World Coins

Not all ‘ancient’ coins are ancient

Paduan engraver Giovanni Cavino is the most noted of the artists to use ancient motifs for replica medals in the 14th century. This “sestertius” of Trajan is overstruck on an ancient coin or a Paduan copy and exhibits a large planchet crack.

Images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group.

Editor's note: The following is the first of a multi-part Coin World series about the market for ancient coin fakes and forgeries prepared by Jeff Starck for the December 2014 monthly edition of Coin World.

However, there is a growing market for some reproductions and forgeries, as substitutes for the more expensive real thing.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but when it comes to coins, it’s usually a bad thing.

Read other posts in this series:

Not all fakes are created equal — some were sold to serve educational roles and may have even been labeled by their maker so they could be easily identified as such. Others were the product of nefarious intentions, created to deceive. Either way, as some of the real coins have soared in price, the historic fakes have become more collectible, according to Kerry Wetterstrom, former editor of The Celator (an ancient coin publication), who now works for auction house Classical Numismatic Group.

“A counterfeit is still a counterfeit, and it’s not going to bring [huge sums], but more people are collecting them because, across the board, they have been priced out of the areas,” he said, in an email interview.

Collectors could consider several areas to pursue; we’ll highlight four major segments and provide some jumping off points for a collector looking to explore the topic further.

One of the earliest groups of collectible reproductions are those that sprang out of the Italian Renaissance.

Paduan copies

Wayne Sayles, founding editor of The Celator and author of seven books on ancient coin collecting, writes in Classical Deception: Counterfeits, Forgeries and Reproductions of Ancient Coins that there is a subtle difference between counterfeits and forgeries, with the former intended to pass as money in commerce and the latter to have collector value.

Collectors in Italy and Europe in the 14th century created a “burgeoning demand for antiquities,” coins in particular, according to Sayles.

“It was in this gold rush atmosphere of that era that forgery in the modern sense began,” he wrote.

Beginning in the late 14th century, artists in Padua, Italy (the most talented engravers and celators, wrote Sayles), began striking medals with imagery imitating that of ancient coins.

One of the most prolific and collectible artists is Giovanni Cavino.

“His medals are prized in collections worldwide,” according to Sayles. “... Most commentators have portrayed him as an artist working in the ancient style, rather than a forger.”

That distinction is based on Cavino’s skill — his medals were die-struck works of his own hand, and not mere cast copies.

The early, struck pieces are basically the same size as the original, ancient coins, which is one of the criteria that makes them tough to differentiate from the genuine coins, Wetterstrom told Coin World.

After Cavino died around 1570, collectors and dealers made casts from the struck Paduans, as these works are often called (regardless of artist), and each successive cast is usually slightly larger in diameter than the original, which helps to differentiate between them. Paduan-style copies have been made up to the 20th century.

“Early casts are harder to detect than the later ones from the 19th and 20th centuries,” Wetterstrom said. “Also, the patinas on the later ones can be very suspect.”

Some 122 types of Cavino fakes are known from struck pieces, Sayles wrote.

Cavino was praised in antiquity for his “sincere intentions in propagating interest in Greek and Roman art,” but he rarely signed dies.

“Whether or not he personally engaged in any form of deception, it is certainly a fact that some of his strikes were sold to contemporary collectors as genuine antiquities,” according to Sayles.

Aside from Cavino, no early forger was destined to become as famous as German engraver Carl Wilhelm Becker would be.

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