The Sceptical “Amateur Scholar of Numismatics”. 4 English Version.


During my studies about the coinage of Alexander the Great I accidentally knew a rare and very expensive coinage of gold staters, which was analyzed by François de Callataÿ.

I think two premises are necessary:
gold (at least if it’s pure), being a noble metal, is almost not subject to phenomena of chemical-physical alteration. Therefore if a gold coin was produced by minting would be prohibitive to determine the falsity or not, relying only on a visual analysis of the metallurgical characteristics. On the contrary it is the most malleabile1 metal of all (even more than silver) and therefore gold coins are easily subject to be damaged through the use by scratches or nicks and by the loss of quality of the reliefs2 .

I will consider here only the aspects related to the issue of falsification and not those related to the historical meaning and classification of these coins.
They are attic weight staters (8.60 g theoretically): the obverse shows Heracles’s youth head with lion skin facing to the right and the reverse an archaic statue of Athena seen frontally, holding spear in the right hand and shield in the left.
Until a few years ago only five coins belonging to this category were known. They are present from more than a century in important European museum collections: four staters and one-third stater (still unique today: but for how long???). Two of the four staters definitely came from Saida Hoard (IGCH 1508) found on several occasions during the nineteenth century, but probably even the other two.

1: the four nineteenth-century staters.

1. D1/R1 (a). Londra, BM. 8,21 g.
2. D1/R1 (b). Lisbona, coll. Gulbenkian, 699. 8,59 g.
3. D1/R2 (a). Parigi, BnF, 1557. 8,60 g.
4. D3/R5 (a). Berlino, MK. 8,51 g.

2: the third-stater. De Callataÿ 2012, p. 188.

5. D1/R1 (a). Londra, BM. 2,85 g.
Then, except the London’s third-stater, were known only 4 specimens for a total of 2 obverse dies and 3 reverse.
In 2004 appeared in the market at least other 19 staters of this type and 4 in 2009:  23 for De Callataÿ (but actually more) sold at huge prices from the most famous world’s auction houses.
6. D2/R3 (a). Gemini Auction IV, 8 january 2008, lot 153. 8,60 g. 110.000 $. Then Triton Auction XVI, 7 january 2013, lot 432. 8,59 g. 90.000 $.
7. D2/R3 (b). Triton Auction XI, 7 january 2008, lot 214. 8,60 g. 55.000 $.
8. D2/R3 (c). Stack’s Auction, 14 january 2008, lot 2233. 8,63 g. 47.500$.
9. D2/R3 (d). Numismatica Ars Classica, Auction 52, lot 162, 7 october 2009, 8,61 g. 134.400 $.
10. D2/R3 (e). Nomos Auction FPL 3, winter-spring 2010, lot 71. 8,61 g. 145.000 $.
11. D2/R3 (f).Gemini Auction VII, 9 january 2011, lot 477. 8,59 g. I haven’t found the hammer price, but the starting price was 120.000 $.
12. D2/R3 (g). Nomos Auction FPL 4, winter-spring 2011, lot 68. 8,60 g. 105.000 $.
13. D2/R3 (h). ANS collection, New York, purchased in 2009. Price and provenance not known. 8,583 g.
14. D2/R3 (i). Pékin private collection. Price and provenance not known. 8,60 g.
15. D2/R3 (j). London, private collection. Price and provenance not known. 8,62 g. Then Printed Auction CNG 94, 18 september 2013, lot 462. 8,60 g. 65.000 $.
16. D2/R3 (k). Connecticut, private collection. Price and provenance not known. 8,59 g. Then Electronic Auction CNG 316, 4 december 2013, lot 106. 8,63 g. 45.000 $.
17. D2/R3 (l). Wisconsin, private collection. Price and provenance not known. 8,60 g.
18. D2/R3 (m). Collection SF1. Price and provenance not known. 8,60 g. Then Electronic Auction CNG 314, 6 november 2013, lot 131. 8,59 g. 45.000 $.
19. D2/R3 (n). Collection SF2. Price and provenance not known. 8,60 g. Then (?) Nomos Auction 8, 21 october 2013, lot 165. 8,63 g. 50.952 $.
20. D2/R3 (o).Massachussets, private collection. Price and provenance not known. 8,60 g. Then Nomos Auction 3, 10 may 2011, lot 112, 8,61 g. 148.499 $. Then Printed Auction CNG 94, 18 september 2013, lot 463. 8,62 g. 65.000 $. Then RN Auction 8, 28 september 2014, lot 633. 8,62 g. 77.953 $.
21. D2/R3 (p). New York, collection SF3. Price and provenance not known. 8,63 g. Then Triton Auction XV, 3 january 2012, lot 1204. 8,62 g. 80.000 $. Then Electronic Auction CNG 308, 7 august 2013, lot 113. 8,62 g. 42.500 $.
22. D2/R3 (q). Chicago, private collection. Price and provenance not known. 8,63 g. Then Electronic Auction CNG 312, 9 october 2013, lot 8. 8,60 g. 50.000 $. Then Heritage Auction 3041, 13 august 2015, lot 32032. 8,60 g. 46.000 $.
23. D2/R3 (r). California, private collection. Price and provenance not known. 8,63 g.
24. D2/R3 (s). Manhattan Sale II, 4 january 2011, lot 58. 8,62 g. 110.000 $.
25. D2/R4 (a). Providence, private collection. Price and provenance not known. 8,62 g.
26. D2/R4 (b). Zurich, private collection. Price and provenance not known. 8,60 g.
27. D4/R6 (a). Leu Auction 52, 15 may 1991, lot 90. 8,57 g. Then New York Sale Auction XXVII (Prospero Collection), 4 january 2012, lot 477. 8,57 g. 42.500 $.
28. D5/R7 (a). Gemini Auction V, 6 january 2009, lot 604. 8,60 g. 100.000 $.; (search for “pergamon stater”).
New specimens not listed in De Callataÿ 2012:
29. D2/R3 (t). Nomos Auction 7, 14 may 2013, lot 123. 8,60 g. 100.263 $.
30. D2/R3 (u). Printed Auction CNG 100, 7 october 2015, lot 75. 8,62 g. 23.000 $.
They are so similar that it isn’t unlikely that some of these specimens may coincide. I have some doubts especially about specimen 19.
So, to summarize, De Callataÿ found 23 (actually 25 with the latest additions) new staters with 3 new obverse dies and 4 new reverse dies.
The specimens 27 and 28 are unicum for what concerns the dies and the second has a more coarse style. The other 23 have the same obverse die and also the reverse one, except numbers 25 and 26.
These coins have very common traits with other groups of coins I studied and I believe non-genuine, or al least dubious:
ies never previously attested in scientific publications, even in the presence of a pretty consistent style.
Exceptional conservation status for all the pieces (EF or MS). As if all the coins discovered recently had remained sealed in a time capsule from their production to the day of the auction. Just take a look at the coins present in museum collections or prestigious associations and immediatly you will realize that there is something wrong. Specifically there is not one of the 4 nineteenth-century staters that present a better state of preservation of one the 25 “new”.
Centering often perfect. We must never forget that the ancient coinage was an artisan and manual process, however, especially for the most valuable coins, highly specialized; in reality, in gold coins (I’m thinking in particular about the lifetime staters of Alexander), too obvious mistakes in this regard are very hard to see, though here the precision level seems really exceptionally high.
Excessively reduced ponderal range. The 25 “new” pieces all have a weight between 8,58 and 8,63 g, having a 8.60 g theoretical weight. It almost seems that the ancient artisans could have a precision balance. The weights are: 8.60,8.60,8.63,8.61,8.61,8.59,8.60,8.58,8.60,8.62,8.63,8.60,8.59,8.63,8.62,8.63,8.63,8.63,8.62,8.62,8.60,8.57,8.60,8.60,8.62 g. The average is 8.6092 g to which we can add a standard deviation of +/- 0.017 g: rounding we get 8.61 +/- 0.017 g. Since the staters are in high conservation, ie they had not circulated, the variation obtained is that of the coins just minted, virtually that of flans beaten with hammer and corresponds perfectly, actually very slightly higher, to 8.60 g theoretical weight.
For example, gold pounds produced in Britain from 1817 were made up of 916.66 ‰ gold (22 carats).
The official weight was 7.98805 grams. These coins, when circulated, lost their legal status when their weight fell below the 7.93787 grams; therefore the margin of tolerance was 0.05018 grams (equal to 0.628% of the original weight).
In 1868 the Statistical Society of London estimated that each year of circulation made loose to pounds 0.00276 grams (equal to 0.0346% of the original weight): subsequently each coin could circulate for up to 18 years before losing its legal value. Other sources indicated, conservatively, a maximum period of 15 years.3
Admitting the fact that they could achieve such a level of precision, how do you explain that Lisbon and Paris specimens, which show a conservation status lower than that of 25 new staters, and therefore should have undergone a minimal weight loss, fall instead exactly in the same range with their 8.59 and 8.60 g?
Maybe since gold is a malleable metal, can the relief ruin without a loss in weight (ie there is no actual material loss)? Partly yes, or at least less than the other metals, but the fact remains that strong ponderal decreases could happen, as shown by specimen 1 of the British Museum with its 8,21 g (unless we assume that this was his original weight).
To figure out if it this ponderal perfection was possible at that time, I decided to make a statistical analysis about the weight of all the staters of Alexander, dated in a period that, at least partially, overlaps with that of the Pergamon staters, published on Pella site (, which brings together the collections of the British Museum, the ANS and the Münzkabinett of Berlin, with some additions from SNG Copenhagen, SNG Berry and the text of M.J. Price, starting from Price 1:
Greece and Macedonia (ca 336-310 BC).
Tot. 86 specimens.
Tot. weight 735.812 g, ie only 3,788 g of gold less than theoretical one.
Average single coin weight: 8,556 g, ie 0.044 g less gold than theoretical one.
Average deviation: – 0.512% negative, compared to + 0.108% of our 25 specimens.
Asia Minor4 (ca 328-317 BC).
Tot. 70 specimens.
Tot. Weight 597.03 g, ie only 4.97 g of gold less than theoretical one.
Average single coin weight: 8,529 g, ie 0.071 g less gold than theoretical one.
Average deviation: – 0.825%, compared to + 0.108%  of our 25 specimens.
Based on these data and the fact that the 156 coins considered have an average state of conservation lower than the perfect 25 ones, actually the ponderal absolute accuracy of the latter it is much less absurd than I expected, and indeed it would be plausible, since their highest state of preservation. But the focal point is exactly their state of preservation: there is not even one poorly preserved …
I will now arrange in chronological order sold specimens which I found, indicating degree of conservation, degree of rarity and hammer price (of course as indicated by the auction house).
TABELLA definitiva

3: table with details of the coins in the past auction I identified.

I note that with the appearance of an increasing number of specimens we see a general negative trend of the hammer prices. Regardless of whether they are genuine or not, I think is quite uncorrect had talked of coins of which are known very few examples, especially in the older auctions. Because these coins have certainly the same and unknown origin I find hard to believe that the auction houses ignored the existence of the other specimens. Only in the last auctions was used the degree of rarity “rare”, even if in a fit of honesty Nomos had already said in 2011:”We already know that the total number of dies for this issue was extremely limited and that including the pieces now in museums, there are no more than 20+ examples of all types known“.
The ensemble seems to me too perfect for genuine ancient coins. But some people, and not the first guys, have the diametrically opposite view, as De Callataÿ that believes that the specimens are all genuine: “Le coin de revers R7, celui au “coq” (n°28), paraît d’un style tellement plus négligé que R1-R6 qu’il a pu faire naître des soupçons sur sa réelle ancienneté (nous le creyons fermement authentique). Pourtant, il est comme les autres, conservé dans un état quasi fleur de coin et la pièce est d’une métrologie irréprochable (8,60 g)”5.
He had previously described them as “staters of Pergamon 2004 “, given that all but 4 of 2009, would in fact appeared that year. In fact the Gemini specimen with “rooster” (28) is the same coin that had been published as a minted fake in 1996 by IBSCC6: “The general aspect of the coin is of a dazzling freshness, as if made yesterday“.
Note that someone bought it for $ 100,000. The auction house defended itself by saying: “We had a bid from an informed collector who knew the whole story and feels the coin is genuine“.7
What can we say? Good for him if has money to throw away …
De Callataÿ tries using the stylistic argument (the obverse die of specimen 28 similar to that of Berlin) as evidence to support the authenticity of these coins. According to him, in the 4 pieces of the nineteenth century would be recognizable the hands of two different engravers (A and B), also identified in the “staters of Pergamon 2004 “.
However, he does not take into account a fact self-evident: since the 4 original coins were all inaccessible, what eventual counterfeiters could do except taking inspiration by the style of them, based on photographs?
I read a lot of De Callataÿ, which I still think is a numismatics luminary, although this article can in my view be regarded as the black sheep or the donut without a hole in the scientific production of the Belgian scholar.
A provocation: what role had played in it the fact that these 25 coins were sold for over $ 2 million?

I, personally, think that these coins aren’t genuine, but modern forgeries. However, my position can be defined that as an agnostic unbeliever. But regardless of my opinion, I think that to consider genuine these coins without any doubts is an act of faith …
The fact that an indication of provenance is not provided is really disturbing. This can only means two things: either that they do not have it because they are fakes, or that they have it, but it cannot be revealed.
The five nineteenth-century coins came very likely all from Saida Hoard, ie from Sidon in Phoenicia, present-day Lebanon. They show a preservation degree compatible with a certain movement, unlike the “staters of Pergamon 2004”, which, unless they have been individually wrapped in rags and transported with extreme care, they would probably come from a place not far from that of their minting. We speak, therefore, of Pergamon, or at least the northwestern part of Turkey, from where I do not think the exportation of hidden archaeological artifacts, especially if potentially as important as these coins, it is legal.

1. See:
2. We have to say that generally gold coins, because of their higher value, were used less frequently than those of silver and bronze, so they have today, on average, higher degrees of preservation than the other ones.
4. I considered only the mints of  Lampsacus, Abidus and Magnesia (328-317 a.C.); then I stopped, since the data obtained, for what concerns my purposes, were more than sufficient.
5. De Callataÿ 2012, p. 189.
6. In Counterfeit Coin Bullettin, 1996, 21, n°1 dell’International Bureau for the Suppression of Counterfeit Coins (IBSCC). Vedi:

De Callataÿ 2012= F. De Callataÿ, Les statères de Pergame et les réquisitions d’ Alexandre le Grand: l’apport d’un nouveau trésor (“Statères de Pergame 2004”), in «RN», 2012,169, pp. 179-196.
IGCH 1508=
M.J. Price, The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arrhidaeus, 2 voll., London, 1991.
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, Danish National Museum, Thrace and Macedonia, vol. 2, West Milford, 1982.
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum, United States, Burton Y. Berry Collection, Part 1: Macedonia to Attica, New York, 1961
U. Westermark, Notes on Saida Hoard (IGCH 1508), «Nordisk Numismatisk Årsskrift», 1979-1980, pp. 21-35.

This entry was posted in Mondo Greco and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.