Modern Fakes of Lankan coins

When coins had the same value as the metal in them, under weight or cheaper metal contemporary counterfeits circulated and are numismatically interesting and often collected. However, forgeries of rare coins have also been made in recent times to defraud coin collectors.

There are two basic classes of forgeries.
1 The cheap kind, which don't cost much to produce and sold like souvenirs at whatever "bargain" price they can hoodwink an ignorant tourist to pay. It is very easy to learn to identify this junk.
2 The expensive kind made to deceive novice collectors via an auction or a dealer. Although expensive to make, the skilled labour needed is cheap in the developing Asian countries. They are increasingly difficult to identify from the real items without expensive metallurgy tests which could cost more than the coin.

If the original coin is machine struck the forger need to use similar machines with near perfect dies to escape detection by an expert. This is an expensive enterprise to produce the few copies that may be slipped without notice into the coin market. Low value machine minted coins are very unlikely to be forgeries.

However rare coins that were cast or hand stuck like with "dump coinage" with a lots of minor variation between the dies used, is unfortunately a market that can be exploited by the crooked. Collectors need to be extra cautious.

In 1895 Numismatic Chronicles Col. B. Lowsley describes how he inserted standing advertisement in the most widely circulated daily newspaper to buy Lankan coins. Buying at prices slightly higher than metal value, he probably saved the destruction of many coins from the melting pots of Jewelers, but probably motivated the cheats, to create what he was seeking.

Lowsley felt that modern forgeries are most easy to detect. However in 1924 Codrington Ceylon Coins and Currency (page 67) commenting on Lowsley collection, said I quote "It is known that not a few of the coins in this writer's collection were spurious, and unless confirmed by finds, the authenticity of his gold and silver pieces is open to suspicion."

Comments are also made in the even older 1907 John Still's papers in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Ceylon Branch, Vol 19 #58 161-216. On page 164 he puts a footnote to the word "genuine" I quote " How rare genuine specimens are I am inclined to think very few people thoroughly recognize. Gold "Lankesvaras" and "Vijaya Bahus' are turned out wholesale in Kandy now, and are so skillfully done that most of them are duly absorbed into collections. The improved manufacture of late is marked"

These quotes remind us that it was well known to the experts long time ago, that some Lankan coins have been expertly "recreated". A 1833 police report describe the use of Dalipothu (Cuttle fish shell) in counterfeiting. Uncirculated gold Kahavanu may infact be from freshly cut dies. It is regrettable that some coin dealers feel the need to be over positive to sell items. So it is probably a false sense of confidence even when buying from an old collection, or trusting any dealer's 100% guarantee of authenticity without the expensive tests which might prove it. Fake gold coins are still being made as reported in 2000 Nov.

Joe Crib, the Curator of Coins from South Asia in the British Museum London in an E_mail to me in 2001 July, commented "The whole question of forgeries is very problematic. Normally we would compare objects offered for an opinion with our own collection, but most of our examples post-date the reference you are quoting. We have quite a good collection of Sri Lankan coins, drawn from the collections of Jacks, Bidell, Biddulph, Rhys Davies, Zoe Bell, Elliot and others. If the collectors at that time were taken in then it is difficult to have a clear starting point for picking forgeries out."

As is often the case. it is possible to prove a coin is fake, but very hard to establish it is genuine.

There are only a few cases which will you can accept with a very high degree of certainty that the coin is genuine

  1. The coin is found during a controlled archaeological dig of a region that has not been previously excavated.

  2. An uncleaned specimen, directly from the person finding it. IMHO it is unlikely they will go into the trouble of corroding the coin to that extent. Not sure if it is possible to corrode it that much in a short period of time. There is also no reason for them to do that since coins are rarely sold without cleaning. Most finders wish to pick the rare type out before trading them.

There are more cases which will prove a coin to be Fake.

  1. Two hand-struck ancient or medieval coins can not be identical in detail such as the random cracks on the side of the coins. If you have Two specimens which are identical they are clearly fake. They are examples that have have been cast from a single mold copying the cracks from a genuine coin to appear look like a struck coin. However the higher quality forgeries are struck using the same techniques as used in the past.

  2. Ancient coin makers didn't have metal free from a lot of impurities. These impurities are like finger prints to the source of the metal mined to make the coins. If you have a coin the analysis of which shows the metal to be of a purity not available at the time of issue, then the item is clearly fake. However the higher quality forgeries are struck on metal melted from ancient coins, or mixed in with the expected impurities.

  3. There are obvious clues, such as blunders in the text or design on coin, be significantly lighter than legal weight, wrong metal composition, a fake patina etc. The higher quality Museum replica's are made such that they will never be mistaken for a genuine item, while appearing in a show case to be as close as possible representation of the original. They have for example a small R mark indicating replica. Since these marks could be filed away the coin is also made to a lighter weight and often of a different base metal.
If an orginal coin is used to make a die of the same size for casting, then the cooling of the molten metal of coin results in some shrinkage. So if Pattern shrinkage allowance is not made the resulting cast copy is slightly smaller and consequently about 8% smaller in volume and weight.

For example

Very crude recent copies of the dutch bar coin are sold by hawkers near the Galle lighthouse in Lanka. The price depending on the gullibility of the tourist is any price upward of US$2 (cost to hawker). The other coins most copied are the Galle 2 and 1 Stuiver dumps, which are manufactured not only in copper, but also in Silver :-). The worst abuse was the so called "Dutch Museum" in Galle, which displayed these recent copies among their coin collection, in an obvious attempt to give credibility to perpetuate the fraud. Please read Photo-Essay for more details.

A coin dealer in Colombo told me There are some Dutch dealers and collectors who are presently in Sri Lanka cleaning up all the Dutch coins available. They are probably taking back to Europe the fakes as well :-). Too many of them are appearing on ebay Auction.

Note it is also illegal to export out of the island any genuine antigue items including coins more than 100 years old. Technically modern fakes are OK, but the Sri Lanka Customs Officers at Airport or Post office will not probably identify them as such and if discovered will give you as much problems as the genuine article untill you prove they are fake. This is also a warning to any sellers of old coins on eBay from Lanka. Some who have sold previously have dropped out for probably these reasons. The risk should make it just not worth to try your luck.

In 2003 the Sri Lanka Customs set up a special "Customs Public Information Unit" on the direction of the Director General of Customs to facilitate the detection of Customs frauds and other malpratices. All information given to this desk is treated as strictly confidential and is also rewarded. Frequent advertisments in Local newspapers request the public to contact this special unit on 24 hour Action Line on telephone number 94-11-2471471, on smuggling of Goods with Archeological Value.

Some fakes (2 Bars and 3 Galle Stuiver dumps) very much like the crude copies sold by hawkers Galle were put on Ebay Auction in 2000 April by a Seller in Netherlands, who claimed his source was a dealer here in Amsterdam who deals in Dutch artifacts pre 18th century, with a very extensive 17th century inventory . When I explained to seller to their identity, they were promptly withdrawn from Auction. Soon after a much nicer Bar was listed also from Netherlands. This seller put a link to my page as information to buyers. and sold for just under what I paid for a similar questionable bar. Most other sellers have withdrawn the item from Auction when informed. One seller even agreed to gift me the forgery for my website. In one case the seller promised to inform the winner. I found out he had not done so, since it was not a "Private Auction". I never bid on "Private Auction", since there is no reason for them other than the seller wanting to hide some scam.

E-bay in general does not take action to stop those selling fake coins since the have no expertise to know if the accusation is valid. E-bay does take action to stop any seller who violates E-bay rules that have been setup to protect their business interests, and can be exploited to stop sellers of fake coins.

The typical tourist fake on left appeared on ebay auction with a start price of $85. The seller from eastern Europe politely closed auction when I wrote to him and admitted he had purchased it in Galle for under $3, but assumed that he had got Lucky.

Fake Bonk from Galle

It is just amazing that when over an 100 years ago a collector Lowsley hunted Ceylon for 4 3/4 Stuiver bars and found only one, and now fairly nice-looking bars appears on ebay every few months. Maybe someone has invented a time machine :-)

In 2003 two typical Tourist Fake 1 Stivers of Colombo and 2 Stiver of Galle shown on right appeared on ebay auction by a seller in UK.

They were not withdrawn from Auction but got no bids.

Maybe this page has achieved it's objective of educating interested collectors about these Fake coins.

An amusing fake 1/12 RixDollar 1803 Elephant Dump with CEYLON and GOVERMENT (Note N and spelling) wittten clockwise and anti-clockwise respectively which sold on ebay. The buyer contacted me after sale suspecting correctly that it was Junk.
It is a classic fake which reminds me of the excuse given to me by a hawker selling 4 3/4 copper bars made of silver in Galle, he only wanted to earn a living selling souvenirs to the gullible tourists rather than harm any serious collector of coins.
Another fake dump clearly from the same forgers hand appeared on ebay on a later date. This seller when questioned pointed out that he did say in German listing Verkauf daher ohne Obligo, which translates to "Sale therefore without warranty".

Another classic set of Fake Lead coins appeared in the colombo market in late 2006, which makes an very interesting story.

Modern Cast Replica of Early British Minted Ceylon coins of 1802, 1815 and 1821 have also appeared in the numismatic market in late 2007, particularly on eBay.

In 2013 CBSL when opening the new economic History Museum, had some replica massa coins made for sale, and a replica East India rupee coin for display.

Buying from a knowledgeable dealer who has a good reputation of not knowingly selling a forgery and who agrees to ( as per ANA Dealers Code of Ethics ) take it back without any time limits, if any are proven to be a fake, is reasonable security. It is always useful to also find out on what source the dealer has based the guarantee of authenticity. If it is his/her trust of another dealer as is often the case, then with a few such exchanges the original source is often obscure and may be not trustworthy.

Sale or listing at a leading Auction does not make a fake reproduction Genuine. It just makes it an interesting Fantasy. The Authority in Lankan coins is old well researched publications such as by Codrington which discuss mostly coins in Museum collections with documented provenance of a discovery at an Archelogical site of that era.

As a scientist and a collector I take a conservative view and assume that most old and particularly rare coins have a non-negligible probability of being recent forgeries. I personally avoid buying rare coins at a large numismatic premium. Good Gold Coins are intrinsically worth about $12 per gram ( ~ fanam ), and silver about $6 per ounce ( ~ crown ). None of the coins in my collection were purchased at a numismatic premium of more than $150, and very few over $50/-. So if some turn out to be forgeries, although I will probably never know, it is not a ridicules loss.