By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..
Seemingly in accordance with human nature, people began producing counterfeits immediately after the first coins in the world were struck. The drive to create forgeries is perhaps older than recorded history and unfortunately finds a ready home within coinage and numismatics.
As collectors, we are naturally wary of modern forgeries. It is every numismatist’s nightmare to finally locate a rare coin only to find out that it’s fake. But does this same fear apply to contemporary ancient forgeries? Does the simple fact that the fake is ancient give it value?
One of the more common types of ancient forgeries takes its name from a French word, fouree, defined as “filled” or “stuffed”. Fourees are interesting artifacts that depict a snapshot in time, and they were typically produced in two ways.
In the first method, after heating the pieces, the counterfeiter would place a bronze core of appropriate size and weight between two prepared dies before striking the entire bundle. By following these steps the metals would fuse, creating a finished product that, depending on the artistic skills of the die cutter, would look more or less like the original. As technology developed, so did the process.
The second method was to strike the design directly onto the base metal core, then cover the core with silver. It is unknown exactly how this process was completed as the exact steps have been lost. “Possibly the coin was dipped in molten silver, brushed with molten silver, or dusted with powdered silver and heated until the silver melted onto the surface (AMCC).” These coins were then passed off as the genuine article.
Unlike modern counterfeits, ancient fourees were rarely the exact weight set by the local mint. Therefore they passed most successfully in large transactions requiring more than one coin, as it would be harder for the purchaser to check each one.
The Value of Fourees Today
In order to assess the modern value of a fouree, one must first determine several of the coin’s characteristics.
Did governments produce fourees in an official capacity or are they simply forgeries produced by unscrupulous private individuals?
This hotly debated question lies at the heart of a fourees’ historical and modern-day financial value. While the war-issues of Athenian tetradrachms are attested to by Aristophanes in The Frogs and Parliament of Women, the general consensus among numismatists is that no additional examples of state-sanctioned fourees are described in ancient sources.
However unpopular the concept, it would be negligent to completely dismiss the possibility of additional official issues. For small city-states struggling with wars and social issues, the “profit and ability to solve financial problems” fourees provided could prove extremely attractive (Conn, 36). In fact, due to the core of bronze, the fourees offered a much larger “profit margin” than a debased example of the coin (Conn, 31).
But that did not mean that the fourees were intended for domestic use.
It is quite possible that city-states like Velia in southern Italy and Samos in the Greek islands, where a good quantity of fourees have been discovered, would “not accept such coinage as payments or the plated coins use within their border (Conn, 36).” This attitude is borne out by Nikophon’s law on silver coinage from 375/4 BCE in which the state mandates that an official test Athenian coins for their authenticity and outlines punishments for the non-compliance of merchants (Conn, 33). Therefore, a scholar can extrapolate that states possessed an awareness of the existence of fourees and the danger they posed to commerce. In fact, “plated drachms … are not rare finds in Corinth,” further proof that fourees experienced a relatively widespread circulation in ancient Greece (Conn, 60).
Another means of connecting fourees to official mintage is by die linkage. If a fouree bears the exact image of an official issue, then the fouree was either minted by an authorized party or by a moonlighting mint employee. However, in regards to ancient Greek fourees, the “majority of plated pieces must have come from private sources or areas outside of administrative control,” since they are not exact copies of official dies (Conn, 31).
How common is the fouree in relation to the authentic coin?
Despite the general prevalence of fourees in general, there are examples of extreme rarity – as demonstrated by a tetradrachm of Antiochos V Eupator who ruled for two years from 164 to 162 BCE. Based off of the HP and AΓ monograms between the eagle’s legs on the reverse design, Arthur Houghton, Catharine Lorber, and Oliver Hoover–authors of the definitive guide to Seleucid coinage Seleucid Coins: A Comprehensive Catalogue–hypothesized that authentic issues “had yet to be discovered”. As a result, numismatists believed that the only proof these coins were minted at all was the existence of three fourees, of which two are in public collections and the third (below) is held privately.
Recently, however, an official example of the coin proper that displays the AΓ monogram overlay on the HP example appeared at auction and sold for $8,500 USD (one more authentic example has since appeared at auction).
This example proves the importance and value of fourees. When there are no known authentic issues and few non-numismatic resources, sometimes all numismatists and academics have to base research on is a contemporary forgery. Thus a fouree serves as a place holder and provides an invaluable resource that helps flesh out a piece of history.
Continuing into the Roman Empire, fourees appear with regularity in Roman territory.
Numismatics debate over why the late Republican Roman mint produced denarii with serrated edges. One camp asserts that it was simply a design choice designed to appeal to the non-Roman Transalpine Gauls and Germani (Sydenham, 212-3); the other asserts that the serration provided a security function and was “definitely intended as evidence of good alloy (Mattingly, 48).”
Whether designed to circulate in Roman territory or not, these denarii provided little safeguard for the inhabitants against fourees. As evidenced by Coin 4 below, it was relatively simple to create a plated version of these coins. The forger simply cuts the serrations into the bronze core, then while silvering, the molten metal “flows into the spaces but only covers the surface of the copper”, leaving the serrations visible (Lawrence, 119).
Once they occupied Britain, one study found that fouree minting quickly followed the Roman legionnaires and that the illicit coins became “obviously endemic” with examples “span[ing] the whole range of denarius and silver radiate production” of the study area well into the third century around 270 CE (Marsden, 416). The example below -Coin 4- shows a degree of artistry that is on par with contemporary official issues, so while it may not be an exact die match, we can be fairly certain that it was produced by a mint employee.
Another interesting Imperial Roman denomination that can boast relatively few extant fourees is the siliqua, a small thin silver coin first minted by Constantine and in circulation through the mid-fourth and early fifth centuries. The siliqua stands testament to a failed attempt at currency stabilization. By ordering a coin with high silver content, Constantine and subsequent emperors hoped to bring stability to an empire recently wracked with civil war and unrest. However, primarily due to its high silver content, the coins encouraged both clipping and forgeries (Glanfield).
The fouree below (Coin 5), found by a metal detectorist in the United Kingdom, is an unusually high-grade fouree that even displays attractive toning on the obverse. Since the example remains in a good state of preservation, with the vast majority of its silver foiling remaining and the details only slightly warn, it is possible to compare it with an official example. The fouree is almost, but not exactly, a die match, which means that it is an unofficial issue and would have been considered a forgery by imperial officials.
Since fourees, like all ancient coins, can be found in many locations, they fall victim to soil conditions and are excavated in dramatically varied states of preservation. For example, this fouree of a Domitian denarius is highly corroded. As soon as the top silver layer broke, the bronze core began to corrode quickly, leaving a rather unattractive example. Meanwhile, the second example below (of a Julius Caesar portrait denarius) is most likely a fouree struck with authentic dies since below the chin is a split in which can be seen a bronze-like deposit. However, due to the high level of preservation and the die match, that could very well be a flan crack and a simple mineral deposit on an authentic coin.
While some purists will continue to view fourees as merely historical oddities of little to no importance, they can provide countless hours of challenge and study for an interested numismatist. Once a collector accepts a fouree as an imitation, regardless of whether the production was state-mandated or not, it is possible to accept their intrinsic value as a demonstration of humanity’s artistic skill, greed, and ingenuity.
As discussed above, while fourees hold a wealth of historical and numismatic value, this does not always translate into financial value.
Collectors interested in acquiring examples of the common low-grade fourees, such as that of an Alexander the Great tetradrachm, will find them periodically available for $75-150 depending on grade, which is much less than an authentic issue. On the other hand, a high-quality example of an Athenian war issue fouree tetradrachm can cost upwards of $600-750 depending on the auction.
Regardless, fourees come in all shapes and sizes with costs to fit almost every budget.
* * *
AMCC. “Fourrées”, Ancient & Medieval Coins Canada. 23 August 2018, www.amcoinscanada.com/blog/2018/8/22/fourrees.
Conn IV, Robert. “Prevalence and Profitability: The Counterfeit Coins of Archaic and Classical Greece”, Florida State University Libraries, 2007, fsu.digital.flvc.org/islandora/object/fsu:181767/datastream/PDF/view.
CNG. “Extremely Rare Ake-Ptolemais Tetradrachm”, Classical Numismatic Group, LLC, 2008, cngcoins.com/Coin.aspx?CoinID=121474&fbclid=IwAR1J25TMku8qeyqsHOYcIJ4aWGYGs55mMz8uUmLLUSp5C60OXzyLfAiI6lc.
Glanfield. “The Papal-Byzantines and the Siliqua”, The Siliqua, 1 December 2014, glebecoins.net/paleos/Notes/The_Siliqua/the_siliqua.html.
Lawrence, L. A., and Edward A. Sydenham. “ON ROMAN PLATED COINS.” The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Royal Numismatic Society, vol. 20, no. 79, 1940, pp. 190–202. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42663337. Accessed 13 Aug. 2020.
Marsden, Adrian. “Irregular Coinage in Roman Norfolk: An Overview”, Norfolk Archaeology XLVII, 2016, pp. 415–462., www.academia.edu/35585652/IRREGULAR_COINAGE_IN_ROMAN_NORFOLK_AN_OVERVIEW.
Mattingly, H. “THE ROMAN ‘SERRATI’”, The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Royal Numismatic Society, vol. 4, 1924, pp. 31–52. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42664000. Accessed 13 Aug. 2020.
Sydenham, E. A., and L. A. Lawrence. “THE ORIGIN OF THE ROMAN SERRATI”, The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Royal Numismatic Society, vol. 15, no. 60, 1935, pp. 209–231. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42664357. Accessed 13 Aug. 2020.
* * *
About the Author
Tyler Rossi is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management and studies Sustainable International Development and Conflict Resolution. Before graduating from American University in Washington D.C., he worked for Save the Children creating and running international development projects. Recently, Tyler returned to the US from living abroad in the Republic of North Macedonia, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. Tyler is an avid numismatist and for over a decade has cultivated a deep interest in pre-modern and ancient coinage from around the world. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).