Editor's note: The following is the second 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.
Becker was one of the most prolific and accomplished counterfeiters
of the 19th century.
No early forger was destined to become as famous as German engraver
Carl Wilhelm Becker would be.
Read other posts in this series:
Born in 1772, he was making fake coins and other antiquities as
early as 1806, apparently as a sideline to a trade in genuine
antiquities. His buyers were the wealthy princes of Europe, who filled
their cabinets with Becker’s work.
George F. Hill explored the 360 or so examples of fake Greek coins
created by Becker in Becker the Counterfeiter, published in 1924.
“Some of his efforts are of course wide of the mark; but others are
as near to the original as anything that his successors have
produced,” Hill wrote.
Besides Greek coins, Becker also produced fake Roman, medieval and
modern coins. While many of the Greek coins were in bronze, he used
silver and gold for his fakes, as well.
Although Becker was periodically accused of forgery, he defended
himself by claiming his productions were “instructive” in nature and
never sold with the intent to deceive. Notes found in his diary after
his death suggest this was not quite true, as Hill provides multiple
instances where examples were sold through third parties at or near
The deception even extended to the metal that he used — when
available, Becker acquired cheap ancient coins to serve as the
planchets for new creations because the coins were of the right metal
and weight, and had an aged look and feel.
After production, Becker would take his pieces “for a ride,” placing
the “coins” in a box with other metal, attached to the axle of his
carriage, so the movement of the ride jostled the pieces, wearing away
some of the newness of freshly-struck pieces.
Lincoln W. Higgie, writing in the preface to a 1977 reprint of
Hill’s book, noted that “Becker is probably one of the most skilled
forgers who have ever cut a die with the intention of forging a coin.
He succeeds in most cases in capturing the style of the ancient coin
His lettering was particularly skillful, Higgie wrote, and this was
important, because many other forgeries could be identified by less
When Becker died in April 1830, financial troubles that consumed his
life continued for his family. The family used his dies to strike sets
of coins in a poor quality pewter alloy, with the examples sold to
collectors and institutions. At some point Becker’s family sold the
dies to the Saalfeld Museum, and they finally were placed into of the
collection of the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum in Berlin in 1911.
The Berlin museum used the dies to make and sell to collectors
off-metal sets of the “coins.” Sometimes, pieces would be plated with
the same alloy of metal as real examples, for use as a substitute in a
collection for an otherwise unobtainable coin.
The practice of museums issuing replicas or reproductions for
supposed educational benefit extended even to the vaunted British Museum.