Lessons from a Fake

This is a lovely specimen in the Kelsey Museum (T2009-0053; Thx Prof. Soto Marín!), but it looks funny. How am I 98.88% confident it is a 19th century imitation? Largely through comparison with images collected by Schaefer. This was made easier by the fact that Satrienus numbered his dies and thus told me exactly which dies I should be checking. A selection is given below.

My working hypothesis is that the imitation was made from casting a (relatively) well preserved specimen and then cleaning up that mold before using it for making imitations. Hubbing is also possible, but less likely.


  • The set of the eye is wrong, esp. the upper lid
  • There is too little detail in the hair
  • Lack of spiral on the helmet


  • The shape of the upper portion of the rear far leg is wrong
  • The fourth teat has been removed
  • There is too much fur on the underside of the raised front leg
  • There is too much fur in spikes beneath the tail
  • The hair at the neck has a different pattern


  • Funny Patina
  • Flan is much larger than most used for this series, allowing more detail than typical
  • Combination of soapy indistinct features suggesting wear and then very legible feature elsewhere (contrast letters and border dots).

Should the Kelsey de-accession this piece? Absolutely not.

It remains a key historical artifact; it just requires we ask different questions.. It came into the collection in a well documented fashion in the late 19th century (more on that history of the collection another time). Given that it is (near) replica of a likely genuine specimen it gives us evidence of that specimen’s existence. It also can teach us about the historical trade, manufacture, and marketing of fakes. I’m particularly interested in the metallurgy that produced this patina and whether it is distinctive enough to confirm other imitations where die comparison is inconclusive.

In this case I suspect the earnest buyer who was selecting specimens for the university while in Florence in the 1880s was an easy mark, as non-expert, with a very particular goal: selecting specimens to educate the young men of Ann Arbor.

And, in its own way it is beautiful, in fact too beautiful.

RRC 388/1b

1 thought on “Lessons from a Fake”

  1. […] In a recent post on her blog, Adventures in My Head, historian Liv Mariah Yarrow discusses a coin in the Kelsey Museum numismatic collection. But it’s not one that was excavated from a secure archaeological context like most of the other coins among the 40,000+ housed at the Kelsey. In fact, it’s a fake. Read more about how scholars spot fakes and what can be learned from them in Professor Yarrow’s fascinating blog post. […]

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