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Forgery and Fraud in Numismatics


mmarotta
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My interests are bit broader than this coin or that slab. Crime is the sine qua non problem of every society. In other words, how a community defines crime and responds to it also defines the society itself. That is true of numismatics as much as it applies to ancient Sumeria, medieval France, or modern Cuba. All crimes are harms. Crimes are harms that contravene legislation. Hurting someone is one thing; breaking the rules is another. In numismatics, we have codes of ethics. The ANA has two, one for collectors, the other for dealers. Dealers are held to a higher standard. When I asked the Michigan State Numismatic Society to create a code of ethics, we merged the two viewpoints on the theory that we collectors all buy and sell. Moreover, dealers, being forced to be generalists are at the mercy of collectors who specialize.

 

As I point out on my blog:

When the Clifford Catalog was published the glaring inconsistencies were impossible to ignore – except by those who never see the elephant in the room. And American numismatics is house full of elephants. ... Montroville W. Dickeson created replicas of colonial coins. ... Beginning in 1859, numismatists with friends at the Mint had their own 1804 Dollars made. ... Over the holidays 1912-1913, a clerk at the Mint, Samuel W. Brown, struck off five 1913 Liberty Nickels. ... instant rarities still leave the US Mint, including Sacagawea dollars “muled” with Washington quarters. ...

 

 

These are not just the counter-trend. Unlike the egregious coins and holders identified in this forum, the material cited above defines our hobby. Personally, I still enjoy numismatics, of course. Make no mistake about that. However, as a criminologist, I have special demons of my own to wrestle with. Crime is not something special; criminals are not people apart; but neither is morality a matter of arithmetic: even if everyone does it, it can still be wrong.

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Michael,

 

The crimes committed by numismatists are fairly substantial and continue to this day. Is it worse when the criminals are people that have been respected like Sheldon or Breen? The guy who stole the coins recently from the ANA wasn't famous but he caused a lot of damage. An officer of a regional association stated that that theft and the way it was handled have imperiled his ANA membership.

 

Personally, I have become more fascinated by the crimes or harms (after the laws were changed) people have committed with money. The nickel coinages, the trade dollar, manipulation of the gold and silver ratio. Of course in today's world the debt crisis, mortgage problems, and recession are due to the same impulses to tinker with money for personal gain without producing anything real.

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I found your blog on this subject fascinating. Crime is crime but when the crime involves faking, or making historical artifacts & thereby distort our accumulated collective knowledge of our history it crosses the line into a crime against humanity itself. Faking a rare coin is bad enough but making a total fabrication is beyond the pale & when it is committed by persons who supposedly love their area of expertise & they use this knowledge to dupe fellow collectors it is henious.

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How do you feel about completely retooling an ancient coin to look nice but to not be representative of what was issued in the past. There's a lot of super tooled coins on eBay these days.

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Honouring the past in that way is fine, if there is no attempt to deceive, unfortunately some people take advantage of new pieces & try to pass them off as genuine. I like many of them myself.... but they can "muddy the water". I love these by Helmut Zobl of Vienna but they are struck in aluminium/aluminum.

 

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The series of renaissance medals, copies of roman republic/empire coins/medallions originals and some complete fantasy ones, by Giovanni da Cavino of Padua( created in cooperation with the humanist and coin collector Alessandro Bassiano) were produced not to deceive but to supply people with material for their collections following the growth of interest in Ancient Rome. They were known as copies & fantasy pieces at the time they were struck, and Paduan medals are still highly collectible to this today. I would love to have some in my collection, just be aware that many that you see today are cast copies of his struck medals

 

http://www.coinsweek...8?&id=57&type=a

Quote from the link above(well worth reading it also contains a link to THE 'PADUAN.' BY RICHARD HOE LAWRENCE);

 

" we know that from time to time Cavino combined the reverses of his imitations not only with the portraits of Roman emperors but with the recently made portraits of influential politicians and merchants of his native city as well. That would have been silly if his imitations really had tried to deceive collectors"

 

I think that the crucial point is whether something is made to deceive or not. Buying a modern copy or fantasy piece and being made aware of that fact is okay.

 

Writing historical fiction is fine, writing history is okay too, but writing historical fiction and publishing it as fact is not.

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If intent was th only issue then why did they pass the Hobby Protection Act? Was it just to deal with Peter Rosa? The issue with copies, even bad ones, is that they can deceive later. I've been seeing quite a few of the Middle Eastern tourist pieces that some paid quite a bit of money to buy.

 

As for history, it is all at least a little fiction.

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The crimes committed by numismatists are fairly substantial and continue to this day. Is it worse when the criminals are people that have been respected like Sheldon or Breen? The guy who stole the coins recently from the ANA wasn't famous but he caused a lot of damage. An officer of a regional association stated that that theft and the way it was handled have imperiled his ANA membership.

That cuts to some basic questions about crime. In a sense, we are all criminals in that everyone commits harms: you only hurt the one you love. The two limiting factors are your intention and your response. When on a city bus you step on someone's toes, you say "Excuse me." Remorse is the proper response to harm. Despite psychological theories, criminals are not impulsive, but planful and habitual. Sheldon and Breen both were lifelong criminals. I believe that a deep investigation into Wyatt Yeager's past will reveal a similar pattern, not so much of misconduct - to err is human - but of planfully competent harms without remorse.

(Children are a special case, which is why special courts were created for them. Consider, moreover, that you can get married, vote, and join the army at 18, but not drink until you are 21, and a national corporation will not rent you a car until you are 25. Youthful indiscretions aside, there are children who chose to victimize those around them, though they themselves never were harmed. The roots of such behavior are not clear to me. No theories are clearly explanatory, predictive, and falsifiable.)

Personally, I have become more fascinated by the ... nickel coinages, the trade dollar, manipulation of the gold and silver ratio. ...debt crisis, mortgage problems, and recession are due to the same impulses ...

That also addresses a key problem. State crime (crimes committed by governments) and corporate crime are all around us. The mass-mediated hyper-reality of crime is about rich people killing each other over fortunes, but really, the victims of state crime and corporate crime are many and anonymous and (usually) alive. So, too, in numismatics, we all commonly live with habitual harms accepting them as normal.

Again, there are no easy answers. Preparing a set of classroom lectures I will deliver next week, I am reading about forensic psychology. One consultant (Barbara Kirwin, Ph.D.) considers "robber barons" and "junk bond traders" to be criminals. It is a common assumption. But then you have to look back at Bill Gates and Steve Jobs hotwiring construction equipment for a joyride and wonder.

... when the crime involves faking, or making historical artifacts & thereby distort our accumulated collective knowledge of our history it crosses the line into a crime against humanity itself. ...committed by persons who supposedly love their area of expertise ...

The word "love" raises many questions. An abusive relationship is not about love, but dependency and obsession. John J. Ford called collectors "boobs." (But then, H. L. Mencken complained of the "booboisie" who, in fact, were his readers. Some audiences pay to be insulted. You have to allow that, but wonder...) A lot of what happens on the bourse floor is about getting one over on the other guy and never leaving money on the table. I do not know that there are any bright lines. Clearly, though, Ford's actions were egregious. What puzzles me is that people pursue these famous frauds, not just one aficiado or another, but droves of hobbyists want to know about the 1913 Liberty and 1804 Dollar and when they come up at auction, they never disappoint the seller. I believe that it was the Byron Reed specimen that went from XF to Unc after being cleaned with a cloth by a museum curator. It raises fundamental questions about the banality of evil.

How do you feel about completely retooling an ancient coin ...

Honouring the past in that way is fine, if there is no attempt to deceive, unfortunately ...

... They were known as copies & fantasy pieces at the time they were struck, and Paduan medals are still highly collectible to this today. ... Writing historical fiction is fine, writing history is okay too, but writing historical fiction and publishing it as fact is not.

If intent was th only issue then why ... As for history, it is all at least a little fiction.

Intent is one factor, but it is not the only consideration. Intent or lack of it is easy to claim but harder to prove. I agree also that the problem is not so much this transaction, but the next one where the "audit trail" is lost. What about a retail clerk or bank teller who collects counterfeit US currency? Is that a valid pursuit in numismatics?

Another problem with fakes is knowing when they were made. Alan Herbert has written strongly against the collectability of "Vampire Francaise" coins as they have no audit trail. At coin shows, you find dealers selling lead Washington Quarters and Walking Liberty Halfs clearly labeled as counterfeit and (so they claim) made long ago.

As for the fiction of history, again, it is another problematic area, just defining its limits. Even the most reliable biographies depend on narrative that must be fictional. First hand records are constructed to be read by others. At some level, you just have to accept it prima facie.

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If intent was th only issue then why did they pass the Hobby Protection Act? Was it just to deal with Peter Rosa? The issue with copies, even bad ones, is that they can deceive later. I've been seeing quite a few of the Middle Eastern tourist pieces that some paid quite a bit of money to buy.

 

As for history, it is all at least a little fiction.

 

Quote from my earlier post "unfortunately some people take advantage of new pieces & try to pass them off as genuine" that is the criminal act, not the making of the copy & it being sold as a copy. I also stated that copies can "muddy the waters" Hence my point about Helmut Zobl's aluminum ancient greek copies, they cannot be genuine. The intent was only in regard to the person or persons making the said object. If they intended to copy a piece or invent a piece to sell as genuine that is a crime, if they copy a piece or invent a piece and sell it as such, there is no crime, unless legislation forbids the act.

 

The Hobby Protection Act was only enacted to prevent future deception by having copy or date added to the original article.

 

 

 

History is the accumulated knowledge gleaned from many ancient sources supported by the research of many dedicated individuals in mutiple disciplines throughout the centuries and though there are various interpretations & disagreements about much of it, I hope you are not implying that to add some complete fiction to it and disguise it as fact is acceptable in anyway?

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... the same impulses to tinker with money for personal gain without producing anything real.

The series of renaissance medals, copies of roman republic/empire coins/medallions originals and some complete fantasy ones, by Giovanni da Cavino of Padua ... I think that the crucial point is whether something is made to deceive or not. Buying a modern copy or fantasy piece and being made aware of that fact is okay.

If intent was th only issue then why did they pass the Hobby Protection Act? Was it just to deal with Peter Rosa? The issue with copies, even bad ones, is that they can deceive later. I've been seeing quite a few of the Middle Eastern tourist pieces that some paid quite a bit of money to buy.

 

Again, the solution, if there is one, rests on basic assumptions. In economics, value is subjective: one man's trash and all that. Forgers do create things of value. The question is whether the buyer knows the true nature of the object. The argument must then be extended to harms falling on future buyers. Mysefl, I think that the valid propositions are reflective (equal and opposite) to the concept of "rights." A right is something you do not need to ask permission to have. You have a right to life, but not to a livelihood; to liberty but not license; to property but not mine, because that would deny the concept of "property."

 

So, with forgers, they invest a lot of creative effort producing something of some value - but to whom and for what? Just as the thief denies the definition of property, the forger denies the validity of identity.

 

From there we have to examine harm. Ed Trompeter collected US gold and, as I recall, did not form the "greatest" collection because he lost an auction bid to Eliasberg. Trompeter bought much in private transactions, but he did not like toning. He called toned coins "schmiutzy" or dirty (Yiddish, like German schmutzig; the English word "smutty), What, then, of a dipped coin? Is it deceitful to remove the patina? We have long arguments about that -- and also about putting the toning on a coin.

 

You dip a coin. I retone a coin. Giovanni da Cavino and Paul G. Franklin made coins. It is a slippery slope.

 

However, I point out - not my own insight - that the slippery slope fallacy is a slippery slope of its own: how do you know when you really are on one?

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History is the accumulated knowledge gleaned from many ancient sources supported by the research of many dedicated individuals in mutiple disciplines throughout the centuries and though there are various interpretations & disagreements about much of it, I hope you are not implying that to add some complete fiction to it and disguise it as fact is acceptable in anyway?

 

Perhaps that is the idea history strives to be, but actual history is written in the present and often serves the interests of those that write of fund it. While it's true that certain events and certain facts are on fairly solid ground the interpretation of history is not the same. Do you believe Hegel, Marx, Durant, Popper? The Texas or Kansas Boards of Education?

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However, I point out - not my own insight - that the slippery slope fallacy is a slippery slope of its own: how do you know when you really are on one?

 

What's often missing is a measurement of the harm. If everything is caveat emptor the hobby is damaged because more people will stay away. If you try to regulate it all new issues ensue. I think overall the market in coins has done a decent job with counterfeits but then introduced the new problem of who can tell a MS66 from a MS67. Certainly another area where deception can cost the unwary a handful of change.

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Perhaps that is the idea history strives to be, but actual history is written in the present and often serves the interests of those that write of fund it. While it's true that certain events and certain facts are on fairly solid ground the interpretation of history is not the same. Do you believe Hegel, Marx, Durant, Popper? The Texas or Kansas Boards of Education?

 

History was writen it the past, in the now and will be writen in the future, my point is not how the "facts" , surmises, theories are interpreted, distorted etc but the fabrication of history. That is, if someone commits a fraud ie Piltdown Man and thereby alters what facts we know, or might be come aware of, or writing fiction and passing it off as fact is always wrong, even when the book becomes a best seller and is made into a movie. Twisting facts and data is one thing, inventing the facts and data is of a diferent magnitude.

 

Anyone is entitled to argue about history, even if the argument is totally inane, no one should invent history by using fraud.

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What's often missing is a measurement of the harm. If everything is caveat emptor the hobby is damaged because more people will stay away. If you try to regulate it all new issues ensue. I think overall the market in coins has done a decent job with counterfeits ...

 

I am not so sure. As I said in #8 above, a lot of what goes on in the hobby is a based on caveat emptor, getting one over on the other guy. That is not all, of course. Many people are plainly honest and plainly spoken. It is an easy claim that most people are honest. But hockey players are not violent off the ice, either. I mean, they are nice when you meet them at a party. On the ice, it's different. So, too, with numismatics. We nuture the roots of the problems we complain about. We wring our hands over yet another fake Ekatarina copper on eBay then oogle over the price of a 1913 Liberty Nickel. The fake nickel encourages the fake copper. Calling the 1804 Dollar the "king of coins" prepares the soil for seeds of the tree of evil. The 1804 Dollar just another $10,000 novodel, at best an old curio.

 

It is one thing to collect Cavinos, perhaps. He's dead. How about people who collect modern Bulgarian counterfeits? Even if you buy it second hand as a known fake, you still encourage the production of more makes to deceive collectors.

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I seemed to be a very odd Russian Imperial collector; I had no interest in novodels (which I agree, Michael, were/are dishonest even if they are mint products) and patterns. Most references indiscriminately list patterns, business strikes and novodels together so I would have people telling me I was missing types, when in fact I was missing stuff that rightfully should have been in a separate catalog as far as I am concerned.

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We nuture the roots of the problems we complain about. We wring our hands over yet another fake Ekatarina copper on eBay then oogle over the price of a 1913 Liberty Nickel. The fake nickel encourages the fake copper. Calling the 1804 Dollar the "king of coins" prepares the soil for seeds of the tree of evil. The 1804 Dollar just another $10,000 novodel, at best an old curio.

 

It is one thing to collect Cavinos, perhaps. He's dead. How about people who collect modern Bulgarian counterfeits? Even if you buy it second hand as a known fake, you still encourage the production of more makes to deceive collectors.

 

Yes, the absence of regulation does place the burden of accountability on the individual. If there are no import laws restricting clothes made with child labor the individual who opposes the practice has to take action herself. I tend to want to draw a line where things should be obvious. Off metal copies in aluminum for instance :). But then I've seen people deceived by Middle eastern tourist copies of off metal owls and dekadrachms.

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... I tend to want to draw a line where things should be obvious. ... But then I've seen people deceived ...

 

I keep to the straight and narrow.

 

You cannot be responsible for everyone else's ignorance, but the fact remains that it is, indeed, ignorance, not informed choice.

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