Apollonia Pontika Fakes
"New York" Hoard

 

 

In 1999 a large quantity of forgeries of Apollonia Pontika drachms were dispersed at the New York International Numismatic Convention. I'm calling these the "New York Hoard."

Before looking in detail at these New York Hoard fakes of Apollonia Pontika drachms, it's helpful to look at the previous Black Sea Hoard forgeries of Apollonia Pontika and Mesembria diobols. At the 1988 New York International Numismatic Convention, this famous "hoard" of counterfeit coins was dispersed. These fakes also initially fooled many top dealers, and when credible questions were raised, many quickly refunded customers' money. Sometimes, the newer New York Hoard forgeries are also referred to as Black Sea Hoard forgeries, but for clarity's sake this term is probably best used in reference to the earlier forgeries.

Unlike with the 1999 New York Hoard forgeries, however, controversy lingered over the 1988 Black Sea Hoard forgeries, despite the fact that Martin Price, Wayne Sayles, and other of the world's top ancient coin numismatists condemned them, their styling was divergent from previous known specimens, and they entered the marketplace from previously unknown suppliers. A long debate, in fact, raged in the numismatic press about the legitimacy of these coins. The primary defender of the forgeries was a large buyer of them, Heritage Rare Coin Galleries, who hired a scientist to do materials testing, which "proved" they were authentic. One prominent numismatic publication even chastised those who felt otherwise in an editorial.

It wasn't until Frank Kovacs discovered die links of these Apollonia Pontika and Mesembria diobol fakes for sale as replicas in the gift shop of Bulgaria's National Historical Museum that the matter was finally put to rest. Today, Black Sea Hoard forgeries still regularly appear on the market as authentic coins. (See
Black Sea Hoard for pictures and further discussion of the Apollonia Pontika diobol forgeries.)

Despite being quickly condemned, the newer New York Hoard forgeries of Apollonia Pontika drachms also regularly appear on the market as authentic coins, particularly through eBay, though also at local and national coin shows and through the auctions of the most well-respected ancient coin auction houses in the world, where they are sometimes, but not always, withdrawn before the auction's close.

The original fakes weren't confiscated but were returned to the middleman who dispersed them, and all indications are that they've entered the market, and into private collections, in large numbers in other ways. Even if they hadn't been returned, there was nothing stopping the same forgers who produced them from producing others, and no doubt they have. But the fact that they were returned to the forgers and those they worked with has virtually decimated the market for these coins, making buying an authentic specimen of these interesting coins somewhat of a challenge.

As I write this, 8 of 38, or 21 percent, of the Type One Apollonia Pontika drachms listed at
Wildwinds, the ancient coin archive Web site, are die matches for the New York Hoard forgeries. More accurately, the Wildwinds specimens are die matches for the 22 forgery dies whose images I initially gathered from expert sources. Note: Since I wrote that Wildwinds took down its section on Apollonia Pontika drachms because of the frequency of fakes on the market, an unfortunate occurrence related to these interesting coins. Also, I've since gathered more images, adding to the first 22 of these forgeries that were initially illustrated here.

Wildwinds includes in its database only the auctions of those dealers considered trustworthy (though it doesn't include the auctions of all trustworthy auctioneers or dealers). It's not unreasonable to conclude that if you factored in all dealers selling these coins, and if you compared the Wildwinds specimens with images of all 60-plus forgery dies that have been identified, the estimated percentage of fake Apollonia Pontika drachms on the market would increase well beyond 21 percent.

Wildwinds is an excellent resource and is deservedly well-regarded, a terrific site in particular for checking recent prices of ancient coins in the online auction market. It necessarily must, however, rely primarily on attributions from auction sellers. Tellingly, Wildwinds represents a sampling of the market ... and a clear warning to be careful out there.

Another ominous sign was the sale of these same fakes, as authentic coins, by a dealer at the 2004 New York International Numismatic Convention who was selling a group of about 50 of them before he was notified of their nature and withdrew them from sale.

A further ominous sign was the authentication of one of these forgeries, likely some time during the summer of 2004, by a coin grading and authentication service in the U.S. (illustrated near the end of this page).

Yet more ominous signs have been recent offerings of these forgeries, as authentic coins, by large ancient coin auction houses in Europe and the U.S. In some cases the respective auction house pulled the lot before the auction closed, in other cases afterward, and in still other cases not at all, despite being contacted by multiple people knowledgeable about these fakes. One collector reported that he bought a coin from a dealer who had previously bought it from a large auction house. The collector suspected that it was a New York Hoard fake and was able to obtain a refund from the dealer he had bought it from.

Interestingly enough, just as with the previous Black Sea Hoard forgeries, these more recent New York Hoard forgeries have gained somewhat of a cachet as collectibles because of their notoriety. But if you're so inclined, you want to buy them as counterfeits, and pay accordingly, not as authentic coins.

At a recent coin national show, one dealer had about 20 of these fakes for sale, as fakes, and labeled as "New York Hoard" forgeries. He said as a result of this documentation of these fakes, he culled them out from the authentic Apollonia Pontika drachms he had in his inventory, which he had been pricing at around $100 each. He was selling them now for $20 each.

Both the older Black Sea Hoard forgeries and the newer New York Hoard forgeries originated from the same workshop in Bulgaria, according to Ilya Prokopov and Rumen Manov in their 2005 book Counterfeit Studios and Their Coins. They give this workshop the code name "Varna-1." In a previous book, the 2003 Modern Counterfeits and Replicas of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins from Bulgaria, Prokopov, et al., give this workshop the code name "Eugeni - Varna-1." This workshop is most likely the same as the "Lipanoff Studio," also referred to in the literature as a coin copy workshop in Bulgaria.

Prokopov and Manov indicate that the Varna-1 workshop operates openly, taking orders from customers, and that along with copies of coins from Apollonia Pontika and Mesembria, this workshop is also responsible for many of the fakes of coins from Istros and elsewhere on the market today. The authors say that the greater part of the production of this studio is "struck in the classical way using a heavy hammer." More on the
Lipanoff Studio.

Though these particular fakes surfaced en masse at the 1999 New York International, they came out of Bulgaria before then as well. One specimen, with similar styling, was documented in the Bulletin on Counterfeits, Vol. 17 No. 2 (1992/93), p. 26. That specimen, with a flat, uniform flan, wasn't as convincing as the later fakes documented below.


Diagnostics of the Forgeries

Reportedly, more than 60 different dies were used to create an estimated 3,000 New York Hoard forgeries of Apollonia Pontika drachms distributed at the 1999 New York International Numismatic Convention, with none of these dies matching any previously known die of these coins. While the absence of evidence isn't necessarily the evidence of absence, according to the maxim, this lack of die links proved to the numismatic community that the coins that were being dispersed were false. What's more, metallurgical testing on a sample of the fakes indicated they were made from sterling silver (92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent other metals, usually copper).

With this many forgery dies, however, the diagnostics aren't clear-cut, which no doubt is the reason that even high-end auction houses aren't always able to spot them. There's no one smoking gun that definitively identifies all forgeries as forgeries. According to a report from a collector, one high-visibility coin dealer recently reacted angrily to having to accept the return of a coin that was a die match for one of the forgeries illustrated on this page. He remarked that these coins lacked common characteristics that would condemn them as forgeries.

Most of these pieces have fairly convincing flans. In fact, their overall eye appeal is generally better than authentic coins of this type, with a wilder looking Medusa and a more clearly defined crayfish. They exhibit a similar kind of flamboyance that the Bulgarian replica maker Slavey Petrov has made famous and that other Bulgarians have imitated. The authentic coins, on the other hand, frequently appear on misshapen flans, are poorly centered, and exhibit large edge splits.

Though there aren't universal diagnostics for these fakes, there are indications, according to Robert Kokotailo, owner of Calgary Coin & Antique and moderator of the Ancient Coin Forgery Discussion List, the observations of others, and my own observations:

  • With the fakes, Medusa's forehead is small relative to the rest of the head, and the cheeks are puffed out. But this isn't foolproof because many genuine coins were struck with this style as well, the varieties I'm calling Type One and Type Two, illustrated on the previous page of this site.
  • On some of the fakes, Medusa's hair consists of two rows of beads instead of one, while I have yet to come across one genuine Type One or Type Two coin documented in the literature with two rows of beads, though authentic-looking two-row specimens ocassionally appear on the market.
  • Medusa has a wide-eyed demonic expression on many of the fakes, while on many of the authentic coins the expression is almost comical, though on some of the fakes the expression is comical and on some of the authentic coins it's demonic.
  • Medusa's eyes have a slanted "Oriental" or Asian appearance on many of the fakes, though some authentic specimens also appear this way.
  • Medusa's eyes have a clouded, cataract look on many of the fakes, though some authentic specimens also appear this way.
  • On many, not all, of the fakes, the crayfish has more than six legs, which are very finely rendered.
  • The center groove of the anchor on many, though not all, of the fakes is very pronounced, while this groove may not be present at all on authentic coins.
  • Some of the fakes are well-struck and well-centered on well-rounded flans, while many of the authentic coins are struck off-center on odd-shaped, ragged flans. This also isn't foolproof because some of the genuine coins are well-centered, some of the fakes are off-center, and so on, as the examples below show.
  • With most of the fakes, the high point of the concave reverse -- Medusa's nose -- is above the plane of the coin's rim, while on most of the authentic coins, the nose is below this plane. You can make this determination by placing the coin on a table reverse-side down to see if it rocks back and forth on Medusa's nose.
  • Many of the fakes have unnatural-looking golden-brown or gray-brown toning, but this toning comes off with cleaning, so this also isn't definitive.

All of this reinforces the notion that counterfeit detection isn't an exact science and that collecting ancient coins isn't risk free.

Since the initial New York Hoard of fakes was dispersed in 1999, some specimens of these fakes have appeared on the market that appear to be heavily cleaned or crystallized. The original supplier, according to Kokotailo, may be artificially wearing them and giving them acid baths to try to prevent detection.

Needless to say, the inevitable presence of these or any other fakes shouldn't deter you from enjoying the hobby. Though counterfeits are a harsh reality, the number of genuine coins in the ancient coin market as a whole dwarfs the number of counterfeits. Knowledge is power. The challenge of fakes such as these, approached from the right perspective, is one of the fun aspects of ancient numismatics. It shouldn't make anybody run away.


Images of the Forgeries

The images of the following 48 forgeries, presented in no particular order of dies (some of the obverse and reverse dies repeat themselves), illustrate a sampling of the 60-plus dies used for the New York Hoard forgeries. There may also be some pieces illustrated below that were made after 1999 from different dies. At the very end of ths page are two modern forgeries of Apollonia Pontika drachms, showing inferior workmanship, that are likely not from the same Bulgarian workshop. The images of the coins below are courtesy of Ken Martins, John McIntosh, Robert Kokotailo, Ed Snible, myself, and others. Thanks to Ed Snible for his help with the die matches.

Including each of these pieces below was the result of the opinions of at least three people with in-depth knowledge of these particular forgeries. This doesn't mean that it's certain that all of the pieces illustrated here are forgeries, just that there's a high probability that they are. Due diligence has been taken, but the caveat exists that no single person has had the opportunity to examine all of these pieces in person. If you feel that any piece illustrated here shouldn't be here,
let me know.

 

 

 

 

Specimen 1

Specimen 2

 

 

 

 

Specimen 3

Specimen 4

 

 

 

 

Specimen 5

Specimen 6 (obverse die match of Specimen 11, reverse die match of Specimen 30)

 

 

 

 

Specimen 7

Specimen 8

 

 

 

 

Specimen 9

Specimen 10

 

 

 

 

Specimen 11 (obverse die match of Specimen 6, reverse die match of Specimen 15 and Specimen 22)

Specimen 12

 

 

 

 

Specimen 13

Specimen 14

 

 

 

 

Specimen 15 (obverse die match of Specimen 17 and Specimen 46, reverse die match of Specimen 11 and Specimen 22)

Specimen 16

 

 

 

 

Specimen 17 (obverse die match of Specimen 15 and Specimen 46)

Specimen 18

 

 

 

 

Specimen 19

Specimen 20

 

 

 

 

Specimen 21

 Specimen 22 (reverse die match of Specimen 11 and Specimen 15)

 

 

Specimen 23

Specimen 24

 

 

Specimen 25

Specimen 26

 

 

Specimen 27

Specimen 28

 

 

 

 

Specimen 29

Specimen 30 (obverse die match of Specimen 33, reverse die match of Specimen 6)

 

 

 

 

Specimen 31

Specimen 32

 

 

 

 

Specimen 33 (obverse die match of Specimen 30)

Specimen 34

 

 

 

 

Specimen 35

Specimen 36

 

 

 

 

Specimen 37

Specimen 38

 

 

 

 

Specimen 39

Specimen 40 (this piece appears to have been artificially crystallized with an acid bath and had two spade marks added to it)

 

 

 

 

Specimen 41 (this piece was withdrawn by an eBay seller before the auction's close)

Specimen 42 (this piece was withdrawn by an eBay seller before the auction's close)

 

 

 

 

Specimen 43 (this piece was withdrawn by an eBay seller before the auction's close)

Specimen 44 (this piece was withdrawn by a major auction house before the auction's close)

 

 

Specimen 45 (this piece was withdrawn by a major auction house before the auction's close)

Specimen 46 (obverse die match of Specimen 15 and Specimen 17; this piece is in the slab of a major coin grading and authentication service)

 

 

Specimen 47 (modern forgery, but not a New York Hoard fake)

Specimen 48 (modern forgery, not a New York Hoard fake)

 

 

 

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© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.