Fourrée & Counterfeiting in Ancient Times

Claudius AR Denarii FOURREE' - R

Counterfeiting precious metal coins began when coins were virtually first investment. A fourrée (meaning “stuffed”) is a coin, which is typically counterfeit, but sometimes officially produced either by government or by people working in the mint. A fourrée is made from a base metal core which has been plated with a precious metal to look like its solid metal coin. This was a clever ancient process by which a silver plated coin is produced.

Sulla bUSTThe Roman dictator Sulla introduced his own anti-forgery law (lex Cornelia de falsis), that reintroduced serrated edges on precious metal coins, an anticounterfeiting measure that had been tried earlier. The crime of falsum consisted of acts of fraud which were injurious to public (fides publica), such as forgery, counterfeiting money, and perverting the course of justice by fraud and perjury. U&nder the Roman Twelve Tables, a person who gave false testimony should be thrown from the Tarpeian Rock (Gell. xxi. 53), and any judge who took a bribe should be liable to capital punishment (Gell. xxi. 7). The next legislation in falsum, was contained in one of the Leges Corneliae passed in the time of the dictator Sulla. According to Cicero, there were two types of fraud covered by the Lex Testamentaria and the Lex Numaria (Verr. ii. 1, 42). Paulus, who gives its provisions, entitles it Lex Cornelia Testamentaria. The Lex Cornelia appears to have included only two specific kinds of falsum, forgery and suppression of wills, and adulteration of the coinage including counterfeiting.

An offence against either branch of falsum was a crime against the public (crimen publicum). The punishment of falsum under the law (at least when Paulus wrote) was deportatio in insulam for the higher (“honestiores”) offense and the mines, crucifixion, or other degrading punishment for the lower (“humiliores”). In place of deportatio in insulam the punishment, according to the statute itself, was probably the old form of banishment, known as ignis et aquae interdictio (q. v.). The property of a convicted person was also confiscated.


Sulla reintroduced the serrated denarii, or serrati, which featured about 20 notched chisel marks on the edge of the coin. These marks were produced to demonstrate the integrity of the coin. This effort proved futile since examples of fourrée serrati also exist.

The production of fourrées extend back in time to the first coinage in Asia Minor during the 7th century BC. The most common method for producing a fourrée was to take a flan of copper, wrap it with silver foil, heat it, and strike it with the dies. If the coin in this manner was sufficiently heated and struck hard enough so this outer layer of alloy (a mixture of 72% silver and 28% copper) had a lower melting point of any mixture of these two metals. Thus, the outer foil was fused together with the core. Exposure of the deception was often due to wear at the high points of the coin, or moisture trapped between the layers that caused the foil to bubble and then break as the core corroded.

TACITUS Antoninianus Silver Plated


Tacitus Antoninianus Silver Platted

During the Crisis of the Third Century, the Roman coinage collapsed with the barbarian invasions. The coinage was heavily debased of precious metal coinage containing just 5% silver or less. It was then chemically leached or pickled to dissolve the copper from the surface producing a surface of almost pure silver, which would quickly wear away. These “silvered” coins are not considered fourrées, since they are not actually plated given the metal is actually a continuous layer and were officially produced by the government.