Thursday, 25 February 2016

Celtic coin forgeries: part two

(Celtic Coin Index Online images - click to enlarge)

One of the most interesting examples of reported modern forgeries of Celtic coins is British B2 and thanks to open access, you can read the original paper where the series was published as being new (before its condemnation): Michael Mackensen, Eine neue Serie britischer Goldstatere, Jahrbuch für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte, Band 23, 1973.

This post does not attempt to determine if the series is a modern forgery, it only addresses the criteria that can be used in this and other series to make such a claim. The given reason for the condemnation of B2 is that the coins contain alloying amounts of zinc. I am at a disadvantage here in that when i became interested in this matter, I found two analyses of coins in the series and the alloys where somewhat different in each. Unfortunately, this was in the eighties and I no longer have these records. Still, it is not vital to my argument and was just something that made me wonder about the claims of them being fake at the time. I do remember, though, working out the percentages of zinc and discovering that if the zinc had been added in the form of brass (copper/zinc alloy), it was certainly of "low brass" rather then "high brass" the terms refer to the amount of zinc possible in the alloy. The former was only what existed prior to the seventeenth century. Low brass was called orichalcum by the Romans, and in coinage it makes its first appearance on coins of Julius Caesar. Although no genuine Celtic coins have been discovered which were made from low brass as early as Caesar, the reason cannot be be given for the B2 coins being forgeries because it uses the absence of evidence fallacy. We are constantly finding new things in the subject of Celtic coins, even entirely new types and alloys (such as the Corieltauvi scyphate issue). B2 could, however, be forged in modern times if the forger decided to use quite a number of Roman orichalcum coins to prepare the alloy. That he would deliberately use zinc would be bizarre as it would make their authenticity suspect at once.

Forgeries are made to deceive, and not to arouse suspicion, so this should be one of the criteria used in detecting them. It is insufficient to say that something is fake because it does not correspond exactly to what is already known, instead we should ask "is this a genuine forgery", in other words is it being a labelled a forgery because of what the forger did, instead of what he failed to do according to some arbitrary law applied to an obviously incomplete sample. All archaeological samples are incomplete as they refer to what had survived up to the point of discovery and not what had originally existed.

Of course, a forger can make mistakes and that is how real forgeries are discovered, but I have seen too many examples of something being condemned on the basis of a faulty reason to be suspicious of "rule-based" condemnations. I have also made several thousand dollars by buying an advertised forgery that I was sure was genuine. The down side is of that sort of thing is that once an object has been reported as a forgery, it loses value regardless of whether it is later determined to be real even when its original condemnation can be demonstrated to be due to an error in research at that time.

Die links for B2 from Mackensen, 1973
Another suspicious aspect is the pattern of die-links. I can neither abrogate nor confirm from the illustrations what Mackensen says about part of the order determined through his observation of modifications and the cleaning out of a clogged die because the illustrations are not good enough for me to tell even when I increase the gamma. We should wonder, though, about a couple of things with this pattern of die links: It seems to me that the link symmetry is rather "contrived" with obverse dies A, B, and C in how the reverses each omit one internal link; and the reuse of dies can be caused by bringing back into service, a die considered to have been worn or damaged. A great example of this is with the Armorican series Xn where you see really badly crazed dies being reused. With that series, however, the links are all over the place and show no regular patterning as would be expected by trying to use dies long after their "best before date". So from these factors, I do suspect a deliberate intention to deceive.

Does this prove that B2 is a modern forged series? Not at all. Series Z (formerly of the Coriosolites, but which I have reattributed to an issue of Viridovox of the Unelli), is, in one sense a fake series. It was constructed from dies that mimicked the stylistic evolution of the Coriosolite series, but the design changes were completely arbitrary. To any modern person this would mean nothing, but the people in that time and place were aware of such things and it was important to them: they had a need for change and originality in design that was more marked than it is was among other tribes, although you can see almost token attempts at it in some Corieltauvi and Trinovantes coins. It is also expressed in one of the Irish stories regarding the design of a shield. Viridovix' issue was a hurried one and was paid out to rather inferior troops who would have been easier to fool. These coins are also known by their careless manufacture. So it is entirely possible, on the basis of the published information, that B2 was made some time after B and was intended to mimic B .

As I said in yesterday's post, the condemnation of forgery should be attended with ample demonstrations taking a number of factors into consideration, and from the actual coins or by directed enlargements of their details. By not using such factors, and by repeating sloppy research, all that happens is that bad research gets perpetuated through the belief in expert statements which fail to quote the reasons for such decisions. As one archaeologist told me after I published a drastic revision about a published Irish site, and referring to the original publication: "We all just took it for granted".

Tomorrow, contemporary forgeries.

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