Thursday, October 21, 2021

Coins or Cons of the Spanish Main?


The top left coin is the only genuine one. Submitted Photo

The top left coin is the only genuine one. Submitted Photo

Rarely a week goes by where I am not questioned about coins, and especially their value. Heck! I do not by any means consider myself an expert on coins. In fact, I never collected coins in my lifetime. To most jewelers numismatics is a totally different animal from the jewelry business. I’ll leave it at that.

I will admit in my illustrious career of being a goldsmith, I have on more than one occasion made all kinds of coin jewelry for my customers. That could be a nauticalthemed pendant or a unique money clip for a special gentleman, you name it.

Often times the excited couple will present their prized “treasure coin” and the question will always come up. “So how much is my coin worth?” My answer used to be, “I haven’t a clue!” Did you pay a lot? (They usually do.) Or did you pay a little? And then out of nowhere comes a fancy certificate of authenticity, complete with serial numbers and important looking signatures, that claims how rare and how fine a condition the coin in question is, and praises their smart investment purchase. There is just one problem with all this pomp and circumstance; the coin is a fake!



Now comes the hand wringing and disbelief. How do you know? How can that be? As I mentioned before I’m no expert in the business of ancient coins, but right there stamped on the back of the “rare coin,” in plain view for the whole world to see, is another bad four-letter word…copy.

I’m pretty sure that when the Spanish minted coins in the new world circa 17th century the word “copy” was not required on the coin.

This coin is a blatant lie! The coin looked real good, in fact too good for a coin that spent several centuries bathing in the saltwater of Davy Jones’ locker. How in heaven’s name could this silver coin be in absolute pristine condition?

I may not be a C.S.I. expert in evaluating the cost of ancient coins, but I do know a thing or two about precious metals, like whether it was stamped out by ancient sweaty guys in loincloths or recently cast in a modern facility. And this “ancient coin” was without question cast in the 20th century. Besides the fact I detected the telltale casting lines and air bubbles under magnification that confirms that statement.

Not the kind of news this couple wanted to hear. Plus, the fact that they paid thousands for the fake, and have false paperwork swearing to the fact it’s authentic, added another layer to the scam. Anyone with a P.C. and a copy machine can manufacture reams of false documents.

So a $2,500 1621 A.D. genuine imitation Atocha coin (complete with elaborate false paperwork) minted in the 1970s is worth maybe $100 today. A case of bogus booty, you see piracy is alive and well in Southwest Florida!

I won’t get into it too much, but back in the ‘70s after Mel Fisher’s discovery of the Spanish galleon, “Atocha” coins were “minted” from large bars (ingots) that were also found amongst the treasure and sold as Atocha silver coins, a true but notso true statement. They were in fact cast from authentic Atocha silver ingots, but the coinage was created in the 1970s! Misleading? You bet it was, plus the fact that every “rare coin,” complete with accompanying paperwork, was hawked to the demanding public as a genuine Atocha silver coin. And once the misleading practice was discovered, it wasn’t too hard to figure out because each con-coin was identical in shape size and thickness, thus proving the coins were in fact forgeries. The federal government got involved and things got pretty ugly from there, and progressed into a prolonged court case.

In the long and short of it, there are lots of these questionable coins in circulation. I have seen numerous “fakes” here in my shop on Marco Island, and every con-coin I have seen, I would have to reveal the bad news before I would accept the coin for custom jewelry. I’m not going to accept a fake and have the people question whether I switched their fake for a fake when they discover the truth that it is a fake months or years later. Bottom line, it is nearly impossible to convince the proud owners of these concoins that they are worth only $100. There goes another cancelled custom handmade coin frame job out the door!

About ten years ago, with their permission, I made a copy mold of a customer’s authentic Atocha coin and made several nice gold frame pendants. In fact, I wore one myself for several years, before I sold it off my neck to an Italian tourist while I was under the influence of Spanish sangria on vacation in Spain somewhere. It barely paid my bar tab. Heck – I can always make another one!

I fooled more coin dealers, who claimed it was authentic, than I can count, especially a shop owner on Royal Street in New Orleans, who offered me crazy money for my fake. He refused to believe that I make them in my shop on a regular basis. I even promised I could deliver a hundred of them in a week if he wanted some.

So much for the so-called “experts.”

Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and owner of The Harbor Goldsmith at Island Plaza and welcomes your questions about all that glitters. Contact him at 239- 394-9275 or, or visit his informative website at

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