COUNTERFEIT – A SHORT HISTORY OF FORGED MONEY

Throughout history, money forging has varied according to periods of time, countries, regions or cities. Forged money differ from official emissions through styles, weight or titles. Another distinctive element is represented by how images are reproduced on the faces of coins (also known as the obverse and the reverse sides). These can often display unclear features or the legends that indicate the state’s name or the issuer have incorrect, unequal or even missing letters. Most of the times, ancient money forged in clandestine workshops present incorrect legends that only imitate the letters on official coin emissions.

During most historical ages, the value of a coin was given by the amount of precious metal it contained. Usually, the method of forging a coin consisted in applying a thin layer of precious metal – gold or silver – on top of a piece of common metal – copper, lead, iron or tin.

During Roman times, another category of counterfeit coins were bronze cast imitations. The cast imitation method was used in forging coins during the 2nd -3rd centuries A.D. Archaeologists have discovered denarius coins that had the core made of a common metal and covered with a film of silver, in order to pass as precious metal coins. Surprisingly, this method was also used by official local minting workshops in order to supply the market with various missing nominals.

The Middle Ages are a time that was thoroughly analyzed from a numismatic point of view and specialized literature dedicated to forged money was given a special place. Counterfeit money are very important as these copies often circulated in large quantities and were thus part of regional and even state economies. A pertinent example of this fact is the forgery of Ottoman coins found during archaeological researches in Bucharest and the surrounding areas during the last five-six decades. Taking into consideration the fact that the Ottoman coin dominated the Wallachian and Moldovan markets throughout the 18th century and also considering the accounts on numismatics offered by written documents, we must not be surprised that these coins started to be forged and, in some cases, produced on the very territory of the Romanian Principalities. The accuracy of the stamps on fake coins found in Ottoman monetary treasuries, reveals the fact that the forgers were experts, possibly even people who worked in the minting workshops of the Ottoman Empire capital, or who probably used older stamps.

Hence, money forging was a problem that persisted in society regardless of the period of time, caused either by clandestine workshops or by the manipulation of value, sometimes by authorities themselves, in order to profit on the devaluation of precious metal titles or weights (this method was used by some state sovereigns who saw in minting workshops a fast way of gaining riches).

This exhibition offers the public a chance to see a valuable patrimony in the “Maria and Dr. George Severeanu” collection, the Numismatics collection of the Bucharest Municipality Museum as well as the collection of the “Mina Minovici” National Institute of Forensic Medicine. By combining illustrations and items of the collections mentioned above, the exhibition aims to present a short history of money forgery, starting with the ancient times up until 1947.

The exhibition is organized by the Bucharest Municipality Museum in partnership with the “Mina Minovici” National Institute of Forensic Medicine and is open for visitors at the Suțu Palace (2 I.C. Brătianu Street, Sector 3), from August 12 2015 to May 29th 2016.

Dan Pîrvulescu.

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