A replica is an imitation of an original coin, but some replicas are fantasy pieces, some 'replicas' are fakes or other illegal copies.
We believe there is a place for replica coins, although we deplore the multiplicity of cheap nasty imitations which have been churned out in recent years, and also the fact that many replica coins get re-sold, mainly on eBay, with misleading and fraudulent descriptions, apparently with eBay's implicit consent.
Rare and Classic Coin Replicas
One area where we believe replicas have a valid place is that of great rarities, often of extreme value. Not everybody can expect to own an 1804 US silver dollar, a 1933 Double Eagle, an 1839 Una and the lion British gold five pounds, or a 1933 British penny. All these are great rarities, yet there are many collectors who would like to own one, and if this is not possible, then the next best thing would be a faithfully reproduced replica. On this page, we show photographs of a replica Una and the Lion gold pattern five pounds, originally produced in 1839. It is generally accepted as being a very beautiful design, but unfortunately for most collectors, originals are rare and expensive, about £20,000 in FDC condition. The replica shown was reproduced in 9 carat gold, and is easy to distinguish from the real thing, so it cannot rate as a great replica, but it is probably better than nothing.
Identical or Similar? - Replica or Fake?
One obvious problem is how exact a reproduction can or should a replica be, and at which point a replica becomes a fake or forgery. One simple answer to this is that a replica is produced as a legitimate substitute for the real thing, and is marketed as such, a forgery is produced to deceive. If things stayed this simple, all would be easy, but if somebody produced a replica which was identical to the original, and indistinguishable, then it would only be a matter of time before some dishonest person tried to sell it as a genuine original. If some skilled artist could provide me with perfect copies of some of the world's greatest masterpiece paintings and sculptures, at a reasonable cost, then I would be delighted to commission a long list, and fill my home, and office with them. The problems would start when some of the items eventually found their way onto the international art market, although if another Mona Lisa turned up in Blackpool, I doubt whether it would cause any major problems, as I think everybody knows the original is securely on display at the Louvre.
The Lebanese Connection
In the 1970's, a number of very high quality fake coins arrived onto the market, apparently produced in Lebanon. These were so good that they fooled a significant number of internationally renowned dealers and auction houses. The problem was that they were very difficult to distinguish from the original and genuine article. If they had carried, say, edge lettering saying "copy", or been produced slightly thicker or thinner than the originals, then it may have been possible to market them ethically and honestly as replicas. The existence of perfect obverse and reverse dies may have proved a temptation for the mint or engraver, who might not have been able to resist making at least one identical and indistinguishable copy, perhaps for himself, a patron, or a sponsor. This would eventually have found its way onto the market, and caused problems. The only solution may be to ensure that all dies contained at least one deliberate and permanent distinguishing mark or feature, so as to ensure that all copies produced from it could be correctly identified, and to avoid future fraud or confusion. There would, of course, always be dishonest individuals who would try to remove the distinguishing marks, and attempt resell the replicas as genuine. Fro our observations of eBay, we believe this would be very easy, because the level of stupidity shown be many buyers is almost unbelievable. Einstein had a saying about infinity, the universe and human stupidity.
What a Relief?
The replica shown in our photographs on this page is a somewhat cheap and cheerful concoction. The most obvious feature is its low relief. On the obverse, in particular, this is so obvious that even David Blunkett could spot it, or Gordon Brown with his bad eye. Don't think we are entirely joking about this, because the height of the relief, or the depth of the engraving is a tactile matter, it can be distinguished by feel.
The reader might well ask why somebody would go to all the trouble and expense of making new dies, and then spoiling the whole thing by economising on the relief. There are two answers here, the first is that it takes more work and effort to produce a hight relief engraving for a die, and then the strikings need to be done more slowly and carefully, probably double or even treble striking each piece. This adds to production costs, and also, high relief dies do not last as long, because of the greater pressures and forces generated in striking. The second answer is that the producers did not expect to be marketing their product to very discerning collectors, so took the view they could get away with a not-very-convincing likeness.
Another solution to the problem of making a visually accurate replica discernable from the original is to use a different metal. We have seen a number of very high quality replica coins, made in gold-plated silver. A number which we have bought, and still own, are also oversized, so that nobody except a complete fool could fail to spot the difference.
Only Fools and...
Having made the last statement, we once had a potential vendor from Germany, who had telephoned us to ask our buying price for an Australian one kilo gold nugget coin. We quoted him a price, and spoke to him on a few occasions. One day he arrived in our showroom with a Perth Mint display replica. They give these away, and also sell them, as gift items, made of vacuum formed plastic with a heavy metal (lead?) insert. They are considerably smaller than life size, so theoretically, it should not be possible to confuse these with the real thing, however we are once again reminded of Einstein's observation.
You Don't Need to be Einstein ... But it Helps
The Einstein quotation we have referred to twice on this page is "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."
We also noticed "Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds."
Coin News Editorial and Advertising Policy
Coin News magazine, published in the UK, has a policy banning the advertising of any replica coins. We believe this is too strong an approach, but at least is is almost infinitely better than the amoral policy which appears to have been adopted by eBay, which seems to be that anything goes unless enough people complain strongly enough, or law enforcement agencies become involved. We believe this is short-sighted and expect and hope it will rebound on them one day, rather like sub-prime mortgages.
Obverse of Replica Una & the Lion Gold Five Pounds
Reverse of Replica Una & the Lion Gold Five Pounds
Boxed Set of 4 Una & the Lion Gold Replica Coins
Obverse of Edward III Fantasy Gold Florin
Reverse of Edward III Fantasy Gold Florin
Obverse of Queen Anne Touchpiece Presentation Card
Reverse of Queen Anne Touchpiece Presentation Card
Obverse of Queen Anne Touchpiece
Reverse of Queen Anne Touchpiece