Three “Most Wanted” Counterfeiters
It is useful to know what to watch for regarding counterfeit coins and bank notes, but there still has to be a person behind the forgeries. Thanks to modern technology and the Secret Service, most amateur counterfeiters are apprehended before a significant number of counterfeit coins or notes are circulated. It wasn't always this way. In the past, some counterfeiters made entire careers of making and spending their own phony cash. Some of these counterfeiters gained such reputations that their coins or notes are collected today.
An Infamous U.S. Counterfeiter
Most of the more notorious U.S. counterfeiters produced bank notes rather than coins. Likely the most important coin forger in U.S. history, however, was a mint employee named Theodore Eckfeldt. While Eckfeldt was employed as a night watchman at the mint, he borrowed coinage dies, then used the mints presses to reproduce examples of older coins sought by collectors. Eckfeldt's “restrikes” include such notable coins as the 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar, 1836 Classic Head half cent, and the 1840 to 1849 Coronet half cents. Eckfeldt was eventually caught and dismissed from the mint. Ironically, today Eckfeldt's replicas are sought as legitimate restrikes, and his coins are listed in virtually all books on coin collecting.
The Secret Service receives its authority in Title 18, United States Code, Section 3056. Within this authority is the right to detect and arrest anyone committing an offense against the laws of the United States as they relate to coins, currency, and any other obligations and securities of both the United States and any foreign government.
The name of the employee is unknown today, but another great U.S. classic rarity, the 1913 Liberty Head nickel known from five examples, was also produced inside the mint. Once again, these coins are listed in all U.S. coin catalogs. They are valued at more than $1 million each.
Infamous World Coin Counterfeiters
Carl Wilhelm Becker is likely the most famous non-U.S. counterfeiter. Becker began his career in 1806 and continued until his death in 1830. Becker made his own coinage dies, using genuine ancient coins as the host blanks for his ancient coin counterfeits and fantasy issues, and then he sold his work to wealthy collectors. Today Becker's counterfeits are sought by collectors of ancient coins. His counterfeits are nicely illustrated in several books.
Slavei Petrov, better known to coin collectors simply as Slavei, is the dean of modern counterfeiters. Officially Slavei, who lives in Bulgaria, claims to make reproductions, but his ancient coin replicas have been confused with genuine coins, even among collectors. Some, but not all, of Slavei's work carries his name in obscure places within the coin designs.