Just like paper currency, coins have been counterfeited for as long as they have been in existence. In fact, even before there were any officially (i.e. government) recognized coinage, precious metal ingots were used as medium of exchange…and tons of fakes sprung up. Fake gold coins have been around since ancient times and have endured all the way up to our day. Here is a look at some of the more commonly known fake gold coins throughout history.
Methods Of Creating Fake Coins
Gold coins were first counterfeited by mixing the actual gold with other, less valuable, base metals. These base metals have included copper, lead, and nickel. In modern days, tungsten has also been used since it has a weight and density that is comparable to gold.
The other primary method of counterfeiting gold coins that started in the ancient world was a process known as ‘shaving’ or ‘clipping’. The perpetrator would shave the edges of a real coin, collecting the gold for themselves. Once this was done to enough coins, they could then fabricate another fake coin, with real coin mixed with base metals.
Modern day counterfeiting has gotten a bit more complex. Today, the gold coin may be hollowed out and replaced (filled) with one of the base metals. Tungsten is typically used by those with better tools and equipment, since it makes for a more believable copy that is not nearly as prone to detection.
The first known example of fake gold coins can be found in the Greek city of Lydia, around the year 600 BC. Typically, these fakes were created by either shaving off the edges of a real coin or mixing lesser amounts of gold with other base metals. The Persian Daric was also a often copied gold coin, in various denominations.
The Roman government even created their own fake gold coins. This was done primarily through debasement, using less and less gold over time. Of course, they demanded that they value of exchange be kept the same, even implementing draconian laws to enforce their wishes. Many historians feel that the amount of counterfeit gold coins in circulation combined with the government (and military) constantly debasing the money played a major role in the downfall of the Roman Empire.
Fake Gold Coins Of The Middle Ages
As the Byzantine Empire fell, the Islamic empires also began striking and faking gold coins. Some of the more commonly counterfeited coins during this era are the gold dinars of the Umayyad Caliphate, between the dates of 696 and 751 (listed on the coins as 77h to 132h).
While most of Europe during the Middle Ages used bronze and silver, there were some gold coins. Small gold gold coins were used in 10th and 11th century England, valued at approximately 2 shillings. During the 1250’s the florin started appearing throughout all of Europe. This was the main coin and currency of Florence and was very commonly made into fakes.
Modern Fake Gold Coins
Nearly every gold coin that became popular throughout Europe and the New World was counterfeited at some point. This included all of the Spanish coins of the 1500’s and later, even up to the Colonials and the gold Escudos. These circulated throughout the New World including Peru, Colombia, Mexico and Florida.
Some of the more common Spanish and Portuguese counterfeit gold coins include the escudos. Also known as the piece of eight, these are the original gold doubloons. Typically fake dates and denominations are:
Mexican 8 escudos, 1714-15 and 1731
Colombian 2 escudos, mid-1600’s
Spanish doubloon 8 escudos, 1792
Portugal Brazilian 800, 1600, 3200 and 6400 Reis, 1751-1778 (especially 1765)
Political Weapons & Modern Counterfeiting
Fake gold coins (as well as counterfeit paper money) were also used by governments to help destabilize other countries. This happened during both the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars, with fake gold coins being created by both sides involved in these conflicts.
In more modern times, the 1907 US $20 Double Eagle gold coins were famously counterfeited. These coins were produced during the 1970’s and included $3 gold pieces, dated 1874, 1878, and 1882. Many of these include a Greek letter omega on the coin design.
Discovering Fake Gold Coins
Today, there are a number of methods for determining the veracity of gold coins. This includes doing an acid test or using a tool that measures and tests the weight, thickness and even diameter of the coin in question. You can also make sure that it is not magnetic (real gold is NOT magnetic) or even conduct an x-ray test (which does have a slight margin of error). An ultrasonic test basically scans the coin, allowing you to ‘see’ inside. It is recommended that gold coin buyers conduct at least several of these tests to ensure reliability.
There have been fake gold coins throughout all of recorded history. Human beings have always been known for trying to take the easy way out whether this involved adding base metals to reduce the gold content or actually trying to create another type of coin altogether. Although gold coins are not typically used in general circulation today, you should always be careful to watch the veracity and authenticity of your gold coins.