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.