Friday, 8 May 2009

Ancient coin forger jailed in the UK

An unemployed metal detectorist of  Nuneaton, Warwickshire, pleaded guilty on 16th March this year to five counts of fraud where thousands of pounds worth of forged coins were sold to dealers and private individuals across the UK . Last week David Hutchings, 43 was sentenced at Warwick Crown Court to six months imprisonment.

Hutchings had tried to offer seven coins to an Essex dealer: an Emperor thrymsa, a Merovingian Tremissus, a 'Biga' Stater, a Celtic Tasciovanus unit, a Celtic unit, a Tasciovanus quarter stater and a Cunobelinus quarter stater. He claimed that he had found the coins with his metal detector "at various times and locations". A sum of £2080 was agreed for their sale, however the dealer subsequently had concerns about their authenticity and asked the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge to check their authenticity. Experts at the Fitzwilliam and British museum confirmed they were all fake (for an earlier discussion of Mr Hutchings, see Cold Feet about some Finds).

Officers from the Met's Art & Antiques Unit then carried out a search under a warrant at Hutchings' home in Warwickshire. They seized several coins, his computer, various pieces of correspondence. Also found at Hutchings' home address during the search were a number of real coins, believed to have been used as patterns during the manufacture of some of the fake coins. Hutchings was arrested later the same day, on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.

The correspondence recovered from the search of Hutchings address indicated that he had sold other coins to unsuspecting individuals. Evidence was found of four fraudulent transactions involving fake coins:

- On the first of August 2007 Hutchings had sold a Two Emperors' Anglo-Saxon thrymsa coin to a Birmingham dealer for £400 cash. As provenance, he claimed that the coin was part of a hoard that had been declared to the British Museum.

- On 16th August 2007, Hutchings sold a 7th century gold thrymsa coin to a dealer in Aylesbury, claiming that it had been part of a hoard declared to the British Museum and sold it for £1500 cash, refusing to take a cheque as payment.

- On 21 August 2007, Hutchings sold the same Aylesbury dealer five coins for a value of £1800. Two were 7th or 8th century gold Merovingian Tremissis coins, two were ancient British silver units 1st century AD and two 7th century Anglo-Saxon thrymsa coins.

Experts from the British Museum and Fitzwilliam Museum assessed the coins recovered during these investigations and concluded that all had either been manufactured by casting in a mould or struck using forged dies.

Hutchings' defence throughout police interviews and at court, was that he bought the coins from two dealers 'Gary and Steve' believing they were all genuine. However, he was unable to identify either dealers whereabouts.

Detective Constable Ian Lawson from the Metropolitan Police Force's Art & Antiques Unit said: "Whilst the overall value of these coins is relatively low, the level of deception and harm Hutchings has caused the individuals and businesses embroiled in his lies is significant. The Art & Antiques Unit is dedicated to ensuring that our art and antiques heritage is not damaged by those who seek to steal, defraud or benefit from producing fraudulent copies."

There are several points here, firstly it is obviously very easy for the unscrupulous seller to pass any old coin off as one of a reported find while there is no detailed information available by which such checks can be verified. If the hoard or hoards had been reported to the BM, then there should have been records of this. Did the dealers try to check that the precise coins they were offered figured in such documentation? More to the point, one dealer was suspicious of the coins he had bought, two others were not and a series of fake coins had entered the pool of "pieces of the past" on the market to mislead future collectors and domestic "students of the past" (and these of course are just the transactions that the Met were able to trace through material found in that search in 2007). The fact that items offered for sale merely come from "a metal detectorist" is simply not enough to establish provenance and authenticity - after all, all those buying Bulgarian-made fakes on eBay also think they are coming direct from the diggings of Bulgarian "metal detectorists". The problem is that unrecognised as fakes they contribute to the building of society's picture of its past, and unverified and uncheckable records of the alleged 'findspot' (when available) contaminate the archaeological record.

Amazingly, the Metropolitan Police say "This is believed to be the first case of its kind". Take a look on eBay UK officers of the Met, plenty of work there for you! I know that several notorious dealers in fakes have been reported to the Met (with names addresses and details, at least once through the PAS) and the police have done nothing whatsoever about this. It is time to clean up the British antiquities market which harbours a lot of cheats and thieves - and its happening right under the noses of the archaeological (and museum) communities. Time to do something to stamp this out perhaps.
See here for Heritage Action's reaction to this news and comments on the way it was received by "heritage hero metal detectorists" in the UK.

Photo: Apparently one of the coins involved in the case (Metropolitan Police)

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