 1999 and 1988. When discovered, these New York Hoard and Black Sea Hoard fakes were returned to the suppliers (by most, not all, dealers). It's not unreasonable to presume that these two incidents aren't isolated, that they reached widespread public awareness only because of the sheer numbers of forgeries involved, and that in other cases smaller groups of forgeries, initially thought to be authentic, were quietly returned to the suppliers.    
                   
    Die struck or pressed modern silver forgery of an Alexander III dekadrachm, 33.9g (compared with about 43g for an authentic dekadrachm).

Very early in my study of Alexander the Great coinage and fakery, I bought this piece, as a fake, from an established dealer who had a very visible presence in a major numismatic publication. He described it as a dangerous die struck "ancient metal" fake. I consequently paid decent money for it as a fake. When I got home and weighed it, I discovered it was seriously underweight, at 33.9g vs. about 43g for an authentic specimen. I thought, Why would a forger go to the expense of melting down authentic ancient coins or using an intact dekadrachm-size ancient coin flan to make a convincing fake and get the weight so wrong?

I consequently showed this piece to several dealers known for their authenticity expertise at the next New York International, and none felt it was made of ancient metal. I asked the dealer I bought it from for a refund because it wasn't what was sold to me. He refused and disparaged me for not knowing better. After several rounds of angry letters back and forth, he relented and accepted the return of this piece along with a similar Athenian Owl dekadrachm forgery that I had also bought as an ancient metal forgery.

This forgery appears to have been die struck or pressed rather than struck, but along with it being severely underweight, the styling is off, more reminiscent of an Alexander drachm than the imperial Herakles and Zeus dekadrachms issued in Babylon c. 325-323 BC. It's estimated that there are only about a dozen authentic specimens known of this type.
   
   
   
                   
    What is clear is that often dealers refuse to buy a coin or coins because he recognizes them as forgeries, in which case the supplier continues shopping the forgeries around until he finds a dealer who doesn't recognize them as such. Ultimately, with this scenario as with the others, the forgeries eventually reach a seller, and collectors eventually get stuck.

A notable exception to this is instances of dealers buying groups of coins that include a relatively small number of fakes without initially noticing that the pieces were false. Perhaps the fakes were salted in deliberately; perhaps they were included inadvertently. When they discover them, dealers typically eat the loss and remove the forgeries from the market by throwing them in their black cabinet, where they remain hidden and undocumented.

These behind-the-scenes actions aren't effective in controlling the forgery problem. Merely withdrawing forgeries quietly from sale and returning them to the supplier/consignor just passes the problem down the line without preventing collectors from becoming victimized. This is much like what would happen if a school teacher, caught sexually abusing one of his students, were merely transferred to another school district instead of being prohibited from teaching again. Other analogies apply. And throwing fakes in a black cabinet, hidden away, does nothing to solve the problem.
   
                   
    19th century struck forgery of Alexander III tetradrachm, 17.0g.

This is the single most dangerous Alexander forgery documented here. I bought this as an 18th or 19th century struck forgery, and I paid $55 for it, which is considerably higher than what forgeries sold as forgeries typically go for. On the other hand, as Ken Bressett, editor of A Guide Book of United States Coins (the Red Book) and past president of the ANA, pointed out in his ANA video "Famous Fakes and Fakers," some forgeries sell as forgeries for more than the authentic coins they copy. There's a market out there for forgeries as collectibles, and there are collectors who would second Bressett's words that some forgeries can be considered "true numismatic items" that are "enjoyable to study and collect."

This piece appears to be made of solid silver, is the right weight, has convincing simulated wear, exhibits old toning, and has an authentic-looking flan. It copies Price 237, a possible lifetime tetradrachm struck c. 325-315 BC that Price tentatively attributes to Pella. The reverse copies Price 237 very closely, while the obverse copies more closely similar Pella tetradrachms, which isn't unusual for authentic coins. The dealer I bought this from sold it as a forgery and when I remarked how realistic it looked, he said, "Who knows. It could be real." There are in fact instances of coins in black cabinets that turn out to be authentic after all. The dealer had bought it as part of a forgery collection.

I consequently showed the piece around to six of the most well-respected ancient coin dealers in the world at the next New York International, expressing concerns about its authenticity and asking for an opinion. Some of the dealers looked at it under a magnifier, some with the naked eye. Five deemed in authentic, while one refused to offer an opinion. To be fair, none of these six dealers looked at it for more than about 20 seconds, and none had access to a stereo microscope.

I showed it to one more person, Ursula Kampmann, secretary of the Forgery Committee of the International Association of Professional Numismatists. She was the only one to state the belief that it was false, offering the view that it could be a 19th century forgery.

Afterward, I showed this piece to others online, recounting my experience in showing it around at the NY International. I received some interesting arguments in support of the belief that the piece was a forgery. One person felt that the legend and monogram were too thin and the scepter and throneback were unrealistic, but each of these features matches well the photograph of Price 237. Several people felt Zeus' face was not right, but that too matches Price 237. Another person pointed out that the P was missing in the legend before the final two letters OY, but Price 237 is also missing a P there. Still another person felt that the placement of the monogram was "clearly wrong," but Price 237 features the monogram in the same place.

The intriguing possibility exists that both this specimen and Price 237 are forgeries, a possibility that Robert Kokotailo also suggested at the time. In looking at the 265 tetradrachms that Price illustrates from Macedonia (Amphipolis, Aegeae, Pella, etc.), I noticed no other specimen that was clearly missing the P in the legend, and no other that had a monogram above Zeus' right arm (Price 104A has a star countermarked above Zeus' right arm). No one is perfect, and even a numismatic god such as Martin Price made mistakes (as was pointed out, for instance, in two "errata" articles by Charles Hersh and Arthur Houghton following the publication of Price's magnum opus). My belief, at this point, is that Price 237 is in fact a forgery as well, based in part on its uniqueness as a variety, in part on the provenance of the particular forgery illustrated above. One highly regarded U.S. auction house sold a specimen matching Price 237 that reportedly was from an old collection, which could be another forgery from the same hand struck more than a century ago.

In an online authentication test I conducted, most people felt the above piece was authentic. Joe Sermarini of FORVM felt that this was piece was false, though he wisely hedged by saying, "If modern the most dangerous of the fakes in the test."
   
   
   
                   
    Certain problems are intractable. If ancient coins up for auction or sale are questioned externally or internally but deemed authentic by the auction house head or senior dealer, they're typically sold that way, with no mention that a credible question was raised about their authenticity, let alone that opinion remains divided in those cases in which it is. If there were full disclosure with coins like these, they would sell for less. But numismatics isn't medicine, with life-threatening issues at stake. You can't force dealers to fully disclose everything they know about what they sell, ethical though it might be for them to do this.

It's likely that there's frequent disagreement. As a test, Kevin Beaulieu, a collector specializing in Severus Alexander coinage who maintains the SeverusAlexander.com Web site, earlier sent a group of four Severus Alexander denarii that be believed to be authentic to David Sear, whose credentials and reputation are unequalled. He deemed three out of four to be modern forgeries. Beaulieu then showed two of the coins deemed false to Harlan Berk and Curtis Clay, whose credentials and reputations are also unassailable. They deemed them to be authentic.
   
                   
    Modern struck forgery of Alexander III tetradrachm, 15.77g.

This is an example of a deceptive die-struck modern forgery that deceived a high-end, well-respected European auction house, which included it in a recent auction before withdrawing it from sale.

The piece was described in the auction catalog as Price 683, a posthumous tetradrachm from Corinth. The obverse, however, matches Price F67 on the second of his three pages documenting Alexander modern forgeries. At 15.77g, the piece is also light for an issue of Corinth from this period. The 13 Corinthian tetradrachms in Price issued between 310 and 290 BC range in weight between 17.14g and 16.50g.
   
   
   
                   
    In his otherwise excellent 2001 book Classical Deception, Wayne Sayles wrote that the forgery problem is of "miniscule proportions" and the number of fakes on the market today compared with the number of authentic coins is "statistically insignificant." I believe such "all's well with world" thinking promotes the interests of dealers by fostering a sense of security among collectors while understating the true nature of problem. On the other hand, exaggerating the problem through alarmism and sensationalism, which happens frequently online, does nothing in the name of truth either.    
                   
    Modern struck forgery of Alexander III tetradrachm, 15.81g.

This is another deceptive die-struck modern forgery, this one having deceived a high-end, well-respected American auction house. It included this piece in one of its recent catalogs before withdrawing it from sale.

The piece was described in the auction catalog as Price 481, a posthumous tetradrachm from Amphipolis. It's an exact die match, obverse and reverse, for Price F67. As you can see it shares the same obverse as the fake immediately above it on this page. Price lists 64 Amphipolis tetradrachms minted between 315 BC and 294 BC, and all but three weigh above 16.53g.
   
   
   
                   
    Relatively few dealers are eager to talk openly about the ancient coin problem, though my experience is that most (not all) will generously offer an opinion about the authenticity of a coin you hand them at a coin show. On the other hand, I've found that very few established dealers are willing to cooperate in the effort to document ancient coin forgeries. Though there have been exceptions, I've had very little success when asking dealers I know if I can buy or borrow black cabinet material to study, photograph, and document in the counterfeit education effort, and I've similarly received very little cooperation in even receiving photos from dealers of these pieces in their black cabinets. Other collectors have reported similar experiences.    
                   
    Modern cast forgery of Alexander III tetradrachm, 13.5g.

This is another version of Price F67, though not a die match, with the obverse different. Like most cast fakes, this piece small and lightweight. It appears convincing enough on screen, but in hand and up close its pitted surfaces and filed edge are apparent. It appears to be made of silver. Interestingly, it's a mule, copying the obverse of tetradrachms from Babylon and the reverse of tetradrachms from Amphipolis. The reverse appears to have been cast from the previous fake or a another specimen of the previous fake. I bought it as a forgery from a dealer of ancient coins and artifacts.
   
   
   
                   
    I've been forced, for the most part, to obtain forgeries from European direct sellers selling them as replicas or from collectors in trades. Thanks to those dealers who have cooperated -- your anonymity, again, is assured.

I don't believe the reason for the lack of cooperation from most dealers, many of whom I've bought from, is that they believe I'm going to turn around and sell the false pieces as authentic -- this is a valid concern in some cases. I believe they simply want to keep the forgery problem quiet and private.

I see three factors at work promoting this: 1) Dealers want to avoid scaring off collectors, which Alan Walker elucidated in his letter in the March 2005 Celator. 2) Dealers don't want detection information, particularly diagnostics, to get in the hands of forgers, who could use it to make more convincing forgeries. 3) Dealers have a "private guild" mentality, wanting collectors to look to them for forgery knowledge and control rather than gaining this expertise themselves, which would give collectors more confidence in buying directly from fellow collectors and from European direct sellers, thereby bypassing traditional dealers.
   
                   
    Modern struck forgery of Alexander III tetradrachm, weight unknown.

This piece originally appeared in a European auction but wasn't recognized as a forgery. Shortly afterward the coin then appeared for sale with a U.S. dealer. After it was pointed out that the coin was false, the U.S. dealer withdrew it from sale.

The symbol on the reverse is that of an Aramaic B. Price lists only one specimen in his massive catalog with such a symbol, a tetradrachm forgery he identifies as F93A (but doesn't illustrate).
   
   
   
                   
    I believe that for the most part the interests of ancient coin dealers and ancient coin collectors coincide, and that cooperation among these two groups should, and does, exist. But their interests don't completely coincide.

Giving collectors in general more knowledge won't prevent a large percentage of them from continuing to seek greater security by buying from dealer/numismatists instead of going with sellers closer to the source or buying directly from fellow collectors.

I don't believe the argument is credible that exposing forgeries merely helps forgers make more convincing fakes. I think there will also be competition between forgers and forgery detectors and that the same base of knowledge is shared among them today and will continue to do so in the future.
   
                   
    Modern cast forgery of Alexander III tetradrachm, 15.3g.

This piece was offered for sale as a mid-20th century silver forgery. It's likely cast, though it's a high-quality cast copy, with realistic-looking toning. It copies Price 1181, from Odessos.
   
   
   
                   
    This and some of the other sections of this website are part of a number of online efforts to empower collectors by providing them with information about ancient coin forgeries, to help them avoid becoming victim of fraud. These efforts have been undertaken by both collectors and dealers.    
                   
    Modern cast forgery of Philip III tetradrachm, weight unknown. This another high-quality cast forgery, also likely a mid-20th century piece. In this case it's a copy of a Philip III tetradrachm, Price P186, from Babylon. This photo was sent to me by a dealer who said he bought the piece in a Mediterranean country in the early 1960s.    
                   
    Modern forgery of Alexander III tetradrachm, 18.2g. I don't know much about this piece except that it sold as forgery on eBay for $41, which is a lot for a piece of this nature, and that it was identified as weighing 18.2g, which is significantly overweight. Interestingly, it features one or possibly two fake test cuts on the stomach of Zeus, an attempt to make this fake look ancient. Whether it's struck, pressed, or cast, it's not a particularly attractive copy. The obverse is off center, and the reverse exhibits a legend that's mostly missing.    
                   
         

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