Detailed exploration of a handful of counterfeit gold sovereigns
_Originally posted on the darkside (world and ancient coins forum). I figured some here on the PM forum would find it interesting. _
A friend inherited a handful of gold coins from their grandfather, a holocaust survivor and from what I'm told an austere individual likely shaped by the events of the early 20th century.
My friend had sent me several images, and one that stuck out clearly had some letters and numbers in the fields that shouldn't be there. I had the opportunity to visit with my friend today to check the coins out.
I took my digital scale, my loupe, and also the Sigma Metalytics precious metals verifier. For those unfamiliar, the Sigma works something like a metal detector, where very specific alloys are pre-set into the unit. The Sigma doesn't tell you what the item you're testing is made of. Instead, it will tell you if the item falls within an acceptable range for the % purity pre-set you've chosen for what the item is supposed to be. That's an important distinction but one that actually works quite well. It's very fast--essentially instantaneous--and you can burn through a handful of coins or other precious metal items quickly and confidently.
For a baseline, here is what the Sigma looks like with an authentic gold sovereign on the device. Note the rectangular cursor on the display is within the brackets, indicating the item is within a tight parameter for the Sigma's crown gold preset (91.7% pure or 22K):
Counterfeit sovereigns were so ubiquitous in the UK that most shop keepers had a simple tester to avoid getting the bad penny of an under-pure or underweight sovereign. It's my understanding that most "counterfeit" sovereigns encountered in the US today were made in the middle east between 1950 and 1970 and weren't meant to deceive numismatically--but were rather a recognizable way for Americans and others forbidden from owning gold bullion to acquire gold likely to be overlooked by authorities, in part because a small amount of gold coinage was allowed. These counterfeits were made of actual gold in varying purity approaching the authentic 91.7%, the small difference in purity representing the profit for the maker. Interestingly, some of the early counterfeit sovereigns were made of gold plated platinum--a dense metal less valuable than gold.
The heir's sovereigns were a dazzling array of counterfeits, from quite close to radically wrong, some with raised alphanumeric sequences, some with incuse design elements resembling chop marks. Again for those unfamiliar: Authentic sovereigns tend to be very crisp, with all of the elements from denticals to dragons very, very clear and sharp. That's why the details and devices are there in the first place. "Mushy" is the favorite descriptor for how fake sovereigns look.
Here are some of the more interesting varieties, with the corresponding Sigma readings. Note that I opted to change the preset to 90% gold in an effort to capture lower gold purity after almost none read within the proper crown gold parameters. Most measured pretty close to the 7.98 gram weight they should have.
Below was one of the 2 or 3 with the incuse "chopmark" hallmark. See the small oval impression at the bottom of the obverse bust. It certainly looks as struck, but this mark was in slightly different locations:
This one is my favorite. I explained to my friend that there were barbarian tribes who tried to imitate Roman coinage without really understanding the allegories, emperors, or devices they were intending to mimic, instead creating abstract impressions of the authentic coinage. And that some of these pieces are more interesting to collectors than the authentic pieces:
--Severian the Lame