ArtLex Art Dictionary



ccounterfeit - To make a copy of something with the intent to deceive and to defraud; most often to forge money — especially coins and currency.

Artists in many cultures have explored myriad issues concerning truthfulness and deceit. "Counterfeit" is sometimes used to describe a more innocent pretending to be something else, though usually a pretending with some intent to do mischief. Because artists have so often made likenesses of things, "counterfeit" is occasionally used as a synonym for "artwork." Other art terms with related meanings: appropriation, facsimile, mirror, representation, reproduction, simulacrum, simulation, and trompe l'oeil.

Some trompe l'oeil artists have actually made images of currency. In the late nineteenth century trompe l'oeil money painters were accused of or even arrested for counterfeiting. Charges against them were usually dropped though, because their pictures, however much they resembled "real money," were signed as personal artistic creations — created and promoted as works of art, not to be passed as money. However, authorities still questioned artists who were good enough to produce such convincing images. In the mid-1880s, the U.S. Secret Service launched campaigns against most of the money painters, persuading many — though not all — to desist from work that might be misconstrued. Then, in 1909, the practice of painting currency was completely outlawed by the U.S. federal government. [Is this law still in effect?]

Examples of such trompe l'oeils which have been suspected as counterfeits:


Nicholas Alden Brooks (American, 1849-c.1904), Ten Dollar Bill, c.1880-1904, oil on canvasboard, 6 3/4 x 10 inches, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, U. of Nebraska, Lincoln.



Otis Kaye (1885-1974), Dollar Bill, no date, 1950s?, etching with tempera, 2 11/16 by 6 inches, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, U of Nebraska, Lincoln.



see thumbnail to rightOtis Kaye, One Dollar Note with Quarter and Penny, graphite and oil over etching, 2 3/4 x 6 1/2 inches.



In contrast, examples of United States currency:

United States of America, Specimen $500 Federal Reserve Note, Specimen $1000 Federal Reserve Note, Specimen $5000 Federal Reserve Note, Specimen $10,000 Federal Reserve Note, 20th century, engraving.



Also see appropriation, copy, ersatz, fake, forge, forgery, mirror, numismatics and philately, ostentatious, pretentious, representation, reproduction, simulacrum, and trompe l'oeil.





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