The great forgers and copyists of the past have earned a place in the annals of numismatic history alongside the best-known collectors and researchers. Wc remember these individuals for their great skill and also for their love of antiquity. Although the motives of some were far from laudatory, not all of them set out to deceive their fellow man. In fact, some were very open about the nature of their work and took great pride in it. Cavino, for one, clearly treated medallic art as a medium of expression, and copied ancient coins and medals as a means of promoting Humanism. There is something of a mystique about people like Cavino, Becker, and Christodoulos - as if they were not "Real People". It was my very good fortune to know one of their kind on a personal level, and to acquire a better understanding of what one notable copyist was all about.
Peter Rosa was born on January 2, 1926. He started collecting coins and medals at the age of nine but found that he could not afford to own the pieces that he admired most. At a very early age Peter developed an appreciation of classical art, and especially of the art on ancient coins and medals. He began collecting casts of the most exquisite examples, especially from the collection of the British Museum. He continued this effort for many years, and ultimately assembled hundreds of casts of the rarest and choicest Greek, Roman, and Judean coins. He also ad mired intaglio gems and showed me on one occasion a substantial collection of 19th century plaster casts from important European private collections.
The First International Congress for the Study of and the Defiance Against Coin Forgery (IAPN Pub. No.2, 1965) referred to Peter Roser (sic.) as one of the greatest manufacturers of imitations in the United States. The report claims that during the holiday season of 1964 alone he manufactured some 15,000 imitations. He marketed these copies under the trade name "Becker Reproductions", and literally worked from his kitchen table using a hydraulic automobile jack and hand casted dies. The results were not extraordinary, but certain strikes could be mistaken for authentic, especially if part of a larger group of authentic coins.
I first met Peter Rosa in 1987. He had been forced to curtail production of his copies some fifteen years earlier because of the passing of the Hobby Protection Act (H.R. 9448) by the U.S. Congress. Peter felt that the defacing of his copies by stamping the word "COPY" on the face of the replica was an unbearable concession. Instead of offering coin replicas, Rosa had decided to try to market plaster cast reproductions and uniface silver on lead laminates. He approached me about helping with the marketing of these, and we had a number of discussions about the project, as well as some limited success.
He was an extremely energetic and amiable person, but quick to anger if he felt that he was under attack. His correspondences with various publishers who had denied him advertising privileges was caustic to say the least (Incidentally, we also refused his ads after we were advised that he had offered unmarked silver reproductions to readers answering his plaster cast ads). He held the ANA in disdain and had no respect whatsoever for the PNG. Still, Peter Rosa had a way about him that one couldn't help but admire. He was "crusty" and very outspoken, but he did love ancient coins, and devoted his entire life to their study and appreciation. He was a rugged individual who had not had an easy life, but he was as sensitive on the inside as he was cantankerous on the outside. In a personal letter, he once told me, "no matter what happens, I am committed to protect and nurture the growth of numismatics in its pure form."
The "pure form" to Peter Rosa was the appreciation of artistic beauty in classical coinage. In this regard he had his supporters. Even the director of the American Numismatic Society agreed, in a letter to Rosa, that "... these fine reproductions have an educational value of presenting 'art in miniature' to a public for whom this may be the first contact with artistic Greek coinage." The ANS did not agree with Rosa's stand on refusing to mark copies, however.
Peter Rosa died of cancer on October 5, 1990, at Staten Island, where he had lived for many years. He never did stop fighting the "bureaucracy" that he considered his enemy. To many, he was a thorn. To others, he was a riddle. To the hobby, he was a piece of history.
This issue focuses on forgeries and copies of ancient coins. They are a part of the hobby that has always been with us and probably always will be. In reality, they are simply another facet of the hobby which collectors must learn to understand. We'll be waiting to hear your point of view!