Modern Owl

Because of their popularity, ancient Athenian Owls are widely forged by scammers today and are perhaps the single most frequently counterfeited ancient coin. Centers of ancient coin forgery are Bulgaria and Lebanon. Owl forgeries, like ancient coin forgeries in general, range from excellently crafted, and quite dangerous, hand-cut struck copies to cheap cast tourist fakes.

Owl fakes appear frequently on eBay and less often in higher-end venues. Spotting fakes sometimes merely involves recognizing a known fake type, such as one of the pieces illustrated below. Other times it involves recognizing signs of a cast coin, indications of modern surfaces, or stylistic differences that vary too much from official issues or known ancient imitative issues. You can sometimes detect a fake using just an online photo. But often you need a coin in hand to do so reliably, allowing you to look at it from different angles and under magnification.

Buying from reputable dealers can go a long way to minimizing your risks in getting stuck with a fake. Buying directly through eBay from fellow collectors or from European middlemen/direct sellers, on the other hand, can be considerably less expensive, and risky. Knowledge can lesson the risks. One lesson from this is to avoid buying Owls and other more expensive ancient coins unless you know the seller, have a recommendation about the seller from a reliable source, or are experienced enough around ancient coins to recognize fakes and scammers.

The following is a sampling of modern Owl forgeries, most of which I've had the chance to examine in person, generally listed from more convincing to lesser quality in each category. Many of these pieces originated abroad, but forgers and scammers operate in the U.S. as well. I've obtained these pieces through donations from dealers, purchases from dealers selling them as copies, trades from fellow collectors, and donations from collectors who have been scammed and wanted to help prevent others from being scammed. If you have any Owl forgeries not illustrated on this page that you're able to offer, please
let me know.
Forgeries of Archaic Owls

"Galvano Boys" cast counterfeit (16.8g).

This is one of the infamous fakes from a pair of forgers active in the 1980s, initially given the name the "British Museum Forgers" by the Bulletin on Counterfeits (BoC), then later given a new name, the "Galvano Boys," by BoC when the British Museum reportedly expressed disapproval of the initial name. The initial name resulted from the fact the pair created some of their forgeries from making casts of electrotypes obtained from the British Museum of coins in its collection. The pair created other forgeries, according to BoC, through originally engraved dies and still others by making transfer dies from authentic ancient coins and then reworking the dies to enhance the details in the finished products.

The lead figure was reportedly an ancient coin wholesaler and forger from Athens, Greece. BoC gave him the pseudonym "Costodoulos," which is a bastardization of the last name of Constantinos Christodoulou, a Greek Cypriot forger who worked in the early 20th century. He's also sometimes referred to as "Kostas," which means "Tall One." His partner reportedly was a Hungarian dealer who at the time was one of the directors of a coin and antiquities shop in London but at some point has worked out of both Germany and Switzerland. His name has also been in the news regarding smuggled antiquities. BoC gave him the pseudonym "Gulyás," which means "Cowboy."

The Galvano Boys forgeries fooled high-end auction houses, though the above isn't one of their more deceptive fakes. It is in fact made of silver and in the correct weight range, but its surfaces exhibit casting pits and its edge exhibits remnants of a casting seam. It copies one of the first Archaic Owl tetradrachm varieties, dated c. 510-505 BC, from Seltman's Group H. With this variety, unlike most subsequent Archaic, Classical, and Intermediate-Style Owls, the ethnic is at the left of the owl and the olive sprig is at the bottom right. This forgery is documented in BoC 17 No. 1 (1992) p. 19 Fig. 9a, with that coin weighing 16.4g.

BoC, published by a coin dealer organization, the International Association of Professional Numismatists, complimented the ancient coin trade for how it handled the Galvano Boys forgeries, particularly in how dealers contacted customers and voluntarily refunded their money. On the other hand, The Independent, a newspaper in the UK covering the scandal, was critical, particularly for the secrecy in the ancient coin trade. According to journalist Geraldine Norman in her June 14, 1992, article, "It is perhaps characteristic of the crazy market in antique coins that leading dealers ... should consider it quite normal to publish the story of how two men ran a multi-million-pound fraud without taking their findings to the police."

The above fake appeared for sale on eBay as an authentic ancient coin from an American dealer who sells U.S. coins, modern world coins, exonumia, and banknotes, with no indication through his current auctions or feedback that he specializes in ancients. When informed with the appropriate detail that this was a modern copy, he immediately took down the auction then donated the piece in the name of counterfeit education. He said he had previously bought it as part of a group of about 50 coins, medals, and tokens.

Bulgarian School pressed counterfeit (11.2g).

This is a curious copy. From its photo, it appears to be an attractive pre-Salamis Archaic Owl, c. 490-482 BC, Sear 1842. In hand, it appears originally engraved rather than cast and, in the Bulgarian style, pressed rather than hand struck. It also appears to be silver. It's the correct diameter, but it's thin and light. The obvious question is, Why would the forger or forgery workshop who produced this well-made fake have skimped on something like $2 worth of silver when making it the correct weight would have made it "genuinely" deceptive? Perhaps it was a trial piece put out by one of the Bulgarian forgery workshops. If so, it only follows that full-weight forgeries will follow, or already have.



Forgeries of Classical Owls





Lebanese School pressed counterfeit (16.9g).

This is a deceptive fake that appears to have been made using a transfer die. There's space on the flan for Athena's crest but no crest visible. The forger used a typical Owl on a small flan with Athena's crest off the flan to create a transfer die, then used a larger flan to press out a copy. No authentic Owls exist with a blank space where the crest should be, though sometimes there's a slight gap between the top of the crown and the beginning of the crest. The weight of this piece is in the correct range, and it's made of silver. This fake originated in Lebanon and was acquired in trade with another collector who had bought it from a Lebanese dealer, with the dealer disclaiming knowledge of its authenticity. Lebanon and Bulgaria are centers of ancient coin counterfeiting, Lebanon more so in the past, Bulgaria more so today, though as some of the pieces on this page illustrate, fakes still emanate from Lebanon.

One version of this same fake was sold on eBay for $400 by a seller in the U.S. with more than 1,500 feedbacks. Another of these fakes was being sold for $480 by an antiquities dealer in Australia from his own Web site. These prices are a half to a third of what authentic Owls in this condition would sell for but about 20 times what copies sold as copies typically sell for. A number of other varieties of Owl forgeries exhibit the same mistake as this piece. It could be argued that publishing this mistake will help forgers make more convincing fakes in the future. But the countervailing argument is that it also will help collectors and dealers avoid being cheated by fakes already out there.















Lebanese School pressed counterfeit (16.4g)

This silver forgery was once part of a Japanese collection of authentic coins and was said to have originated in Iran, though the styling is very similar to the next Lebanese School forgery on this page, particularly Athena's lips, nose, and eye and the oversized theta of the legend, and it may well have been produced by the same hand. This is a fairly well-made deception overall, though the vertical part of Athena's hair to the left of her eye is overlong compared with the horizontal part, her nose is un-Athenian, and the reverse fields are too flat. It appears to be made from originally engraved dies and then minted with a hydraulic press. This forgery was provided to me by one of the most respected ancient coin dealer/numismatists in the world. Most dealers won't provide collectors with forgeries to study and document. They may not want to publicize the forgery problem for fear of scaring off other collectors. Or they may not trust the collector, fearing he may turn around and try to sell the piece as authentic.















Lebanese School cast counterfeit (17.3g).

Here's another Lebanese School counterfeit, this one sold repeatedly by a scammer from Lebanon on eBay using multiple I.D.s. It's the correct weight, or just a smidgen heavy. It appears to be cast, with significant casting pits most visible at Athena's cheek and chin, though there's no edge seam characteristic of lower-quality cast fakes. This piece appears to have been cast from an originally engraved fake because the owl's head and breast feathers are more crudely done in the style of fourth century Owls.



Bulgarian School struck/pressed counterfeit (16.4g).

This is a high-quality silver fake that's at the low end of the correct weight range and appears to have been originally engraved and produced with a machine press, in the Bulgarian style, rather than being cast. It originated in Bulgaria.

This forgery was documented in the 1997 book by Ilya Prokopov, et al., Modern Forgeries of Greek and Roman Coins, as the obverse of No. 24 and the reverse of No. 23 and in Wayne Sayles' 2001 book Classical Deception on page 61 (though with the latter the theta is missing a dot in the center). The above piece has what appears to be simulated die rust on the reverse. The main stylistic anomalies are Athena's helmet crest and smile.

Bulgarian School struck/pressed counterfeit (16.5g).

This is another high-quality Bulgarian silver fake from the same source as the previous piece, and it also appears originally engraved and produced with a machine press. It was documented in the 1997 book by Ilya Prokopov, et al., Modern Forgeries of Greek and Roman Coins, as the obverse of No. 23 and 25 and the reverse of No. 24 and in Bulletin on Counterfeits Vol. 14 No. 2 (1989) p. 58 (obverse).













Cast counterfeit (15.5g).

This lightweight piece has the unusual characteristic of the center of its obverse being in a depression or gully when it typically is the high point on these coins, with this being better visible having the coin in hand. The edges are filed and polished as well. Still, it's a fairly well-made and deceptive fake, judging strictly by its photo. It was donated to me by a dealer who had five of these in his black cabinet, all identical.



Cast counterfeit (13.5g).

Here's another underweight non-silver cast counterfeit donated to me by a dealer. Only in this case the dealer, who appears to specialize in ancient coins and antiquities without having specialized expertise in them, was fooled by it. He put it up on eBay as authentic coin. When contacted, to his credit, he took the auction down, and to his credit as well, he parted with the piece to help with the counterfeit education effort. He said he previous bought it for $89.99 on eBay, and he forwarded me the previous auction description, with the title reading, "Athena Ancient Greek Goddess Silver Roman Coin Pendant." This suggests that the previous seller knew little about ancient coins but knew he was selling a modern copy. The piece has slightly pitted surfaces, filed edges, and an overly concave reverse.

Greek pressed counterfeit (17.2g).

This and the next three fakes share similarities in the way the obverse die was engraved. They appear to have been originally engraved because they diverge in significant ways from the styling of authentic Owls, particularly with Athena's helmet crest, which lacks a break in the feathers. The similarity in styling, however, is probably just coincidental. The reverse of the above piece doesn't match the obverse, with the small owl tilting its head being in the style of some Early Classical Owls and the obverse in the style of Mass Classical Owls. The reverse ethnic is also rendered too neatly.

This fake distinguishes itself by being silver and the correct weight. At 27mm at its widest, however, it's slightly larger in diameter than is typically seen in Classical Owls. The flat area outside the incuse on the reverse suggests this piece was made with a machine press rather than hand struck. The obverse of this forgery was documented in Bulletin on Counterfeits Vol. 6 No. 1/2 (1981) p. 25. The above piece is said to have been from Greece, possibly Crete, to have been in a collection since the 1970s, and to have possibly originated as early as the 1920s. I've found nothing to corroborate this, however.













Bulgarian School cast counterfeit (16.7g).

This fake originated in Bulgaria. It appears to be cast, with casting bumps most visible on the slopes of the incuse square, and to be made of a debased silver alloy. The flan is also slightly wider than normal. It no doubt was initially made from hand-engraved dies before being cast because the styling is considerably off.

As of this writing, the above piece is one of the forgeries being sold openly as authentic by an ancient coins and antiquities shop in Manhattan, New York City, in this case for $800. The store is infamous for selling thousands of blatant fakes of coins and artifacts as authentic, with reportedly a small percentage of inexpensive authentic goods salted in. It has been in operation as a forgery outlet in New York City for an astounding 30 years. It offers a certificate of authenticity with all goods sold, and it operates a reseller program, selling its forgeries in quantity to other stores. One such reseller appears to be a store in Vancouver, WA. It's selling the same fakes, using the same photos, and it's selling this fake for $1,520. That the major coin and antiquities organizations haven't been able to shut down such blatantly open forgery operations is a telling commentary about the dark side of the trade.



Bulgarian School cast counterfeit (17.0g). This fake shares obverse stylistic similarities with the previous two fakes.













Turkish tourist copy cast counterfeit (11.0g).

I'm calling this a Turkish counterfeit because it entered the market in Turkey, but the reverse is the same as that on the previous fake, and it likely originated in Bulgaria as well. This is a tourist fake, made so poorly that it could fool only a tourist. In fact, this particular specimen did just that. It was purchased by a tourist in a market in Kusadasi, Turkey, near the ancient ruins of Ephesos. It was offered to him as an authentic ancient coin that "had been found by a farmer in his fields." The tourist, in returning home, put it up on eBay as an authentic coin before taking the auction down and selling it to me for a token fee.

This fake like some others on this page has made the rounds, with different versions cast from the same mold having been sold by different people, including the Toronto Forger as well as a forger from Germany who also has used multiple I.D.s on eBay. One copy of this fake, according to another report, was bought by a U.S. soldier in Iraq. Another version, at the time of this writing, is being sold for $1,140 by the Vancouver forgery outlet.

This forgery is made of some non-silver, pot metal alloy and is very darkly toned. It appears to have been originally engraved before being cast many times. The styling is unrealistic, and the surfaces have casting pits best visible under magnification.















Bulgarian School cast counterfeit (14.5g).

This fake has the same reverse as the previous two fakes and a different obverse. This is one of the most frequently seen Owl fakes on the market, with specimens I've seen ranging in weight from 6 to 17 grams. It has been sold multiple times by different scammers, including the Toronto Forger, an eBay scammer in Germany using multiple I.D.s, and an eBay scammer in Lebanon. This fake appears to have begun its life from an originally engraved fake and was then cast repeatedly. The styling is unrealistic, with Athena's hair above her "earring" dropping too far down in the style of some earlier Owls and with her face being too mannish.

One copy of this fake, at time of this writing, is being sold by the New York City forgery outlet for $600 and by the Vancouver forgery outlet for $1,140.

The reverse is documented in the 2003 book by Ilya Prokopov, et al., Modern Counterfeits and Replicas of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins from Bulgaria, as No. 93. With fakes having the above obverse, sometimes the crest on Athena's helmet is off the flan, as with the piece pictured above, and sometimes it's on the flan.





Bulgarian School Forgery Early Classical Owl tetradrachm (11.8g).

Like the previous piece, this is a small, underweight forgery that combines design elements of Owls from different eras, only even more so with this piece. The hair on Athena's forehead is like that of Early Classical Owls, Star Group IV. Athena's mouth and the tail feathers of the owl is that of Mass Classical Owls. The reverse is lacking a crescent moon, as on Archaic Owls before 480 BC. The piece has the look and feel of lead-based pewter and appears to be a high-quality cast with faint remnants of a seam in the middle of the edge. The obverse is documented in Ilya Prokopov's 2003 book Modern Counterfeits and Replicas of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins from Bulgaria as No. 93.



Chinese Forgery Early Classical Owl tetradrachm (15.9g).

The Chinese have been heavily involved with forging American and other modern collector coins as well as medieval coins (and just about anything else that can be copied), though as yet they haven't involved themselves much with ancient coins. The above piece is an exception.

This is a fake of an ancient coin sold as authentic by a seller in China and appearing to have been made by the typical Chinese process -- creating a transfer die using another coin and producing the fake with a hydraulic press.

The seed coin, as often happens with forgers, wasn't an authentic coin but a much easier to obtain modern forgery or replica, in this case a Gallery Mint Museum replica (see Owl Replicas page of this site for an example). The original "COPY" mark on the reverse of the replica was removed in the process of creating this fake, likely by tooling the transfer die. The piece was also artificially toned, badly, with "circus" toning and burnt spots on Athena's helmet. The piece feels as if it's made of silver but is slightly underweight.

This and the original replica copy an Early Classical Owl, Sear 2518, c. 478-472 BC, but not deceptively, with the flan too round, the fields too flat, and the area outside the incuse square on the reverse way too flat and regular.

One buyer of another specimen of this same Chinese fake got scammed out of $307. This is much less than what an authentic coin of this variety in this condition would sell for but about ten times more than what a replica marked as such would sell for. The buyer said he was a collector of U.S. coins, had suspicions, and should have known better about buying an ancient coin, not his specialty, from China but bought anyway because he liked the way the piece looked.

Though this piece is a poor-quality, even humorous, fake, it points to where things may be headed if the Chinese get better with ancients as they have with modern coins.













Lipanoff/Bulgarian School cast counterfeit Early Classical Owl tetradrachm (15.1g).

It's not often when Bulgarian School fakes can be connected to a specific Bulgarian forgery studio, but this specimen is one such fake. It's a counterfeit from the Lipanoff Studio, which likely consists of former apprentices of the Bulgarian replica maker Slavey Petrov and which is infamous for producing the Black Sea Hoard and New York Hoard of forgeries dispersed to dealers at the New York International Numismatic Convention.

This piece provides concrete evidence of this. The styling is very similar to Slavey's replica of an Early Classical Owl, which is illustrated on the Owl Replicas page of this site, with the the most noticeable difference being clumsily styled hair above Athena's "earring." Unlike Slavey's own work, which is minted with a hydraulic press, the above piece appears to be cast, having a faint edge seam. What's more, this forgery is documented in Ilya Prokopov's 2004 book Contemporary Coin Engravers and Coin Masters from Bulgaria, which presents many forgeries from the Lipanoff Studio, as No. 1.

Prokopov indicates that the Lipanoff Studio strikes most of their copies, so the above piece could be one of the less typical Lipanoff casts, or it could be a cast from a Lipanoff fake made by someone else. The piece documented by Prokopov weighs only 10.2g, while this piece though still underweight weighs 15.1g, much closer to the correct weight range. Here's more on the Lipanoff Studio.



Cast counterfeit tetradrachm with filled-in test cut (15.1g). This is a run-of-the-mill cast counterfeit, with casting pits and remnants of an edge seam, with one exception. The copyist used a test-cut and countermarked Classical Owl as the seed coin, then after creating the cast filled in the test cut. The job is obvious and amateurish. The piece appears to be made of silver.













Cast counterfeit Egyptian Owl (15.9g). This is a cast copy of an Egyptian Owl imitative, with subtle casting pits most visible under magnification, mushy details, and the remnants of a casting seam.















Toronto Forger cast counterfeit (12.8g).

This is another of the cast fakes offered for sale on eBay in thousands of scam auctions over an astounding period of four years in the early 2000s by a crook operating out of Toronto, Canada. This forgery criminal is sometimes called the Toronto Group, but there's no indication that there was anyone behind this other than a single individual making poor- and medium-quality cast copies in his basement, and the Toronto Forger is a more fitting name.

The above piece has the characteristic soft details of lower-quality cast copies and like low-quality fakes is severely underweight. This forger like many forgers cast his fakes mostly from other forgeries or from replicas, all of which are less expensive to obtain than authentic ancient coins. Higher-quality, more dangerous forgeries are cast from authentic coins using pressure casting, struck or pressed from cast dies made from authentic coins, or originally engraved and hand struck like authentic ancient coins. This fake was donated to me by a public-spirited collector who was cheated out of $180 by the Toronto Forger when he was using the alias Online Liquidators and who wanted to contribute to the cause of counterfeit education.

The Toronto Forger put up on eBay several dozen cast fakes at a time with each round of his scam auctions, typically the same fakes each time, with new fakes added as he went along, using the same photos, with new photos used as he went along. He created more than 40 rounds of scam auctions, using a different eBay I.D. each time. Despite many people contacting eBay, it had no mechanism in place to act in a timely way, and to this day it still doesn't read or act upon most messages sent to it. With every round of scam auctions, eBay canceled this forger's I.D. (NARUed him, for Not a Registered User), but until near the end of this forger's run it generally wasn't until after the auctions were over and most people had likely already paid and received their items. eBay sent messages to the people who had been scammed, but its intent appears only to absolve itself of responsibility. The message contained the following language: "eBay is only a venue, and we cannot guarantee that sellers will complete transactions nor can we guarantee the delivery or quality of bought items."

Estimating conservatively, the Toronto Forger scammed 1,000 people out of $150,000. This scammer seems to have ceased operations, but a number of other crooks have come along and emulated his tactics. eBay has gotten better at stopping the most blatant forgery scammers, but it appears to be a sporadic effort. Other scammers have made businesses of selling fakes of ancient coins and artifacts as authentic on eBay, like the Toronto Forger operating for years, despite the best efforts of people, as well as the American Numismatic Association, to prevail upon eBay stop them.

One lesson from the Toronto Forger and the other eBay forgery scammers is that you should never bid on anything on eBay that can be faked unless you're expert in the area, know the seller, or have gotten a recommendation about the seller from a reliable source. Don't expect eBay to protect you. It typically doesn't even read the messages it receives from people telling it that a seller is breaking eBay's own rules, such as disclaiming knowledge of authenticity. Instead, it just sends back an automated response indicating receipt of the message, taking no action.

Here's a catalog of other Toronto forgeries.















Cast counterfeit (15.7g). This piece is somewhat similar in styling to the above Toronto fake, with the most noticeable difference being Athena's hair above her "earring." Also, the crest is off the flan on this piece.















Cast counterfeit (8.2g). This cast piece has nice enough surfaces and detail, but the edges have been filed, and the flan is very thin, accounting for its very low weight. It's not made of silver but some kind of artificially toned white metal alloy.



Cast counterfeit (13.2g). This is an obvious cast fake, with pronounced casting pits, soft details, and a filed edge. Its reddish hue makes it appear to be made of bronze, but it has more of the feel of artificially toned pot metal, an alloy consisting of tin, lead, and whatever else might be around (including old pots).













Counterfeit Wilbert replica (weight unknown). This is a Wilbert replica, illustrated on the Owl Replicas page of this site, but it has been treated to create simulated flan cracks in an effort to make it appear more authentic. It was offered for sale as an authentic coin on eBay. This is one of two pieces illustrated on this page that I haven't examined in hand, though I have examined a Wilbert replica.















Toronto Forger cast counterfeit of Antiquanova replica of Early Classical Owl tetradrachm (weight unknown). This is yet another of the low-quality cast fakes sold as authentic coins on eBay to thousands of people over a period of about four years by the Toronto Forger. This is a copy of an Antiquanova replica, illustrated on the Owl Replicas page of this site. The casting pits all over the surfaces of this piece show it for what it is. The S countermark of the Antiquanova replica was filled in when the mold was made. This is the second of two pieces illustrated on this page that I haven't examined in hand, though I have examined an Antiquanova replica.















Forgeries of New Style Owls





Pressed counterfeit (17.4g). This is a skillfully done though far from perfect copy. It's slightly heavy and appears to be made of a lead alloy, from its feel and its ring. The surfaces are also a tad flat. I obtained it from an ancient coin and antiquities dealer who has a large black cabinet of forgeries. Another version of this fake was published in Bulletin on Counterfeits Vol. 2 No. 2 (1977) p. 44, with that specimen weighing 17.0g.















Turkish cast counterfeit (10.0g). This is a silver copy with the characteristic appearance of a low-quality cast. The casting pits are obvious, the details in particular on the reverse are mushy, the edges have been filed, and the piece is severely underweight. This piece is said to have originated in Turkey.















Greek cast counterfeit (12.1g). This is another silver cast copy, though with this one the casting pits are more obvious on the obverse than the reverse. Said to have originated in Greece.















Bronze cast counterfeit (10.5g). This tourist fake has been cast in bronze and has very indistinct details and filed edges. A better, earlier version of this fake was published in the Bulletin on Counterfeits Vol. 7 No. 1/2 (1982) p. 1, with that specimen weighing 15.7g. The above piece is likely a cast of a cast.





























Here's a page of mine on counterfeit coin detection.













Other glomworthy coins:

Oldest Coins

 Athenian Owls

Alexander the Great Coins

Medusa Coins

Thracian Tetradrachms

House of Constantine

Draped Bust Coins

Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles

Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins

© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.