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BRITARCH  July 2003

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Subject:

Re: Artefacts removed from context

From:

John Hooker <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 22 Jul 2003 19:30:53 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Matthew J. Champion writes:

>Replicas can be convincing. As someone who has worked with a variety of
>companies and national and international museums to create replicas I can
>assure you that not every replica will be spotted in fifty years time. This
>may have been the case in times past but not today.

I'm sure that the same statement will be made by replica makers and fakers
in another fifty years ;-)

>>"Such is the nature
>>of replicas or fakes, they look like what the people of the time think
>>those things look like, but  it is not a replica of the object."

>Simply not the case. Admittedly the Victorian fakes and replicas now stand
>out like a sore thumb but today we have a little more technology at our
>disposal. Electro forming, silicon rubbers, dental alginates - all allow us
>to copy items exactly - and I do mean exactly.

Taking coins for an example, the easiest things to spot are the
electrotypes. Even if you do not look at the edge or weigh the coin, the
surface colour will be all wrong because it has been faked. As for casts,
there are two factors that can reveal their origin: the mold, even if from
the best material, will lose a small amount of resolution. This will happen
again in the casting. These losses will be very slight and barely
perceptible, but they will be there. The easiest way to tell a cast of a
struck coin is by feel: the cast will feel "soapy". The reason for this is
that the surface of a cast is not the same as the surface of a struck
blank. In conventional casting, trapped air gets forced to the surface as
bubbles, and this can be seen under magnification as a "globulated" looking
surface, and this is what is giving that soapy feel.


Modern casts, made under pressure, are much better but they do not
reproduce the exact surface of a struck coin. When a silver coin is struck
from a heated blank something different happens to the surface structure
than what happens when molten silver is forced into a mold.

Any cast is made from two part molds and evidence for this can be found.
electrotypes are even more obvious. What is trickier, though, is when a
impression is made from an original coin and this is used to create a die.
There is that loss of resolution, and while it might fool many people it
will not fool everyone. Here is a Syracusan dekadrachm produced by such a
process:


http://www.nunetcan.net/cmns/cmns7.htm

Even though the picture is not great, I can tell it is a fake at first
glance. I've seen a number of fakes of Syracusan dekadrachms, but I can't
describe what reveals them as such. They just "don't look right". A few
years ago I saw one advertised as a fake in a London auction catalogue. The
photograph was excellent, and my first impression was that it was a real coin.

I studied it more and looked at what was said in the auction listing. They
said that it was struck, and gave the proper refernces for the dies to a
study by Gallatin. They said that Gallatin thought that the single specimen
known in his time was fake. Actually he never said that. What he actually
said was that some people suggested that the coin was a fake based on a
couple of unusual design elements, but that he had seen a cast of the
specimen in the Royal Danish collection and an actual example of a coin
that was struck from the same reverse die, but a different obverse die, and
he was sure that these were genuine.


The auction catalogue also said that the fact the coin was rather wedge
shaped was also suspicious. Again, they were wrong. A friend spoke to
someone at the American Numismatic Society -- they have the largest
collection of this type in the world -- ex Arthur S Dewing, and a number of
them were badly struck in the same manner. The coin was also double struck
(something that a faker would not do as it would devalue the coin and bring
more attention to it). The coin had been "tooled" on the neck -- a 19th
century reworking of the surface to cover a flaw. Again, this reduces the
value a little. It also showed signs of being harshly brushed causing a
slightly polished look -- another typical 19th century attempt at
improvement. Only two other specimens were known of this coin. One had been
in the Danish collection since about 1840, and the other was owned by
Arthur S Dewing and had been "out of circulation" for a long time.

My specimen showed details of Nike's wing that was not visible in the other
two specimens, and yet had common features with coins of that part of the
chronology. That chronology was not established until Gallatin's catalogue,
published before Dewing found his specimen. Dewing was not the sort of
person to produce fakes, and he would not have allowed a die to have been
made from a coin that was his property. Dewing left his collection to the ANS.

So I bid high, and got the coin for 160 pounds. The coin still bothers some
people -- some think it is a fake, others think it real. The most noted
authority on fakes took a brief look at it and thought it was fake, saying
he believed it to be the work of a very gifted Italian forger in the
twenties. That could not have been, because the only specimen was in the
Royal Danish collection at that time. The later specimen was presumably
lying in some Sicilian field. But this gentleman was busy impressing his
female companion at the time and saw it in a dark room for only a few
seconds, so he probably did not know the deatils of that die pair. It
weighed on his mind though, because he later told someone that it was the
best forgery he had ever seen. This happens to experts sometimes. They get
so used to being praised for spotting fakes that they can become sloppy in
their work.


The best indication of its authenticity was that the Nike's wings would
have had to have been cut into the die from scratch. Good forgers are
careful never to attempt this sort of thing. They know that they will not
be successful in duplicating the style, exactly, if they do not have the
model of a genuine coin from the same die. If they cut a copy of another
die, then this will be noticed. If they create a "fantasy" it will have
something wrong with it that can be spotted by a better expert in Greek art
than themselves. So the best forger ever, would not have produced this die,
even if the Royal collection of Denmark had loaned the original to him.

The time span for detecting good fakes through an analysis of the style
(providing competence on the part of the forger) is more than the span from
the nineteenth century to now. This is not the case for incompetent
forgers, and some 19th cent dies are visibly so in their style. The best
forger, in my opinion, was Carl Becker, He was born in the 1770's. While
some of his dies are fairly obvious. others are truly scary. Some of the
best, I think, are his Corinthian drachms. He went to great pains to get
wear on the coins and have a believable patinas (sometimes naturally grown
through burial in a suitably corrosive environment). At his time, weight
standards were not understood and his fakes are too heavy. Later still, die
axes were taken into consideration --especially by N American numismatists,
and both the weight and the die axis are correct on my deka.

Finally, regardless of the method of production, the combination of a
struck coin and a patina give colour clues that are very subtle. Most
people do not understand naturally produced colour. They think that they
can take a colour sample and duplicate it. What they do not see are the
optical effects of the material in combination with the colour of the
patina. These produce "top notes", you might say, that will vary as the
object catches different light angles. This is somewaght related to the
colour produced by a butterflies wing. it is strcuture/light based rather
than pigment based. Natural colours exhibit this as well and deposits of
pigments can vary in these subtle tones. I onced gathered some ochre that
had a violet "top note" when ground into oil as a paint. Certain deposits
are favored above others for these effects.


The very best fakes are not mechanically produced but are made from scratch
using the same methods and materials as the original. Some forgers go so
far as to actually restrike ancient coins. These are the sort of fakes
where history alone will identify them to most observers throught the
subtle differences of cultural perceptions of style. If someone has handled
enough of the real objects, then they might not need the observations
caused by the passage of time. If there are foolproof methods for producing
fakes, we don't know about them.

> I can name half a dozen
>nationally important artefacts that are on display to the general public
>which are in fact replicas (I worked on some of them) and I will happily
>challenge any archaeologist to spot the difference.

If these are not marked as copies, then this is an irresponsible action.
Students study the real, and become familiar with the subtle nature of
this. If you tell them that some fakes are real, then they will develop a
weakness in spotting the real. There are few archaeologists that are
specialists in only one type of object. Those that develop such a knowledge
do so by studying, not only what they have personally excavated, but what
has ben excavated or collected by others. It takes many years to develop
that certain sense about things that often cannot be easily out into words.
While "it doesn't feel right" might seem an unscientific method, it
actually is very accurate when it comes from the right mouth.

>The replica serves a very useful purpose. Original items are not subjected
>to the wear and tear of public display, insurance premiums are reduced
>(particularly for smaller museums) and the general public are none the
>wiser.

I don't think that the public should be fooled in this manner. It is both
elitist and it demeans the intelligence of the public --putting then in the
role of punters at a circus sideshow. But when many archaeologists believe
that collectors are drawn to shiny objects like jackdaws, and collect only
out of greed, then I suppose they must think even less of the intelligence
of the public in general.

John

http://www.writer2001.com/
Hooker & Perron, Total Project Coordination
Database-Web...Graphics...Custom Maps...Colour Suites...Expert Systems
Building the Celtic Coin Index on the Web:
http://www.writer2001.com/cciwriter2001/

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