Counterfeit, imitation, altered coins on display at University of Missouri museum

Monday, July 25, 2011 | 5:45 p.m. CDT; updated 12:03 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 27, 2011
This silver drachma, minted in Palestine to imitate coins produced in Athens in the 4th century B.C., is part of "CIA: Counterfeits, Imitations and Alterations of Ancient Coins" at the MU Museum of Art and Archeology.

COLUMBIA — For as long as there have been coins, there have been fake coins — and that's the point of an exhibition through Sunday at the MU Museum of Art and Archeology.

"They have been in the world for thousands of years," said Kenyon Reed, the collections specialist who assembled "CIA: Counterfeits, Imitations and Alterations of Ancient Coins."

If you go

What: "CIA: Counterfeits, Imitations and Alterations of Ancient Coins"

When: Through Sunday. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (until 8 p.m. Thursday), from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Where: Museum of Art and Archeology, Pickard Hall on Francis Quadrangle

Admission: Free

"There were always people who ... tried to make counterfeits to cheat consumers and take advantage of their government," Reed said.

As the name suggests, the exhibition has three sections. The counterfeit section contains fourees, or ancient counterfeit coins.

"Fourees tend to have a coppery core," Reed said. "It looks like a good silver coin, but when it passes through hand after hand after hand, the silver coating wears off."

Coins were imitated largely to make them accepted from country to country in ancient times. The Byzantine coin was often imitated. Reed said the Sassanians (from what is now Iran) minted coins based on Byzantine standards for use when they occupied Syria, Palestine and Egypt.

Alterations to coins are simply those made after the coin was minted. A punch mark is a tiny mark mostly found on Roman silver coins, and bankers or moneychangers applied the mark to indicate whether the coins were real.

Another type of alteration was cutting a coin in half. That was done to increase the number of pieces of currency available.

Overstrikes were used to recycle coins.

"When a coin passed through hand after hand, they finally became so worn that the government put a brand-new design on the original coin," Reed said. "The overstrike sometimes happened several times on a coin.”

Most coins in the exhibition came from individual donors, but some were bought by the museum.

"When they (museum employees) bought them almost 50 years ago, they didn't realize they were 20th century counterfeits," Reed said. "They were deceived."

Reed hopes to have the content of the exhibition posted to the museum's website by the end of the year.

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