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Forgeries of South African Silver Coins

Pierre H. Nortje (June 2024)



Coins are generally counterfeited for two reasons. Firstly, forgeries of higher-value coins in circulation, designed for general circulation at face value. This has been made by criminals for over 2 000 years since the dawn of coin production. Secondly, copies of coins for the numismatic and tourist market, the first usually of rare and high valued coins.


In his book The Coinage and Counterfeits of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, Elias Levine (1974) writes extensively on the subject of counterfeiting. For the Half Pond series, he names forgeries for the years 1892, 1893 and 1894. Regarding the Pond, forgeries are recorded for virtually all the years including the Sammy Marks Tickey and the Veldpond. 


However, regarding the copper and silver coins of the ZAR, the only known counterfeits Levine mentions are those where the date 1895 was converted into 1893 by altering the “5” to a “3”. He writes “There are no other forgeries of the penny or silver series in the ZAR range that the writer knows of, other than some clumsy castings of the half crown and florin in lead, found in 1929.”


Despite what Levine wrote, we know of a couple silver coins of the ZAR that have been counterfeited, including the Half Crowns of 1893, 1894 and 1897, as well as the 5-Shillings of 1892. Regarding the Union series, we have evidence that forgeries were made of the 1931 silver series as well as some 5-shilling pieces presumably produced in the East. Silver coins were struck for the Republic of South Africa for circulation purposes from 1961 to 1969. Examples of some fake coins from this period, as we shall see in this paper, are known.


The first forgers


A short article entitled Counterfeiting in Natal, was published In De Nummis, Journal of the Transvaal Numismatic Society: Number 1, July 1955. It was written by JT Becklake, the last Deputy Master of the Royal Mint and first Director of the South African Mint in Pretoria.


It reads as follows:


“On the 4th October, 1898, George Charles Fraser and Louis Anker were indicted before the Supreme Court of the Colony of Natal for the crime of being in unlawful possession of machinery and presses for making coin. After a trial which lasted until the 10th the accused persons were discharged, a unanimous verdict of not guilty being returned by the Jury. On an application by counsel it was ordered by the Court that all machinery excepting (sic) the dies and milling machine be restored to the owners.


From the evidence it would appear that the plant was erected mainly with the object of minting various denominations of silver coins of the South African Republic and that the following machinery was utilised for the purpose: a rolling machine, a stamping machine or medal press and a milling machine as well as numerous other technical appliances produced as court exhibits. Most of the apparatus were apparently imported.


The five pairs of dies impounded by the court are still in the custody of the Registrar of the Supreme Court (Natal Provincial Division). An application by this office for their transfer to the Archives, some years ago, did not have the desired effect. The stamping machine, I am reliably informed, is presently used by a local jeweller for striking medals”.


Becklake mentions that he received this information from a statement by the Government Archivist in Pietermaritzburg in 1937.


Interesting pictures of this incident was published in Nongqai (Publication for South African Forces History) volume 11 number 5 in May 2020 with the headings in Afrikaans that we translated into English.

Picture left: Crime scene: Police guarding machinery used for coin counterfeiting in Pietermaritzburg.  Picture right: “House Ringwood” used by Anker and Fraser for coin counterfeiting in Pietermaritzburg.

Left: Anker (coin counterfeiter) Pietermaritzburg. Right: Fraser (coin counterfeiter) Pietermaritzburg.

Machines and silver plate used by Anker and Fraser for coin counterfeiting in Pietermaritzburg


Counterfeit coin dies used by Anker and Fraser for coin counterfeiting in Pietermaritzburg.

From the above picture it is clear that there were two obverse dies and three reverse dies for both the 2-shilling and half-crown denominations. For the former the dates are 1892, 1896 and 1897 and of the latter 1892, 1896(?) and unclear.


We have a couple of questions: - Why were the two forgers found innocent and why were all the machinery, except the dies and milling machine, returned to them? The answer is probably that when they were caught no coins were actually made and if some were struck, the police were unable to find them. The one picture shows a heap of coins, but these are probably the planchets (blank pieces).  We have, for example never heard of forgeries of either the 2-shillings or half-crown of 1892 appear on the market, so the forgers probably never produced any coins. If they did they must have perfected the die making process (or used dies stolen from the Pretoria mint which we very much doubt). A last question is that if they forgers used silver for their production, what would they have gained putting the coins into circulation?


Known ZAR silver forgeries


The Crown (5-shilling) of 1892 was (and probably still are) reproduced in various grades of quality – from cheap Chinese fakes to difficult-to-distinguish copies probably also made in China and possible eastern European countries. Some sources even state that examples were slabbed in fake ANACS and NGC holders.


In a posting on the Coin Community forum on 8 November 2010, a poster writes: -


The forgeries come in a wide range of qualities. The low end of metal kinds are made to a low standard and usually have wide rims. The wide rim is needed because the moulded image shrinks in the transfer process and to get the diameter correct they have to add a small bit to the edge. It leaves a wide rim on the cast coin.


Here is a typical one on eBay right now for $6. The seller is from Hong Kong. In reality the coin will arrive WITHOUT the word REPLICA - I have dealt with the seller before and no coin I have ever purchased has the word actually stamped into the coin. Also notice there has been NO attempt to remove evidence of the use of a ring die to apply the reeding. You can see the reed ends at the edge - check the area near ZUID for example. The forgeries that are most common are the single shaft but there is a numismatic quality forgery of the double shaft coin as well."


The silver content in the numismatic copies does vary with SGs  as low as 10.1 and as high as 10.4 depending on what silver is on hand to make the casting. (SG = Specific Gravity. SG for pure silver is 10.49 - Ed)


Most copies even numismatic (quality) do use a ring die application of reeds because the coins are CAST. Cast edge reeds are hard to duplicate. Do not interpret this to mean a rough or easily spotted casting. The casting process in use to create numismatic forgeries can easily copy die erosion lines. Look for subtle clues and especially mint lustre preserved in protected areas of the coin. Also because EVERYTHING is copied look for small dents and dings in the surface where there is NO OBVIOUS IMPACT damage. When a coin is dented the DENT LOOKS DIFFERENT than the adjacent areas. The change in surface texture is due to the force of the impact. Look for this difference”.


Regarding the ZAR Half Crowns, the 1893 forgery is the most well-known, although there are also known copies of other dates (e.g. 1894) recorded. We will only discuss the 1893 date here.


The most outstanding feature of the fake coin is that the 3 in the date is flat at the top. See the following pictures.

Source: Werner Lampbrecht

However, there are also other characteristics indicating a fake copy, as discussed in detail in a NGC article dated 11/10/2010.


Authenticators often look for characteristics (such as marks) that repeat on multiple coins to assist in identifying counterfeits. It is virtually impossible for two genuine coins to have marks in the exact same locations, so if two coins show identical abrasions there is a very good chance that they are fake. NGC recently received two 1893 South African 2½ shillings that showed a number of repeating depressions that helped prove these coins were counterfeit.

When counterfeiters make fakes, they frequently make a die using a genuine example. The details of this coin, including all of its marks and other imperfections, are then transferred onto the die or mold. The counterfeits that are subsequently struck will all show the exact same marks. While it is true that there is one genuine example that has all of these abrasions, every other coin that shows those flaws will be a fake.

Depressions (a term used by authenticators to describe marks on counterfeits) that repeat on two or more coins are evidence that the coins are counterfeit.

The two counterfeit 1893 South African 2½ shillings submitted to NGC possess many identical depressions. Rather than point out every flaw with these two coins, in this article we highlight two areas of the lower reverse that show particularly obvious marks. The first pair of magnified images shows a long depression below the flower that appears on both examples. The second set shows three prominent marks in the banner that are seen in the same areas on each coin.":


Identical Mark at Lower Reverse


Identical Marks on Motto on Reverse

Repeating depressions are common features of counterfeits, and many of the ones that appear on different United States issues are well documented. Several counterfeit detection books show some of the most commonly seen fakes and what marks a numismatist should look out for. NGC also maintains its own internal database of these characteristics as they are identified”.

Bar the crown and the half-crown denominations, the author is not aware of any other of the ZAR silver denominations that have been counterfeited (bar the 2-shilling pieces of the Pietermaritzburg counterfeiters of which no copies are known to exist).

The Union Counterfeits

“Silver” coins of the Union of South Africa are infrequently offered on internet auction sites like eBay and Bobshop entitled “prison money”. These coins are poorly made and usually deliberately mutilated to hide their fake identity. They are mostly made from some lead alloy and are easily identifiable and not discussed in this paper.

There were also fake 5-shillings made similar to the casted issues of the ZAR that are fairly easily identified by their light weight and wide rims like this example.

The only known Union series that are known to be faked and in certain instances difficult to detect, is the 1931 dates for obvious reasons: – being their scarcity as collectable pieces. As with the 1893 silver ZAR series, some 1931 dates are fraudulently altered pieces, usually using the 1934 date altering the 4 to a 1. These are usually easily identifiable under closer inspection.

The following shows a counterfeited 1931 Tickey where the date has been altered.

What is interesting about this coin is that it is not an altered 1934 date because the gap between the 3 and the 1 is too small. Where a 1934 date has been altered there is always a very noticeable gap (space) between the two figures. We believe that in this instance the original figures have been completely removed and replaced by gluing an artificially made “31” to the surface of the coin. The author was once told by a collector that he has seen a Tickey where the first figure “1” in the date has been removed from one Tickey and used to replace the last figure on another coin.

The following picture shows that some forger probably had a similar process in mind, but for some reason did not follow through with the deed.

Source: Bobshop

The following pictures show an altered 1939 Sixpence & Shilling and a 1949 Shilling.

Source: David Flack

More difficult to detect are casted copies of 1931 dates – see pictures below.

The above coin is advertised on the internet by an overseas company by the name of “Momoky” and described as a replica “… made of copper, and plated with 925 sterling silver”. There is also a company called AliExpress selling fake 1931 “silver coins” with the word “copy” stamped on them. However, the author speculates that the coins are actually not stamped as such but the pictures shown are to bypass rules of online auction houses like eBay.


The South African grading company, SANGS, have graded quite a few of the 1931 forgeries as shown in the example below.

The 1931 copies the author has seen usually have two things in common (bar their weight and metal content): Firstly they have a kind of yellowish tinge, especially the fields. Secondly they are usually in average to lower grades so look well circulated. However, on closer inspection one cannot see actual wear like small dents, hairlines or scratches meaning the coins only LOOK circulated but they are clearly not.

Counterfeits of the RSA series

Of the first decimal series (1961 to 1964) the only fake known to the author is the 1961 crown-sized 50c that are easily identified by the spelling of “SOUTH” (spelled “SCUTH”) on the obverse. The coin shows clear similarities with the casted Union 5-shillings discussed in our previous section. 

Of the second decimal series (1965 up to 1969 when silver coins for circulation were phased out) the author has seen magnetic R1 pieces (e.g. 1966) which means they actually contain very little if any silver. 

From 1970 onwards, silver coins were only struck as collector’s pieces by the SA Mint, and the only coin that the author is aware of that was counterfeited is the silver Krugerrand. Being magnetic, it is not made of silver. These coins are also fairly easily identified as counterfeits as shown in the following picture.

The author would welcome any inputs on other fake South African “silver” coins not mentioned in this paper.

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