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Classical Deception: Counterfeits, Forgeries and Reproductions of Ancient Coins
Book Review by Jan M. Dyroff

Wayne G. Sayles Editor: Iola: Krause Publications, 2001

This is one of those very good books which belongs in the library of every collector, whether they focus on coins of the ancients (in this instance, mainly Greek and Roman) or not. It is well-written and, to borrow a computer phrase, user-friendly.

Bogus coins are the bane of our avocation. Clearly, our duty as numismatists id to sound the alarm when they are found. But, and this is a haunting questions, how do you know for sure that something false? Ultimately, you may not, but experience and learning go a long way towards helping.

Mr. Sayles begins with the premise that the method of manufacture of a coin is the first and most important clue to its integrity. He discusses various means of coining, including hammered coins, cast coins and coins struck from engraved dies. Making casts of coins seems to have been a favorite way of creating copies — and still continues to be — so there is a focus in this area.

Three different areas of forgeries of classical coins are considered. First, there are contemporary copies, when the counterfeiter set out to deceive for profit. Also there are contemporary copies from “unofficial” mints, which were winked at by the government as they supplied coin in quantities the official mints could not. Second, there are the Renaissance-era reproductions for wealthy patrons. And thirdly, there are the moderns items meant to deceive us.

We are introduced to some of the most well-known (or notorious) counterfeiters, men such as Carl Wilhelm Becker (1772-1830) and his near contemporary, “Caprara”. To tell their stories would be to steal some thunder from the book. But, it is worth noting, that some of the forgeries are as collectible as the real thing, if not more so.

While the main concentration of this book is on the reproductions of rare and fabulous coins, attention is given to more mundane efforts. For instance, there are hundreds of copies of cheap bronze coins that were not worth all that much to begin with. And the question is why? The proposed answer is curious — to add to bulk lots that come out of places like the former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, and for the on-the-spot tourist trade.

In a way, this book just touches the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the subject of coin reproductions or copies. The problem plagues every aspect and era of numismatics. The Numismatist devotes a regular monthly feature to this subject.

Each of us with a specialty, I am sure, could add chapters to this discussion.

There is an awful lot of good information concentrated in this book, including a meditation on the House of Representative Bill H.R. 9448 introduced by James A. McClure on March 25, 1969 and signed by Richard M. Nixon on November 29, 1973 — the Hobby Protection Act — and what it can and cannot do.

It should be noted that this book is lavishly illustrated and that the material in each of the chapters is accompanied by stunningly complete bibliographies. These aspects in themselves make the book invaluable as a research tool.

Mr. Sayles is well-known in the numismatic community. He has written several books and scores of articles. He founded and for many years served as editor and publisher of The Celator.
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