Saturday, May 31, 2008

Replica half shekels from Charles Larson

Charles Larson wrote Numismatic Forgery (Zyrus Press, 2004), a very detailed book on techniques of making fake dies and using them to make coins.

This book is so good that the ANA used the manuscript in their forgery class, then pulled the book from usage after realizing how technical it is. Imagine traveling all the way to Colorado for a counterfeit detection class whose teachers didn't think you needed to see the most explicit books! I don't know how much these classes cost but the ANA is offering one in November at the Illinois coin show and tuitition is $445.

Larson's book is easily found everywhere now for $15-20.

I was wondering what Larson was up to. His web site is down, but the Internet Archive keeps part of an older version. I found that he's teamed up with Temple Mount Center in Jerusalem and is striking shekels and half shekels in silver and gold. The catalog of shekel replicas is online.

I still meet people who haven't read Numismatic Forgery. Here is what I wrote in 2004:

Covers: Alteration (tooling, adding mint marks); Casting (centrifugal); False Dies (engraving tools, from electroplates, from casts, explosive impact); Collars; Planchets; Striking (hammering jigs and the 'gravity hammer'); and Wear/Patina.

Although written in the style of a "how-to" manual for replica and clandestine workshops, the book's target audience is collectors and authenticators. To employ Mr. Larson's techniques for crime you'd need to know the basics of precious metal casting, tool and die machining, gunsmithing, and numismatics. For readers without a metal lathe but with a serious interest in authentication and forgery-fighting, the book will provide an understanding of the covert minting process.

I was most impressed by Larson's treatment of the manufacture of steel dies through explosive impact copying. His procedure involves modifying shotguns to drive cast hubs into annealed dies. Larson's diagrams are explicit enough to convince the numismatist that explosive copying is practical. Details only of use to criminals, such as the type and quantity of gunpowder to use, are deliberately withheld from the reader.

Larson quotes an anonymous authenticator who examined 114 1916-S quarter eagles during the 1980s. 56% of them turned out to be fake! Hi-volume forgers in the Middle East and the Orient already know many of Larson's techniques. Numismatic Forgery may provide a few useful tips to jewelers and machinists independently turning to crime, but the primary value of the book is to educate collectors in the characteristics of the illicit workshop.

No comments: