Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Celtic coin forgeries: part one

Two alleged Dobunni forgeries top: EISV; bottom: ANTED.
A Google alert I received yesterday brought me to an interesting article about the successful prosecution of an Ebay seller who sold a Celtic coin knowing it to be a forgery. If you follow the link, you will notice that the coin was illustrated by a very blurry photograph. I suppose it is possible for a seller to use a blurry photograph quite honestly, but it would not be wise and alarm bells should ring when such a photograph is given in an ad. The subject of Celtic coin forgeries is more interesting than forgeries of most other sorts of ancient coins because there is a lot we do not know, for sure, about genuine Celtic coins.

Take the two coins on the right, for example. The data in the Celtic Coin Index says only that each obverse die is the same. It thus becomes a circular argument with the implied assumption that such a condition could not exist. If we assume that the names on inscribed Dobunni coins are of rulers who reigned consecutively then the argument is stronger than if we assume that these were all contemporary individuals who had coins struck to purchase troops or political support. The composition of  the gold alloys of several individuals are not  different enough to be sure of any gradual debasement over time and such a gradual debasement, in itself, is also an assumed criterion based only on general trends, but one which has exceptions.

Perhaps there were other criteria that are not mentioned in the data (a fault in itself), but if not, then it is a case of what I call "a single rule condemnation" which does not answer to the validity of the rule, itself. The best studies of suspected forgeries take a number of factors into consideration which, together, can reveal a statistically significant result. Robert Van Arsdell demonstrates this very well in the following articles:

Modern Celtic Fakes 1 – Cast forgeries of Durotrigan silver staters

Modern Celtic Fakes 2 – Haslemere Silver: some diagnostics

Modern Celtic Fakes 3 – Haslemere Die Dressing Errors

Modern Celtic Fakes 4 – the best Haslemere forgeries

Modern Celtic Fakes 5 – Haslemere vs. the legendary forgers

Modern Celtic Fakes 6 – an "obvious" fake'

Modern Celtic Fakes 7 – the Haslemere Forger improves his work

Modern Celtic Fakes 8 – Replicas

You will notice, in these articles, that the high magnification photographs are the very antithesis of the blurry ebay photograph shown in the news article. I am not saying that you should never buy something on the basis of a blurry photograph, just that you should be aware of the risks in doing so. Don't be fooled by certificates of authenticity, either. Many people will not examine a purchase any further, making the dangerous assumption that a seller would not give such a certificate unless the object was genuine and as described. It is often used as a protection from prosecution or a PR ploy. I have bought a number of examples of early Celtic art that came with such certificates and were certainly not as described. Did I ask for a refund? Of course not: what I actually bought was far rarer and more valuable than what it was described as being.

Some people might think that buying something with a recorded find spot or a previous chain of ownership will protect them. This is another dangerous assumption. Finds have been reported falsely for a number of reasons and actual archaeological sites have even been "salted" with fakes to give the type credibility. Also, some fakes have fooled many people for a long time. I cannot say whether the Dobunni coins I illustrate here are fakes because the pictures are photocopies of photographs. All I can do is to question the given criteria.

These records, however, can be updated and a new development in the Celtic Coin Index online is that I can authorize a password-protected site where you can actually edit the records and provide further information of any sort.Just contact me at john (at) (I give the email in that form so as to make it less likely to be machine-copied) and I will check with William, my tech-guy to make sure he is not still tinkering with that feature.

Tomorrow: are the British B2 gold staters fakes or an example of the "single-rule condemnation"?

John's Coydog Community page


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    1. Well-spotted Dale, and it is nice to hear that some auction houses are both conscientious and respond pleasantly about hearing such things and that they will then pay greater attention to what else they might be listing. I wish that all of them acted in such a professional manner. And no, I was not aware of any of that.



    2. Thanks for the details you sent me, Dale. I only got an "error, your search was empty" when I copied the link, but I was able to track down the auction house's archived copy of the original catalogue and saw the coin you referred to.



  2. Cheers John keep up the good work