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Of the hundreds of thousands of dies engraved to issue Roman coins, we have almost nothing left, a handful of them at most. This situation is not so unexpected since the normal fate of a monetary die was either to break naturally or to be broken after use precisely to avoid counterfeiting. The reverse die, which is that held loosely in a pair of tongs, is believed most often to appear as a cylinder whose diameter corresponds to that of the monetary type. The obverse die, embedded in an anvil, is of an imprecise shape (not necessarily round), in any case wide enough in surface so that never, even in the event of very off-center strikes, the metal does not push back to its end. It also wears less quickly than the reverse die, because the power of the blow is damped by the blank which absorbs the energy released. It seems that a rough master die was cut from iron and then hardened by annealing. The engraver used this master die to punch a rough image of the design into the working die, which were then finished by hand. Unlike medieval dies which are invariably made of iron, antique dies are most often made of bronze with a high percentage of tin. There is no doubt that this activity required a great deal of know-how, because it involves making hollow, on a scale of 1:1, and probably without any particular instruments of optical magnification, a monetary type which, wide 2 to 3 cm, often proves to be of great complexity, embellished with a grènetis, a legend and discreet distinctive marks in the fields (symbols, letters and monograms). It is also believed that the average die probably lasted for about 10,000 to 50,000 strikings before requiring extensive retooling or replacement.

For as long as there has been money there have been counterfeiters. Generally, we know this from the numerous examples of counterfeit coins that have survived. Less frequently, we have the opportunity to examine the tools of the counterfeiter – his dies. It has been estimated that there are around 100 surviving counterfeiter’s dies from ancient times. Many of these are locked away in museums and longtime collections, but some of them have been auctioned over the years. Let’s examine a few specimens:


Counterfeiter’s die. Circa 136 BC. Iron die for AR Denarius. Dimensions: length, 70mm; width, 20 mm of quadrilateral form. Weight: 186.12 grams. Bronze face of cast impression of reverse of denarius (Antestia 9) mounted to iron shank. Die face is clear, green patina on the bronze, iron shank in excellent condition.



Ancient forger's die. Iron reverse die of Mark Antony legionary denarius. 18 mm x 14 mm, 22.03g. After 31 BC. Reverse die of a denarius of LEG XII ANTIQVAE, legionary eagle between two standards (all retrograde). 




Ancient Forger's Die. Iron reverse die of Mark Antony legionary denarius (33 mm x 20 mm; 77.46 gm). After 31 BC. LEG VI, legionary eagle between two standards (all retrograde). Cf. Crawford 544/19, Sydenham 1223, and CRI 356. Extremely rare. That die must be the product of an ancient forger, rather than of Antony's military mint, is evidenced by the poor centering of the image on the die face. Part of the border of dots is missing, as is the bottom of the left standard. This is inconceivable on an official mint product engraved by hand. It is, however, completely consistent with a die made from an impression of an actual coin. The shallow relief on the present artifact is also consistent with this explanation.. Dimensions: overall length, 32mm; diameter, 21mm at face, tapering to approximately 19mm at center, and expanding to 21mm at base. Of cylindrical form with central tang. Weight: 87.20 grams.




Augustus. 27 BC-AD 14. Iron dies for Æ Dupondius or As. Dimensions of obverse die: die face 31 mm in diameter and die shank 37 mm. Weight: 148.40 grams. Bronze face of cast impression of reverse of dupondius (RIC I 381) or as (RIC I 382) for the moneyer Cn. Piso Cn. f. mounted to iron shank. Dimensions of reverse die: die face 30 mm in diameter; die shank 39 mm at the face, tapering to 30 mm in diameter at mid point and widening to 42 mm at the base. Weight: 320.20 grams. Extremely rare set with both obverse and reverse die . Based on the dies themselves, it is impossible to tell whether they were used to strike dupondii or asses, since both issues of this moneyer were of the same type. This remarkable set of dies was undoubtedly employed to strike local coinage in one of the Balkan provinces along the Danube frontier.




This next one has something very special. Can you find what it is before reading the description?

Domitian. As Caesar, AD 69-81. Bronze counterfeiter’s obverse hub for denarius set in iron shank (20x29mm, 47.43 g). Made after AD 80. CAESAR DIVI F DOMITIANVS COS VII, laureate head right. Cf. RSC obverse legend/type Da. Good VF, some rust and deposits.

The intended use of this counterfeiter’s tool was as a hub for creating dies or moulds, rather than the imitative coins themselves. For a die or mold, an inverted image of the eventual coin would be necessary, with features being reversed and incuse. This piece, however, has features which are exactly as would be seen on the coin, thereby being used to impress an inverted image into a die or clay mold, which would then be used to make the coins.





Justin I. 518-527. Iron Die for an Æ Follis Reverse. Average dimensions: overall length, 88mm; diameter, 35mm at die face, widening to 40 mm at the center, and tapering to 33mm at striking face. Of octagonal form. Weight: 790 gm. Reverse of a third officina Nicomedia mint follis of Justin I: Large M, cross above; star to either side; Γ//NIKM (SB 83). 

The only officina letters recorded in the various national collections and in the standard works for this variety with NIKM are A, B, Δ and Є, the first, second, fourth and fifth workshops ­ the third workshop represented by the letter Γ has so far only been noted for this variety with NIKOM (SB 83B). For the one thousand years of the Byzantine Empire this is the first die to have come to light (there are, however, rare tongs known for making lead seals but no actual coin dies).




Basil I the Macedonian, with Constantine, 867-886. Coin Die for a Solidus Reverse (Iron, 23x33x25 mm, 105.92 g), Constantinopolis, circa 871-886. bASILIOS ЄT COҺSTAҺT' AЧGG b' Crowned facing busts of Basil, with short beard and loros, and Constantine, beardless and wearing chlamys; holding patriarchal cross between them. Cf. DOC 2 and SB 1704 (for solidus). Unpublished and unique, the second known Byzantine coin die and the first of a solidus.


Do you have in your collection some of these coins that counterfeiters have try to copy ? If so, show them to us !

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Great write up on a very interesting part of our hobby. 

I've been able to score a couple that I'm always happy to share:

The first has a nice provenance going back to David Vagi and is a consecratio for Pius:


Antoninus Pius. AD 138-161. Forger’s PB impression or die for a sestertius (35mm, 53.60 g, 12h). Copying a Rome mint issue of AD 161. CONSECRATIO, four-tiered funeral pyre topped by facing quadriga; S C in exergue; all in incuse and retrograde. Cf. RIC III 1266; cf. Banti 75 (for official strike). A few scratches on reverse, spot of roughness. VF.


From the WD Collection, purchased from David Vagi, January 2007. Ex New York Sale XI (11 January 2006), lot 374.

When a counterfeiter prepared his dies, he could either engrave them himself, in a style easily to be distinguished from official mint issues, or he could use a genuine, mint-issued host coin. He would then impress this design into a piece of piece of metal and affix it to the iron die-shaft. This object may represent a counterfeiter’s first attempt, a practice strike in lead, as lead is generally too soft a metal for striking coins.

And more recently a Macedonian shield. Though, it may be a tessera or something of the sort. Whatever it is, it unique:


Edited by Ryro
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2 hours ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

A news story a while back mentioned dies and coin blanks being found in Trier (or was it Cologne?).

In 2005, archaeologists discovered under a layer of 1.70 m of debris, near the Porta Nigra (Trier) within the walls of the Roman city:

• c. 300 radiates of the end of Tetricus’s reign:

• 3 “denarii”, or Abschläge of the end of Tetricus’s reign 

• a fragment of a bronze ingot (9 cm long, 2.8 cm wide, 1 cm high, 145.6 g)

• 12 copper bars and 7 fragments, made in open moulds, uniformly elongated, rod-shaped, rounded at the ends, of a individual weight between 469 g and 729 g, for a total weight of 8kg

• c. 40 copper bars with grooves for separating segments

• separated segments from the previous sticks, each segment being of the weight of a radiate, some being flattened (flans)……..but sadly no dies at all………


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