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World Coin of the Week: This Week’s Coin is a Fake! Or is It?
August 30, 2012 1:12 PM PDT
By Todd McKenna, Numismatist
Can a coin be a fake if the true coin it is meant to represent never existed? This conundrum was brought up in our office with the appearance of this week’s coin of the week, a contemporary imitation West Indies Joe made to imitate a 1778-R Brazilian 6,400 Reis. This would be simple enough except that the counterfeiters created a coin in the style of the Rio mint issues for King Jose I who had died in February 1777; apparently the makers were not up to date on international news. The Brazilian coinage of 1778 (and for that matter the latter half of 1777) bears the conjoined busts of Maria I and Pedro III, making this a coin that simply never existed. Despite being a counterfeit the piece is indeed made of good gold as these were produced from authentic gold coins. The counterfeiters made their money by modifying the thickness of the coins they made. By the use of pressure a genuine coin would be made about 25% thinner, struck with counterfeit dies, cut down to the appropriate diameter and then remilled. These could then mix in with the West Indies Joes, which would also be clipped and remilled, with the only obvious tells being the cruder artistry and flatter look of the strike, both of which were easily overlooked in day-to-day use.
All in all it was some pretty dastardly and clever grift, and contemporary sources indicate that it was perpetrated by groups in Britain, the U.S. and Switzerland. To the counterfeiter’s credit the portrait on this coin isn’t too bad. Certainly, if you scrutinize it for an extra second or two the slight debasement of style is apparent. But, if you imagine being given this item during a transaction you wouldn’t think twice. It is a fascinating piece and a good looking coin besides, garnering a PCGS grade of AU58 in a secure holder. We will be presenting this piece in our auction at the Whitman Coin and Collectibles Expo in Baltimore this coming November so look for it along with the other coins we will be highlighting over the coming months.
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