Ancient fourrée coins from the collection of Aaron Emigh

One of my collecting interests is fourrées, ancient plated counterfeits. (Fourrées are also variously known as fourrees, fourees, and fourres.) Early coinage was based on the bullion value of the metals used, so a handsome profit could be made by counterfeiters who used only a fraction of the valuable metals used in official coinage. Such counterfeiters began their work as soon as the very earliest coins were made, using a variety of methods. One of the joys of coin collecting is to imagine the lives touched by our coins in times very different from our own. Fourrées have a particular thrill for me because we know something about their first expenditure: a man, facing death if detected, passed them off on an unsuspecting victim.

The techniques used to manufacture fourrées are a testament to human ingenuity. Older fourrées were most commonly made by covering a base metal planchet with a noble metal foil and fusing it, either with solder or by heating under pressure. The plated planchet was then struck with hand-engraved dies imitating the official style. Other methods of manufacture included sprinkling powdered noble metal on a base planchet and melting it, and "surface enrichment" using acid to dissolve base metal from the surface of a debased planchet containing some noble metal. For more details on the manufacture of fourrées, I recommend Campbell's 1933 monograph, "Greek and Roman Plated Coins."

Some authors have suggested that many fourrées are the product of official mints, in times of precious metal shortage, to subsidize minting costs, or simply to cheat the populace. In my opinion, there is no evidence for this claim, with the possible exception of the "emergency issue" Athenian tetradrachms of 404 BC, which are obliquely referenced by Aristophanes in The Frogs and Parliament of Women. Other than these, and a couple of references in Herodotus and Dio to fraudulent payments with fourrées, to my knowledge there are no ancient sources discussing official mintage of fourrées. More conclusively, I know of no die links between official issues and fourrées, as would be expected in abundance were official mints producing these coins. In the absence of proof to the contrary, fourrées may be considered to be the product of ancient criminals.

My focus is on Greek coins, though I have opportunistically acquired Celtic and Roman specimens. What follows are images of the fourrées in my collection. Where I own an example of an official coin of the same or similar type, I have included an image to show the official style and weight. Curiosities in the collection include two pairs of die-matched fourrées, one of Teos and one of Kelenderis; several mules; and two brockage fourrées, one of Augustus and one of Septimius Severus.

Images are displayed on the page in normalized sizes. To see a full-resolution image, click on the image of the coin in which you are interested. A high-resolution image will be displayed in a pop-up window.

A link to email me is at the bottom of each page. Correspondence is welcome, especially if you can improve or augment my scholarship. Complaints that images load slowly on your 300 baud modem will be cheerfully ignored.

© 2004-2007 Aaron Emigh. Questions or comments?