The Jeweller’s Middle-Eastern copy of sovereign.

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Sovereigns, those iconic gold coins, have a rich history dating back centuries. But not all sovereigns are created equal. In the world of numismatics, there exists a fascinating realm of “jeweller’s imitations” of sovereigns, a practice that has been more prevalent than one might think. These copies, often originating in the Middle East, are crafted with the intention of selling gold in a familiar form. Let’s delve into this world of imitation sovereigns, explore their origins, and understand the factors that have made them both controversial and sought after. During the 1950s, two main hubs for counterfeit sovereign production emerged – Italy and Syria. It’s essential to acknowledge that counterfeits were not limited to these regions or this specific era, as counterfeit production has occurred in various locations and times.

Italian counterfeit coins were generally of higher quality and found their way to various parts of the world, primarily through channels in Switzerland, with many ending up in Beirut to serve the Middle East market. On the other hand, Syrian counterfeit sovereigns were considered to be of lower quality and primarily intended for distribution in the Middle East and India. The Italian counterfeits typically contained gold purity ranging from 91.2% to 91.7%, while the Syrian counterparts, of lesser quality, typically had gold content ranging from 88.0% to 91.5%. It’s worth noting that the Dubai aspect of this story may have developed later, adding an intriguing layer to the narrative.

The proliferation of counterfeit sovereigns during the 1950s can be attributed to several factors. Notably, the British authorities eventually took measures to combat counterfeiting by resuming the minting of sovereigns within Britain, starting in 1957. Large-scale production of British sovereigns had ceased in 1917, but it was revived in 1925, with some coins dated 1925 minted at a later date. British branch mints continued to produce sovereigns until 1932, with Australian mints minting them until 1931 and South African mints until 1932.

Storing gold in this manner is a common practice in many Middle Eastern countries and can be find in USA today.

However, it’s important to note that in numerous places, these gold storage methods are illegal, irrespective of their prevalence in the Middle East. The ambiguity surrounding these items lies in the fact that they are neither officially recognized coins nor clearly defined rounds. In the Middle East, jewelers produce these coins using 21k gold, offering them as a means for people to save money. You can walk into any jewelry store and request a gold pound, and they will provide you with these coins, assuring you that they are 21k and freshly minted, weighing 8 grams. From my observations, I’ve noticed that people in the Middle East typically purchase gold based on its weight and karat value, whereas in America, there is also an emphasis on the numismatic or collectible value of the coin itself.

The majority of what are now considered “counterfeit” sovereigns found in the United States today originate from the Middle East, produced during the period spanning 1950 to 1970. These coins were not primarily intended to deceive numismatically; instead, they served as a recognizable means for Americans and individuals in countries where gold bullion ownership was prohibited to acquire gold discreetly. This was possible because a limited amount of gold coinage was permitted. These counterfeit sovereigns were crafted using real gold, with their purity levels approaching the genuine 91.7%. The slight variation in purity was a margin for profit for the maker. Interestingly, some of the early counterfeit sovereigns were even created using gold-plated platinum, a dense metal that is less valuable than gold.

The Syrian Connection in the 1950s and 1960s.

The 1950s witnessed the emergence of counterfeit sovereigns, and their production was not limited to a single location. Reports on Syrian counterfeits during this era suggested that these imitations contained significantly lower gold content, ranging from 40 to 60%, compared to their genuine counterparts. To compensate for the reduced gold content, the counterfeit coins were crafted to be thicker than the authentic sovereigns. The lower gold content allowed manufacturers to turn a profit while creating inferior-quality imitations. Moneychangers in the Middle East quickly identified these coins due to their subpar quality, resulting in their trade at lower prices.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the production of counterfeit sovereigns did not reach the peak levels observed in the early 1950s. However, instances of counterfeiting persisted, particularly in Beirut during the 1970s. The destruction of Beirut in the 1980s seemed to halt the production of these imitation coins on a large scale. While there is no evidence of a significant resurgence in the large-scale manufacture of these counterfeits after that time, older fakes continue to circulate, affecting the stock of genuine sovereigns. This is especially true in the Middle East, where the legacy of these counterfeit coins endures.

The Beirut Copies – 1970s to 1980s.

In the 1960s, a wave of counterfeit sovereigns, often referred to as “Beirut copies,” flooded the market. The name originates from the fact that a significant number of these forgeries were produced in Lebanon. What set these imitations apart was their use of fictitious date-mintmark combinations, possibly to help gold-sellers distinguish their replicas from genuine coins in their inventory. These Beirut copies were notorious for their lack of authenticity. Many were lighter in weight than a genuine sovereign, or they contained a lower gold purity, typically 21 karats instead of the standard 22 karats.

A Closer Look at a Beirut Replica.

Attached is a Beirut counterfeit showing the approximate die axis of the the copies and the bit that was written. This exemplar has been studied  and documented bu UK Customs and Excise to the Royal Mint. This file sheds light on the prevalence of counterfeit £5 coins that infiltrated Britain in the late 1960s. The documented period spans from 1965 to 1969. It all began with a request in November 1965 from Customs and Excise to the Royal Mint, urging them to examine an 1887 £5 gold piece. This particular coin was part of a batch imported from Kuwait by a Birmingham jeweler named Mrs. Akel. It was suspected that she was distributing these counterfeit coins to other small jewelers in the English Midlands.

G.P. Warden, a principal scientific officer at the Mint, conducted the examination and confirmed that the piece was indeed a counterfeit. This determination was based on various factors, including the coin’s low weight and density, an incorrect number of edge millings, and several visible imperfections on the coin. Mr. Warden’s calculations, with a density of 17.05g/cc, estimated that the counterfeit coin contained approximately 89% gold, as opposed to the genuine coins with 91.66% gold content. The file also includes a photograph of this coin, which is displayed below. While the file does not provide a comprehensive list of visual flaws in the counterfeit, a careful examination of the photograph reveals several issues.

Picture from Rob on British Coin Forum –

Photograph showing the 1887 Jubilee gold £5 ex. Mrs.Akel

Mrs.Akel counterfeit39.7204g17.05g/cc188
Genuine coin39.87549 to 40.00507g17.45 to 17.55g/cc184

On the reverse side, the figure of St. George had not been fully formed during the coin-striking process. Both sides of the coin exhibited numerous pimples and depressions. Notably, the pimples were particularly prominent on the table adjacent to the body and leg of St. George, as well as on the lower portion of Queen Victoria’s veil. Additionally, a small die crack was visible near the top right-hand side of the letter “I” in Victoria.

Dubai Replicas: A Modern Twist.

As time went on, the tradition of crafting imitation sovereigns continued, and the epicenter of this practice shifted to Dubai, now the world’s largest gold market. These contemporary replicas, often known as “Dubai replicas,” localy called ‘costume sovereigns’ take a different approach. Instead of fabricating entirely fictitious coins, they tend to closely mimic genuine sovereigns, but with a unique twist. These replicas are marked with the maker’s stamp, indicating the metal purity. The presence of this mark helps distinguish them from the real deal.

Dubai’s legal framework allows for the sale of imitation gold coins as long as they are made of gold and bear the correct fineness mark. In the case of a sovereign, “22” denotes the correct gold fineness, while “21” suggests the coin is the correct weight. This practice has been known to create confusion among buyers, as it blurs the line between authenticity and imitation. Even today, counterfeit sovereigns remain readily available in the Middle East, often at competitive prices.

A Closer Look at a Dubai Replica.

Jeweler’s copies do have one significant advantage: their remarkably low premium. You care able to purchase 21k coins at a price nearly equivalent to their spot value, with a premium of just about $5 per coin. This makes them an excellent choice for investment purposes. However, it’s essential to remember that jeweler’s copies are essentially a form of counterfeiting, regardless of the euphemistic labels used. If you’re in need of a 1960 Florin, it’s best to purchase an authentic one rather than resorting to counterfeiting. The same principle applies to a gold victoria sovereign – creating a counterfeit is not an acceptable solution. It’s worth noting that numerous fake sovereigns have been crafted by jewelers, often by recycling old 22k gold jewelry, which might account for their accurate gold content.

Fake 22k Dubai Fantasy replica Sovereign.

One notable feature of these Dubai replicas is the presence of a mark that resembles a defaced word “Copy.” However, this mark is not an admission of imitation but rather a fineness mark. It signifies that the coin is a copy made in Dubai. In Dubai, selling fake sovereigns is legal as long as they meet the two criteria: they are made of actual gold, and the fineness is clearly marked.
The stamp, commonly seen on these replicas, includes “22” “22K” in Arabic numerals, representing the fineness of 22 karats. The “MM” may be a monogram indicating the gold-seller who produced the imitation, together with writing “dubai city of gold”

Fake 21 karat gold “Dubai sovereigns,”

I recently came across an informative YouTube video about this subject from Bullion Now, an Australian bullion dealer.

The majority of these coins are commonly referred to as “Dubai sovereigns,” crafted primarily for the purpose of facilitating gold trading and not with the intention to deceive coin collectors. However, there’s a possibility that they might occasionally trick unsuspecting tourists into paying the full sovereign price. These coins bear small markings denoting their fineness, in accordance with Dubai’s regulations. Interestingly, in Dubai, it’s legal to produce counterfeit gold coins as long as they are clearly marked with their correct fineness. All except the last coin are labeled as 21 karat gold, which translates to 87.5% gold content. It’s worth noting that these replicas are often sold at the standard price of a sovereign, despite being crafted from slightly lower-purity gold or lighter in weight. This practice allows sellers to maintain profitability.

Here’s how they are marked:

  1. Coin #1 : “G21” located to the right of the king’s portrait.
  2. Coin #2: “P21” positioned beneath the king’s portrait.

In essence, the appeal of sovereigns as collector’s items is undeniably strong, but it comes with its share of risks. Numerous coin catalogues from the UK, including those published by Seaby and Spink, have highlighted the prevalence of forgeries, underscoring the importance of careful scrutiny when buying these coins.

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