The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 38, September 18, 2006, Article 10


Reid Goldsborough writes: "The issue of the collecting of
counterfeits seems to resurrect itself regularly, and understandably,
because it's an interesting and controversial one. Michael Marotta
in the Sept. 4, 2006, E-Sylum issued a definitive pronouncement about
the legalities: 'Basically, it is not illegal to hold counterfeit
currency, only to buy or sell it.'

The above statement can't be supported. You can't determine the
legalities simply by reading the relevant statutes, through buying
Coin World Almanac from Michael's former employer, as Michael
suggested, or through reading them for free at any one of many
Web sites. Cornell Law School's site 'U.S. Code Collection'
( is one such site. Just click through
to Title 18, Part I, Chapter 25 -- Counterfeiting and Forgery. As
with other aspects of numismatics, a relevant Google search will
turn up other relevant Web sites.

The law is ambiguous, and it appears to be ambiguous purposefully,
a deliberate attempt by lawmakers to give judges in the future
leeway to interpret it. The area I've followed most closely is
counterfeits of collectable coins. It's a nonissue in the eyes of
the authorities, who understandably devote their resources to
stopping the manufacture and sale of counterfeit current paper
money, which can compromise the country's money supply and
ultimately its fiscal health.

Counterfeit modern, world, and ancient coins are regularly and
openly bought and sold for what they are, as counterfeits, through
the most prestigious auctions in the U.S. and abroad, at the most
prestigious national coin shows, and every day on eBay. Despite the
contention Michael made that doing this is illegal, nobody has ever
been arrested, fined, or jailed in the U.S. for buying or selling a
counterfeit collectable coin as a counterfeit. On the other hand,
people have been arrested for knowingly selling counterfeits as
genuine, for knowingly passing them as genuine, and for manufacturing

The law doesn't make it clear if it's illegal to sell counterfeit
collectable coins or if it's illegal only to sell them 'with intent
to defraud.' For this to be clear, the law would need to be tested
in court, but because nobody has ever been arrested for selling
counterfeit collectable coins as counterfeits, it has never been

Regarding Coin World, an excellent publication, its legal columnist,
Armen Vartian, wrote a column on just this subject titled "Owning
Counterfeits" for the November 5, 2001, issue in which he gave
advice to people who collect counterfeits. In a phone interview,
Vartian, a lawyer and author of the book A Legal Guide to Buying
and Selling Art and Collectibles, told me that for there to be
'judicial clarity' on the legalities, a judge or court has to
specifically address this issue. The bottom line is that no matter
what you read about this issue, online or in print, by a lawyer or
a layperson -- and people do seem to enjoy making legal
pronouncements about this -- the legalities aren't clear.

Those interested in collecting counterfeits might enjoy watching
the ANA video 'Famous Fakes and Fakers.' Any ANA member can borrow
the video through the mail from the ANA library for the cost of
round-trip postage and insurance. It was made by Ken Bressett,
past president of the ANA and editor of A Guide Book of United
States Coins (the Red Book). Bressett talks about and illustrates
counterfeits that he describes as being 'enjoyable to study and

I personally study and collect counterfeits of ancient coins in
those areas in which I collect authentic ancient coins. Counterfeit
coins have always been an interesting aspect of the history of both
numismatics and the larger world of money. For much of history
counterfeiting was punishable by death. Counterfeiting has also
been used by the governments of the U.S., Britain, and many other
countries as a weapon of war against other countries. Studying
counterfeits has practical value too. It can make you a more
savvy consumer and help prevent you from become a victim of
counterfeit fraud."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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