How to Identify Fake Ancient Coins

How to Identify Fake Ancient Coins

Quick Guide to Identify Fake Ancient Coins


Counterfeit coins have been a prevalent issue in the field of ancient numismatics, where collectors and enthusiasts strive to acquire genuine and historically significant artifacts. These counterfeits are created with the intention to deceive and can pose a significant challenge to even experienced individuals.  Understanding the patina of coins is crucial in distinguishing between authentic and counterfeit pieces. The presence or absence of a natural or artificial patina can provide valuable insights into a coin's authenticity. Counterfeit coins often lack a genuine patina, leading counterfeiters to artificially apply one to mimic an antique appearance. This necessitates the need for numismatists to familiarize themselves with the characteristics of genuine patinas to differentiate between real and fake coins. Additionally, it is important to consider the possibility of cleaning and restoration processes that may have altered a coin's original patina. Characteristics of artificial patinas, such as a powdery texture, unnatural uniformity, and distinct color variations, can serve as indicators of counterfeit coins.

One of the most common methods used by counterfeiters is casting, a process that involves creating a replica of an original coin by pouring molten metal into a mold. Counterfeiters meticulously craft wax molds or other materials to accurately replicate the original coin's design. When executed flawlessly, casted counterfeit coins can be indistinguishable from the genuine ones. However, imperfections such as small bubbles, reduced detail, or marks on the rim can indicate the casting process. Counterfeiters often attempt to conceal these imperfections by sanding down the surface, but altered areas can still be discernible upon close inspection. Visual analysis, including the examination of casting lines and discrepancies in strike quality, can aid in identifying these counterfeits.

A relatively unconvincing fake Dekadrachm of Athens

Genuine Example of Ancient Greek Coin

Genuine Example

Die transfer counterfeits, also referred to as die-copy counterfeits or die-slipped counterfeits, represent a type of counterfeit coin that is crafted by transferring the design of a genuine coin's die onto a different blank. This method allows counterfeiters to create replicas of the original coin with a higher level of accuracy compared to other counterfeiting techniques. The process typically involves creating a mold of the genuine coin's die and then using it to produce counterfeit dies. These counterfeit dies are then pressed onto blank planchets made of a different metal composition, resulting in coins that closely resemble genuine ones. Detecting die transfer counterfeits can be challenging as they mimic the intricate details of authentic coins, but experts rely on visual inspection, comparison with known genuine examples, and advanced techniques like X-ray analysis to identify subtle differences.


fake ancient greek coin

Die Transfer Counterfeit

real ancient greek coin

Genuine Example

Sand casted coin counterfeits are a type of counterfeit coin created through the process of sand casting. In this method, counterfeiters make a mold of the original coin by pressing it into a bed of fine sand. Molten metal, usually a base metal like copper or bronze, is then poured into the mold to create a replica of the coin. Sand casting allows for the production of multiple counterfeit coins with relative ease and low cost. However, the quality and accuracy of sand casted counterfeits may vary, as the process is less precise compared to other counterfeiting techniques. These counterfeit coins often exhibit imperfections such as visible bubbles, less detail, and marks on the rim due to the casting process. In an attempt to make the counterfeits appear more authentic, counterfeiters may sand down these imperfections, resulting in an altered surface. Detecting sand casted counterfeits requires careful examination of the coin's surface for any signs of casting marks, inconsistencies, or altered details.


sand cast counterfeit of a Lysimachus Tetradrachm

A sand cast counterfeit of a Lysimachus Tetradrachm


real example of a Lysimachus Tetradrachm

A genuine example

To counterfeit the most valuable ancient coins, counterfeiters resort to using false dies. These counterfeit dies are meticulously crafted to produce coins that closely resemble their authentic counterparts. However, despite the counterfeiters' efforts, there are often major differences between the genuine and counterfeit coins. Notably, the planchet, or the blank disc from which the coin is struck, can be a key indicator of authenticity. Genuine coins exhibit a lustrous shine and shimmer when rotated, whereas counterfeit coins lack this characteristic. Over time, genuine coins tend to develop oxidation and lose their luster, especially after centuries or millennia. Counterfeiters may attempt to mimic wear by using tumblers or sandpaper, but microscopic examination with a loupe can reveal telltale signs of counterfeit production, such as small fractures instead of genuine wear. In many cases, seeking professional certification becomes essential to accurately determine the authenticity of coins produced with false dies.   


 A Counterfeit Sestertius of Nero

      A Counterfeit Sestertius of Nero


genuine example of a Sestertius of Nero

A Genuine example

Ancient counterfeits, also known as fourrees, hold historical significance as they were struck by local scammers or counterfeiters, rather than by governments. These coins were often created by impressing molds of authentic coins, casting metal into the molds, and plating the copper base with silver or gold. Over time, the thin layer of precious metal on these coins tends to deteriorate, resulting in distinct characteristics that aid in identifying them today. However, it is crucial to differentiate these historical fourree coins from modern counterfeit schemes, which pose a significant threat to the ancient coin industry. Modern counterfeit coins, commonly associated with Chinese counterfeiters, utilize advanced techniques that mimic genuine coins more effectively, endangering the integrity of the market.

In some instances, counterfeiters resort to creating replicas using pre-existing fourree coins as molds. These counterfeit coins are often weak, fragile, and possess thin planchets, presenting additional challenges in distinguishing them from genuine ancient coins or conventional counterfeit replicas. The recognition and identification of these specialized counterfeits require an in-depth understanding of the characteristics that deviate from typical counterfeit coins.

Counterfeit coins continue to pose a significant challenge to collectors and enthusiasts in the field of ancient numismatics. The tactics employed by counterfeiters, such as casting, the use of false dies, and replication of fourree coins, demand increased vigilance and expertise to identify authentic coins accurately. Collaborating with reputable dealers, enhancing knowledge about ancient coin production techniques, and seeking professional certification are crucial steps to ensure the acquisition of genuine artifacts. Efforts to combat modern counterfeit schemes are essential to safeguard the integrity of the ancient coin industry and preserve the historical significance of these numismatic treasures.


Article By. Colby J. Abele

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