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Apart from making money, what motivates people to make copies of things and say that they created them? This has been in evidence since ancient times. Thousands of years ago, there was not all that much art around to copy. It was not until the invention of money that the forgers began to come into existence, and from what we have learned today, this was really big business.
The Greek silver money was “die struck”. In point of fact, a coin was really a work of art itself. Some ancient Greek coins were very lovely. To make copies, all a forger needed was to steal a die or have one made. Metallurgy was widely known in ancient times and a small amount of silver, for example could be mixed with a metal of lesser value. A suspect coin was tested by digging into the coin and this was known as a “test mark”. It could be observed whether or not the coin was solid silver. If it was not, the coin would be destroyed. A few have come down to us today, but for the most part, the authorities wanted to get rid of them.
Since that time throughout history coins have been forged. Today, one can find counterfeit Roman coins, Byzantine coins and up to the present time. When paper money came into existence, this was no problem for the forger. Every government making paper money has gone to great lengths to see that their money is not copied, but to this day, there are successful forgers.
Although there have been those who have made a good living out of forging anything of value, it needs to be pointed out that a great deal of both skill and experience is necessary to forge a piece of art or to forge silver, gold or paper money. Since there came a time when coins were no longer struck, but cast, this was a more difficult operation. A great deal of science was needed in this process due to the necessity of exactness. Generally speaking, from ancient times to the present day, gold was used to support the metals of lesser value. Even with greater skill needed in producing cast coins, the forger has kept pace. The numismatic world is constantly frustrated in this task of bringing forgeries to light and often there is a lack of agreement regarding the genuineness of a particular coin. The watchdog groups have gone overboard in their condemnation in many cases.
If possible, we need to know more about the motivation of the forger, whether it is in the area of forging money, or now objects of art with extremely high value.
The first thing that we do know is that the person involved must have skills equal to or even more superior to the person making the original. One needs to know as much or more about Rembrandt as an artist or The French Impressionists as the knowledge and experience of the original creators of the work of art is absolutely mandatory. They need to know about the science of aging and how a two hundred year old painting would look today.
There have been forgers who had an attic filled with works of forged art and were sold off from time to time as they needed money. Some were generalists and some specialized in the work of one person
A network was necessary in disposing of or selling their creations. One can say that the forger had to be highly sophisticated as well as a skilled individual. An obvious question can be ask as to why this type of person does not create art under his own name and get on with it. Herein lies the riddle we are trying to solve.
Counterfeiting paper money today is a multi stage operation. A highly skilled engraver must be found. A production system set up and finally a distribution network. It would be rare to find an engraver, for example, who had the background in the underworld to deal with all aspects of the task of making money and disposing of it. By and large, it was a matter of involving yourself in a job, or a profession dedicated to making fake money. There was doubtless the matter of being able to outsmart the establishment in your operation and this was not an unimportant motivation In both Britain and America today, the money is very sophisticated and much more difficult to duplicate. This is not true in China where counterfeiting is rampant. So much so that every transaction demands that the paper money be looked at very carefully to both examine the watermark and the texture of the paper.
From the middle ages onward, there were those who could never be accepted in the establishment regardless of their abilities. There were doubtless those with high intelligence and advanced skills who would always be relegated to the lower classes of society. It was from within this group of the disenfranchised that we found forgers.
In regards to the initial forging profession, it had to rely upon supply and demand. Once society became better educated and greater numbers of people had the desire or the ability to pay, it became advantageous to provide for them. For example, during the 18th and l9th centuries, there was wealth to be made from the end results of both the agricultural and industrial revolution. People with money began to travel throughout Europe and the middle east. They wanted to buy culture. Governments were only interested in stealing art in mass quantities.
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