Laurie Barber | A counterfeit story

GOING CHEAP: Counterfeit products travels all the way across the spectrum, from fake money to artworks and, of course, watches.
GOING CHEAP: Counterfeit products travels all the way across the spectrum, from fake money to artworks and, of course, watches.

A very long time ago my wife and I went for a cup of coffee in a Darwin street. We handed over what I think was a $20 note. The employee called the manager over and the manager rejected the note.

“It’s a forgery,” he said.

After a long discussion I handed over another note and he accepted it.

While we had our cup of coffee we watched as the manager put up a sign saying he would not accept $20 notes. Apparently the note I handed over did not have the name of the person whose image was displayed.

When I returned home I contacted the mint and I was told the note had been legal.

My memory tells me the person at the mint said they had decided to place names under the images because too many people were asking something like “who’s that?”

Counterfeit is a word that goes back a long way. My big dictionary records that the first time in print the dictionary could find was 1292.

The word had many spellings. They included counterfeet, counterfayte and counterfeight.

In 1292 the word was used  to mean that which was an imitation of the genuine article.

In 1393 the word meant writing was forged

In 1450 it meant misshapen or deformed.

In 1463 the word was used to mean made to a pattern.

In 1483 the meaning was transformed in appearance.

In 1530 it meant a person pretending to be what he was not.

In 1574 it meant an impostor.

In 1724 the meaning was somebody who was disguised.

Samuel Johnson in his 1755 dictionary said a word countercaster was a word of contempt for an arithmetician. My big dictionary had exactly the same meaning.

I met an old maths master from my old school, Newcastle Boys High, in the past few days. I’m sure he was never called a countercaster.

Counterfesance meant an act of counterfeiting or a forgery.

Counterrol meant a means of preserving the power of detecting frauds by a counter account.

Ambrose Bierce in his Devil’s Dictionary of 1881 said counterfeit meant “similar in appearance but of a different order of merit”.

In other words, counterfeiting something was to make something look like the genuine article in order to deceive people. Usually, it was to make a profit and usually it was of inferior quality.

I can’t think of an article of superior quality that was counterfeited. That to me would defeat the object of the exercise.

Counterfeiting would involve artworks, watches, handbags, shoes, even the man who chases you up the street in some Asian country offering to sell you a Rolex watch.