Counterfeit Coins and How to Avoid Them

Coin forgeries have been made since coins were first minted. So first we need some definitions.

Fakes Counterfeits and Forgeries : items made with the intention to deceive. These can be both modern or contemporary.

Reproductions or replicas : items which are created to be copies but with no intention to deceive. These are usually bought by collectors as space fillers in a collection or sold by museums as items of interest.

Whilst some forgeries are very poor others very difficult for even the most experienced numismatist to detect. Contemporary forgeries can be valuable in their own right.

There are several different methods that forgers have used to create their copies. These can  include

Casting a process by which a mould of an original coin is created and molten metal is poured in to create the forgery.

Electrotyping where a mould is created and the metal of the coin electroplated onto the surface. Can be used to make high quality forgeries.

False Dies can be used to make coins but very difficult to create dies of the quality of the originals.

Reusing original dies

Alteration of an original coin. This often involves doctoring a genuine coin to improve its grade and therefore its value.


What is your best defence in avoiding forgeries?

Buying from a reputable dealer or auctioneer who will ideally guarantee all his coins are genuine. If your dealer is also a member of the BNTA or IAPN this should also reassure you.

Handling a large number of coins. After a while you will get the feel of coins that are not quite right and may be fakes. This comes only with experience.

Buy a good set of scales. Coins which are underweight or overweight may be suspicious.

Checking your suspicious coin against sites like

And finally if a deal seems too good to be true if probably is!

There are still strict laws regarding counterfeiting legal tender as well as selling an item as genuine whilst knowing it is not. However penalties are considerably more relaxed than in 1125 when according to the Anglo Saxon chronicle.

"In this year sent the King Henry, before Christmas, from Normandy to England and bade that all the mint-men that were in England should be mutilated in their limbs; that was, that they should lose each of them the right hand and their testicles beneath. This was because the man that had a pound could not lay out a penny at a market. And the Bishop Roger of Salisbury sent over all England, and bade them all that they should come to Winchester at Christmas. When they came thither then were they taken ore by one and deprived each of the right hand and the testicles beneath. All this was done within the twelfthnight. And that was all in perfect justice because that they had undone all the land with the great quantity of base coin that they all bought.".