Monday, February 09, 2015

You Thought It Was More

Louis Colavecchio with Franz Douskey and Andy Thibault 426 pages. $24.99, $9.99 on Kindle

Louis Colavecchio's book cover describes him as the "World's Greatest Counterfeiter". That seems to be a standard claim for the genre. Who would want to read a book about the 2nd or 3rd greatest counterfeiter?

Colavecchio counterfeited casino chips, not coins or paper money. He seems to have counterfeited a great deal of chips, enough that casinos have stopped using them.

When I read about counterfeiters I want to see a picture of their fake next to an original. As is typical in these accounts, Colavecchio's lacks coin photography or pictures and drawings of any kind. The cover collage depicts seven casino chips, two steel dies for $100 chips, Colavecchio himself, a slot machine, and a pile of gold-colored coins that look like 1 euro pieces. This is disappointing. Colavecchio claims drafting skills and kept a contraband ruler concealed for years while in prison. I would have liked some technical drawings included in the book.

Chapter 1 is about making and selling counterfeit sweaters in the early 1960s. Chapter 2 is making statuettes using lost wax casting. Chapters 4-6 are about managing jewelry stores. Chapter 8 is about making phone phreaker red boxes and telephone slugs. (The slugs were made around 1980.) 10 and 11 are about importing and modifying sports cars. 13 covers jewelry manufacturing. Chapters 14-17 discuss casino chip counterfeiting (70 pages). Chapters 18-21 discuss jail, court, and prison. The other chapters are about who got whacked in Rhode Island in the 1960s and 70s, and why. Actually all the chapters are about crime and women.

Colavecchio's telephone slugs are only mentioned briefly.

The casino chip dies were made using Electrical Discharge Machining, the process called "spark-erosion counterfeiting" in the numismatic trade. (See Max Spiegel's article on NGC to see an example of a collector coin created with spark eroded dies). A 320 ton Mario Di Maio press was used to strike the chips.

Colavecchio forged both metal and plastic chips. A lot of the counterfeiting discussion in the book concerns getting the correct weight and color out of plastic materials. These discussions may not appear important to the coin collector, but recall that the country or rebel province Transnistria recently started issuing circulating plastic coins.

Colavecchio's writing, or perhaps the writing of his two co-authors, is good. I found all the mob and crime stuff presented in an entertaining way. (The typesetting is poor and there are lots of bogus commas and line spacing issues, but that doesn't reflect on the writing.) The book is well worth reading if you like true crime or counterfeiting. Although Colavecchio brags about having secrets the US Mint needed to consult him on, most of the tips, and that he made amazing improvements to his EDM machine, this book does not go into more detail than other books on coin forgery. This is an entertaining story about criminals, not a technical manual.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Smithsonian now able to digitize 400 numismatic objects per hour

An article by Max Kutner in Smithsonian Magazine discusses efforts to digitize 250,000 bank notes, tax stamps, and war bonds from the National Numismatic Collection.

Twenty people are able to digitize 3500 items per day, suggesting the whole project will take 72 business days. They use a conveyor belt and 80 megapixel imaging system. The team previously had success digitizing 45,000 bumblebees in 40 days.

The cost per object is less than a dollar.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fictional bridges on Euro banknotes constructed in the Netherlands

“'The European Bank didn't want to use real bridges so I thought it would be funny to claim the bridges and make them real,' [Dutch designer Robin Stam] told Dezeen.”

(via Marginal Revolution)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

3D coin scans using focus stacking

On, DVCollector shows a 3D scan of an Athenian tetradrachm. He took 56 pictures of the coin, each with a different focus, and used Helicon software to produce an image in extreme focus as well as 3D animation. Impressive!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Counterfeit 25 peso coin lab in the Dominican Republic

According to Dominican Today (no byline),
... Police ... dismantled an underground laboratory being used for forging 25 peso coins, following a raid on a house in the Sabana Perdida neighborhood of Santo Domingo North.


According to the police report, three machines used for manufacturing false 25 peso coins were seized during the operation, along with two engines, a drying oven and dozens of coins ready for processing.


In recent weeks traders and motorbike taxi divers in the area of La Caleta, Boca Chica have complained of being cheated by customers paying them for products and services with fake 25 peso coins.

The coins have a face value equivalent to 57 cents. Web site commentators suggest the counterfeiting story is unlikely. I disagree, given the large numbers of counterfeit UK pounds.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Unusual coin denomination: the spesmilo

I had been previously unfamiliar with the Spesmilo symbol. It apparently was only used on a single 'coin', a 1912 fantasy issue of the Esperanto congress. (The NGC web site lists examples in MS60 and XF40). According to Wikipedia the coin was used before the first world war by a few British and Swiss banks

Unicode has assigned the symbol U+20B7 SPESMILO SIGN.

The denomination was planned to equal 0.8g of 22k gold, or about 1/2 a US dollar, 2 shillings in Britain, or one Russian Ruble. It was supposed to be worth 1000 spesmiloj. The denomination is obsolete: Esperanto fantasies struck after 1945 are based on the imaginary Stelo system, not the Spesmilo.

On the Mac if I try to enter the Spesmilo sign I do NOT see the expected Sm abbreviation. Instead I see a P with a line through it. I have pasted it here: ₷. I have no idea what you will see. It is supposed to look like this:

The P with a line through it is the new currency symbol for the Russian Ruble. Microsoft has apparently rolled out support for the new Symbol in Windows. The Mac, at least mine running 10.8.5, has placed that glyph at the code point for the Spesmilo sign ... a denomination equal to one ruble.

Counterfeit US currency by MrMouse sold online

According to a blog post by Brian Krebs, a counterfeiter (or middleman) who goes by the alias MrMouse is selling high quality US notes at 45% of face value, payable in BitCoin.

MrMouse says his single-ply bills do not have magnetic ink, and so they won’t pass machines designed to look for the presence of this feature. However, this fraudster claims his $100 bill includes most of the other security features that store clerks and cashiers will look for to detect funny money, including the watermark, the pen test, and the security strip.

In addition, MrMouse says his notes include “microprinting,” tiny lettering that can only be seen under magnification (“USA 100″ is repeated within the number 100 in the lower left corner, and “The United States of America” appears as a line in the left lapel of Franklin’s coat). The sourdough vendor also claims his hundreds sport “color-shifting ink,” ...

I had no trouble finding the actual ads using search keywords mrmouse counterfeit.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

K Foundation Burn A Million Quid

Early in the morning of 23 August 1994, in an abandoned boathouse on the Scottish island of Jura, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty burned £1,000,000 pounds. It was the majority of the fortune they had earned in their brief career as pop stars (their band was The KLF).

This Saturday will be the 20th anniversary.

You can watch the burning on YouTube. There is also a television interview. A book on the burning, K Foundation Burn a Million Quid (1997) is available on Amazon for $10. AbeBooks has a copy of the book for £0.60.