A student post by Cameron Maclean, Coin Room Volunteer at The Hunterian.
While the hardhead’s metal content and crude design made them a tempting target for counterfeiters, they were not the only coins at risk of forgery. Bawbees, with their 25% silver content and 6 pence face value, were also forged. Although, their higher value and silvery appearance would have ensured that fake would have been more difficult to produce in a convincing fashion and they would have been subject to closer public scrutiny.
Left to right: Genuine bawbee (Stewartby 3250), crudely made fake (GLAHM:39542) and better fake (HCC:94-96)
These examples from The Hunterian’s collection show the range in quality that can be expected in the forgeries of the time. The forgery in the centre is extremely poorly made. Every detail is produced in a crude fashion. The most obvious giveaway is the thistle on the obverse. It is much larger than the flower depicted on the real issues and, to the modern eye, it bears a closer resemblance to a pineapple than a thistle. This crude pattern is repeated on the reverse where two simple lines are used to portray an off-centre looking saltire. The coin, at least, appears to have competently reproduced the original’s legend, but it has been done using very simple lettering that is immediately distinguishable from the original. The forgery on the right reveals the hand of a more competent forger. The obverse and reverse designs have been closely mimicked from an original. This even extends to the careful replication of the border around the saltire that is present on the photographed genuine bawbee. However, this coin fails where the other succeeded. The legend, while composed of better-quality letters than the other, is complete gibberish.
The colour of these counterfeits would have been a major giveaway to the public. Neither of them have the silvery appearance of the originals. However, this could be accounted for by tinning the surface of the counterfeits. It is entirely possible that these counterfeits were originally tin coated and that this coating has simply worn off over time. Additionally, not all real bawbees had this silvery appearance, meaning that tinning may not have been necessary to fool people into accepting them as real.
This forgery of the gold ryal, with a face value of £3, is one of the most interesting forgeries in the collection, mainly due to its brazen nature.
Left to right: Genuine ryal (GLAHM:36906) and fake ryal (GLAHM:39527)
The counterfeit would have originally been gold plated. Close examination reveals that great care has been taken to make it resemble an original as closely as possible. This ranges from the details in Mary’s attire to the positioning and shape of the lettering. On the reverse a comparable effort has been made to replicate every detail, this includes the shading on the inside of the crown, although the forger has neglected to include the small beads on the base of the crown.
While this forgery is extremely well made, it is difficult to believe that it would have fooled anyone; it was the highest value Scottish coin in circulation at that time, so it would have been submitted to intense scrutiny, much in the same way that £50 and £100 notes are treated with suspicion today. The major giveaway is the counterfeits weight. It weighs only 4.55 grams, this is 40% lighter than the official issues (7.63 grams). Such a large weight discrepancy would have been immediately noticeable to those who were used to handling these coins. The Hunterian has many contemporary counterfeits of Mary’s coinage in its collection. However, this false ryal is the only one of a coin of this value. Its large face value and the scrutiny that this entails perhaps explains why it is the only one. It was simply too difficult to get away with it.