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
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but not always, withdrawn before the auction's close.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
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
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
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
- 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