Reader Arun sent me pictures of the Kwang-Tung dollar below, seeking confirmation of its authenticity. While I could see the coin was fake at a glance, I also thought it could make a good case study.
When beginner or casual collectors attempt to detect forgeries, they will usually try to determine if the coin they have in hand looks similar enough to a known “good coin”, usually from an illustrated coin catalogue. The problem with this method is the pictures included in printed catalogues are mostly meant to help identify a coin type and therefore rather small; they do not expose enough details for this comparison process to be meaningful.
The Kwang-Tung dollar is especially ill-fitted for this approach. A lot of them suffer from weak strike, and it can be easy for the unaverted eye to mistakenly match the overall coarseness of a fake coin with the fading details of a genuine coin struck with worn dies.
Even using the high resolution picture above, an inexperienced Chinese coins collector may think both coins are identical. This is because most casual collectors will “read” the coin: instead of seeing that the shape of the lettering is different (much bolder on the fake coin), they will see the text on both coins is the same. More subtle details like the coin denticles are likely to be ignored, as a boring frame for the devices of the coin: the attention of the beginner will be focused instead on the dragon, which is badly struck on both coins and thus actually rather similar.
It is however entirely possible to see that this coin is fake without even examining its devices. The “grainy” aspect of the surface of our reader’s coin, and the many “bumps” I circled in red are clear indication that this coin was struck with low quality cast dies. Such dies suffer from a common defect, called gas porosity voids, which results of the expansion of gas entrapped during the metal handling or in the injection process. A coin struck using such dies will exhibit the lusterless, pimply surfaces typical of a low grade forgery.
If you ever find such a poor replica coin in a shop, it is a safe bet that you will not be able to find a genuine coin there…
Last month I wrote that chinese coins collectors ought to be especially careful in hunting fantasy dollars. Counterfeiters are well aware of the growing interest in these very special coins and have been increasingly daring and creative to profit from this trend.
This month I would like to show you a very interesting sample: a Szechuan dollar struck over a Sinkiang tael.
This unusual Chinese coin has been cleverly crafted to deceive advanced collectors. The design of this Szechuan dollar could reasonably be attributed to some unofficial or private mint, and details of the host coin are immediately noticeable underneath, particularly on the reverse.
This intriguing coin is obviously tempting for the warlord dollars collector. It is however a cheap forgery. The weight of this coin (35 grams) is consistent with its face value of one Xiāng Píng Tael (湘平壹两), and the worn out surfaces effectively conceal the abnormally soft details of the host coin. The shallow strike on the rims is still visible though and should immediately arouse suspicion. More generally, a 1917 coin of an higher denomination overstruck with a demonetized, lower face value coin type should also raise a few eyebrows.
The main problem with this coin though is that this particular Sichuan dollar design is a well-known fake Chinese coin type. From that point on, it is easy to guess that some enterprising counterfeiter decided that striking fake Xinjiang taels with an odd-looking Szechuan dollar would make them more interesting and less obvious to spot.
During the troubled period of the early Republic of China, a lot of privately minted coins (私铸版) were issued by warlords or wealthy individuals either for profit or avoid currency shortages. They were made to resemble popular coins like the Yuan Shih Kai dollar or common imperial dollars, only using debased silver alloy. These copies entered circulation and were actually used as legal tender in some places nonetheless. Warlord issues therefore lies in a grey area of numismatics – some consider them as contemporary forgeries, others think of them as fantasy coins, but they are very interesting historical pieces and their popularity has been growing steadily amongst Chinese coins collectors.
One must however exerce extreme caution when collecting these coins. Warlord issues share a lot of characteristics with modern forgeries: they are basically inexact copies of popular coins made out of dubious metal alloy. In recent years, modern counterfeiters have noticed the growing interest for warlord coinage and started making their own. To sell a fake warlord version of a coin, it is only necessary to persuade the buyer that this fake coin is old, which is much easier than deceiving a collector looking for a genuine coin.
Recently, fake Warlord versions of the 1908 Chihli dollar have turning up for sale on both eBay and Chinese markets, and I thought it would be helpful to warn fellow collectors against them.
A friend of mine bought this coin last month, thinking he was acquiring an interesting warlord version of the famous 1908 Peiyang dollar. This type of coin is actually easily available on eBay, especially recently (you can see a current listing here). My friend’s coin can be easily identified as a modern forgery because the counterfeiters cut corners. The artificial aging is somewhat crude, with fake verdigris splotches on the reverse typical of modern replicas. The design of the coin would be very good if it were a genuine warlord version, and it is bound to attract the curious collector. As usual the best way to avoid being deceived is to avoid impulse buying, and research the market first.