Carl Wilhelm Becker

Founded 4-Mar-2007
Last update 7-Feb-2008

Coins Historical Information References

Identification Number CWB-WM-01

Object: Impression from dies engraved by Carl Wilhelm Becker struck in an alloy of tin and lead
Model: Silver tetradrachm of Kleopatra Thea and Antiochos VIII (120s BC)1
Period: The dies: between c. 1806 and 1830 AD; the impression: c. 1830s AD
Weight: 17.88 g
Diameter: 29 - 30 mm
Obverse: Jugate busts of Kleopatra Thea, diademed and with stephane2 and veil, and Antiochos VIII, diademed, to right; dotted border
Reverse: ‘ΒΑΣΙΛΙΣΣΗΣ ΚΛΕΟΠΑΤΡΑΣ’ curving in two lines on right (“of Queen Kleopatra”), ‘ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ’ curving in two lines on left (“of King Antiochos”); eagle standing left on prow, palm branch under far wing; control mark in left field, quasi-Seleukid date ‘ΞΠΡ’ in right field; dotted border
Die axis: 180º
References: Hill, Becker the Counterfeiter, 117
Notes: (1)

The original parchment wrapper of this impression is preserved:


These white metal impressions were sold after Becker’s death. Sir George F. Hill in his monograph Becker the Counterfeiter, pp. 36-37, writes:

His family were left in very modest circumstances. ... As regards the dies, since they appeared fated to remain in the hands of the family, impressions to the number of 331, in a composition of tin and lead, were struck off and sold to collectors at the extremely modest price of 40 florins Rhenish (i.e. Convention gulden). This business was undertaken, and a printed list issued, by Martin Seidenstricker of Homburg, who married Becker’s widow. 3


Tetradrachms of Kleopatra Thea and Antiochos VIII with their jugate busts on the obverse and with the eagle reverse were minted in three mints: Ake-Ptolemais, Askalon and Sidon.4 The same weight standard (Phoenician standard, c. 14.00 g) and the same obverse design were used by all three mints, but their reverse designs are somewhat different:

Ake-Ptolemais: eagle standing on thunderbolt, either one control mark (the same as on this Becker’s coin) or two control marks in left field, Seleukid date in right field
Askalon: eagle standing on thunderbolt, palm branch under far wing, ‘ΑΣ’ above dove in left field, control mark between eagle’s legs, Seleukid date in right field
Sidon: eagle standing on prow, palm branch under far wing, Seleukid date above aphlaston in left field, ‘ΣΙΔΩ’ above ‘ΙΕΡ’ above control mark in right field, control mark between eagle’s legs

Thus the reverse of this Becker’s coin is a combination of reverse designs used by Ake-Ptolemais mint and by Sidon mint. Moreover, the date ΞΠΡ is non-compatible with the numeral system which was used on Seleukid coins. It seems that Becker (or his assistant W. Zindel) mistook Ζ for Ξ, so that the correct date on his original model was probably ΖΠΡ (year 187 of the Seleukid Era, i.e. 126/5 BC).5



Identification Number CWB-WM-02

Object: Impression from dies engraved by Carl Wilhelm Becker struck in an alloy of tin and lead
Model: Silver tetradrachm of Antiochos IV (Antioch mint, c. 166 BC);6 see, e.g., Le Rider, Antioche, pp. 217-218, Nos. 552-561; Houghton, CSE, 110-111; Newell, SMA, 64
Period: The dies: between c. 1806 and 1830 AD; the impression: c. 1830s AD
Weight: 20.63 g
Diameter: 28 - 29 mm
Obverse: Laureate head of Apollo right; fillet border
Reverse: ‘[Β]ΑΣΙΛΕΩ[Σ] ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ’ right, ‘ΕΠΙΦΑΝΟΥΣ ΝΙΚΗΦΟΡΟΥ’ left (“of King Antiochos, God Manifest, Bringer of Victory”); robed Apollo standing right, holding patera in right hand and kithara in left arm
Die axis: 180º
References: Hill, Becker the Counterfeiter, 109
Notes: (1)

The original parchment wrapper of this impression is preserved:

  (2) As for the origin of these white metal impressions, see note (2) following the description of the previous coin CWB-WM-01.


Historical Information

Carl Wilhelm Becker was born on June 28, 17727 and died on April 11, 18308. As a youth he wanted to become a sculptor, but his father insisted that he should become a vintner like himself.9 Becker was in the wine business several years and thereafter he worked as a draper for the next several years, but from c. 1806 he started to make and sell copies of (mostly ancient) coins.10 In addition to his copies, he also sold genuine coins and antiques. He sold his reproductions either directly or through agents, sometimes as genuine coins and sometimes openly as his copies. Over the years many European museums and collectors acquired at least one Becker’s forgery. The first information about his forgeries was published in 1825 and 1826 by an Italian numismatist Domenico Sestini.11 Despite his great talent as a die engraver, he never achieved wealth and he faced financial difficulties in the last years of his life.

Becker worked freehand, that is he engraved dies without the use of casts or any mechanical transfer methods. When he could not obtain an original to work from, he copied a cast in sulphur or plaster (it is possible that sometimes he also worked from drawings or engravings). He used fresh blanks and he also struck over low-grade or common genuine ancient coins. The striking was done with a sledge-hammer, not with a press. Since 1826, a seal-engraver W. Zindel assisted him with the engraving of dies because his sight had begun to weaken.

Hill, Becker the Counterfeiter, pp. 38-44, analyses the question whether Becker should be considered a forger or an artist producing reproductions of coins, and he concludes:

I take it that he was, like most of us, a mixture of good and evil; that he began by imitating coins for the fun of the thing, – and good fun indeed it must have been to take in some people, such as that Baron at Munich 12 ; that other pieces he imitated because he liked them, – and this may account for some of the common coins in his series; that sometimes he found it amusing to invent something more or less new, such as he supposed the ancients might have made if they had only thought of it; that he was occasionally unable to resist the temptation, when it seemed safe, of allowing his productions to pass for genuine; and finally that he was quite ready to reform, if he could be assured of getting a comfortable sum for what he had made 13 .

But whatever good there may have been in the man is now forgotten; his coins remain: «Men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water» 14 .

This brief information is based on Hill’s monograph Becker the Counterfeiter. See also Sayles, Classical Deception: Counterfeits, Forgeries and Reproductions of Ancient Coins, pp. 37-39.



1 For biographical information on Kleopatra Thea and Antiochos VIII, see the corresponding pages Kleopatra Thea and Antiochos VIII on this website devoted to their genealogies.

2 A metal headband worn by goddesses and Hellenistic and Roman women.

3 Hill gives the following information about the price list issued by Seidenstricker (ibid, note 63):

“Verzeichniss der Becker’schen Münzen,” 8 pp. octavo, 13.5 × 22 cm. Buchdruckerei von J. G. Steinhäusser in Homburg. No date. Describes 331 pieces. “Diese Münzen, abgeprägt in einer Composition von Zinn und Blei, sind für den Preis von 40 fl. rh., zu haben bei M. Seidenstricker in Homburg v. d. Höhe.”

4 See, e.g., Houghton, CSE, 721 (Sidon), 809 (Ake-Ptolemais) and 821 (Askalon); Newell, LSM, 9, 13, 20 and 21 (Ake-Ptolemais); SNG Spaer, 2484, 2485, 2488, 2489 and 2490 (Askalon).

5 A specimen dated ΖΠΡ is listed by Newell, LSM, 9.

6 These tetradrachms were struck for the great festival of Daphne at which Antiochos IV celebrated his victories in Egypt. The reverse type probably depicts the famous cult statue in the temple of Apollo at Daphne, a work of the fourth-century sculptor Bryaxis of Athens. The obverse may depict the head of the Apollo statue.

For biographical information on Antiochos IV, see the page devoted to his genealogy.

7 At Speyer, a city in today’s German federal state of Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate).

8 I suppose that Becker died at Bad Homburg vor der Höhe, a city in today’s German federal state of Hesse (Hessen). According to Hill, ibid, p. 31, Becker lived in Homburg since 1826. Hill does not explicitly state that Becker died there. However, he writes on p. 36 that Becker returned from Berlin to home on June 30, 1829 and he mentions no further Becker’s journey. It is necessary to mention that there are several cities of that name. However, Martin Seidenstricker, the new husband of Becker’s widow, issued his sales list in “Homburg v. d. Höhe” (see footnote 3). Moreover, Hill mentions on p. 33 that in 1827 Becker received a recognition of his marriage by the Hesse-Homburg authorities.

9 His father, Councillor Johann Wilhelm Becker, owned a vineyard and a wine-business.

10 Hill, ibid, lists 361 Becker’s types (134 Greek, 140 Roman and 87 medieval and later).

11 The first Sestiny’s warning printed in 1825 is mentioned by M. Pinder in his book published in 1843 (Die Beckerschen falschen Münzen beschrieben von M. Pinder. Berlin, Nicolaische Buchhandlung, 1843, pp. xv + 73, 2 engraved plates). In 1826, Sestiny described and illustrated a number of Becker’s coins in his work on modern forgeries (Sopra i Moderni Falsificatori di Medaglie Greche Antiche nei tre Metalli e Descrizione di tutte quelle prodotte dai medesimi nello spazio di pochi anni. Firenze presso Attilio Tofani, 1826, pp. 40, 4 engraved plates). Other works by other numismatists were published during the 19th century after Becker’s death in 1830; see Hill, ibid, p. 37 and notes 65-69.

12 Hill, ibid, pp. 13-14, mentions the following preserved story:

... According to this, Becker’s incentive to making imitations of ancient coins was due to a trick which was played upon him by a certain Baron von Sch***m of Munich. Becker acquired from the Baron a false gold coin of the Emperor Commodus. When he discovered its falsity and complained of the swindle, the Baron coolly replied that it served him right, for meddling with what he did not understand. Becker then set to work to obtain the necessary training, and eventually had the pleasure of making and passing off on the Baron a gold coin, no less rare than the one which the Baron had passed off on him.

13 Becker unsuccessfully tried to sell his dies in the last years of his life (first to the Imperial Coin Cabinet at Vienna and then to the Prussian king).

14 William Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act 4, Scene 2


Hill, Sir George F.:Becker the Counterfeiter. Chicago, 1979 (Obol International reprint of the London 1924 original edition).
Houghton, Arthur:Coins of the Seleucid Empire from the Collection of Arthur Houghton. The American Numismatic Society, New York, 1983. (abbr. CSE)
Houghton, Arthur; Spaer, Arnold (with the assistance of Catharine Lorber):Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum. Israel I. The Arnold Spaer Collection of Seleucid Coins. Italo Vecchi Ltd., London, 1998. (abbr. SNG Spaer)
Le Rider, Georges:Antioche de Syrie sous les Séleucides. Corpus des monnaies d’or et d’argent. Vol. 1: De Séleucos I à Antiochos V, c. 300-161. Institut de France, Paris, 1999. (abbr. Antioche)
Newell, Edward T.:Late Seleucid Mints in Ake-Ptolemais and Damascus. The American Numismatic Society, Numismatic Notes and Monographs No. 84, New York, 1939. (abbr. LSM)
Newell, Edward T.:The Seleucid Mint of Antioch. Chicago, 1978 (Obol International reprint of the New York 1918 original edition). (abbr. SMA)
Sayles, Wayne G.:Classical Deception: Counterfeits, Forgeries and Reproductions of Ancient Coins. Krause Publications, Iola (Wisconsin), 2001.