Louis “The Coin” Colavecchio passed away in early July at the age of 78 (fig. 1). With a nickname like “The Coin,” one would think that most numismatists would have heard of him, though that’s likely not the case. As it turns out, Colavecchio might be considered one of the worst nightmares for a numismatist. He was a counterfeiter, and a good one too—the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest counterfeiter.” He had been released from Butner Federal Prison in North Carolina just weeks before he passed away in hospice care, suffering from a variety of medical conditions including dementia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension. Though sentenced to 15 months in prison for producing counterfeit $100 bills in August 2019, he had only served eight of those months. United States District Court Chief Judge John J. McConnell Jr. agreed to free him on the time he had served in May, as a last gesture of compassion before his impending death.
This time, he was easy to prosecute. He had been bragging to an informant that he could effortlessly counterfeit $100 bills and was capable of besting even the latest security features. In December 2018, the Secret Service raided his home in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and found presses able to produce counterfeit bills that accurately simulated the real deal (including their distinct reaction to ultraviolet light), as well as 2,400 counterfeit $100 bills. Having the damning conversations on recording, he had no choice but to plead guilty. But, this wasn’t the first time he was ever caught.
He earned the nickname “The Coin” from his ability to counterfeit nearly perfect slot-machine tokens for almost every casino in the country. Laboratories couldn’t even find any differences. His most notable arrest came in 1996 when he and his girlfriend were caught in Caesars Atlantic City with 800 pounds of fake tokens (fig. 2.).
It was the largest counterfeiting operation that had ever targeted an Atlantic City casino. He was sentenced to two years in federal prison. Meanwhile, he acted as a consultant for the federal government, having received $18,000 for explaining why his dies long outlasted those manufactured by the United States Mint. He was eventually banned from every casino in the country, but continued to gamble by wearing wigs and dressing as a woman. Authorities considered him an “old-time mobster.” Most of his exploits can be found in his 2015 autobiography, You Thought It Was More: Adventures of the World’s Greatest Counterfeiter.
While most numismatists identify counterfeiting with coins or paper currency, tokens and anything that had exchange value ran the risk of fraud. Unlike coins, casino tokens contain several types of anti-counterfeiting measures. These include dots that are of different sizes to separate words (fig. 3), a combination of dots and squares (fig. 4), letters that are intentionally filled in (fig. 5), or a set of tied reedings on the edges of tokens (fig. 6).
These would be known to casino employees, but not necessarily publicized in order to thwart counterfeiters. Today, the casinos no longer use metallic tokens, and most slot machines have replaced the use of tokens with printed vouchers that record the winnings which the player can redeem at the pay-out window.
As for Colavecchio, while those he cheated may not mourn his death, those who knew him are full of captivating stories—such as Andy Thibault, who befriended Colavecchio while working with him on his book and said, “I got to appreciate the good points. He was a lot of fun to be with.” A disarming, charming individual—and self-proclaimed “ladies’ man”—Rhode Island State Police Colonel Steven G. O’Donnell has said that “if he used the amount of ingenuity and knowledge he had for good, he could have been a millionaire and changed people’s lives.”