Im­i­ta­tion flat­ter­ing, but banned on ebay

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - PETER M. REX­FORD STEVE BECKER

This spring and sum­mer, tourists across the coun­try will have one thing in com­mon — gift shops. So many of us are ad­dicted to ac­quir­ing im­pul­sive trin­kets on va­ca­tion. Af­ter the trip ends and our at­ten­tion is di­verted to some­thing else, those sou­venirs likely will be rel­e­gated to a box or junk drawer.

At sites in New Eng­land, we’ll sat­isfy our urges with pouches of Colo­nial coin re­pro­duc­tions or reprints of Colo­nial cur­rency. Out West, va­ca­tion­ers will snap up repli­cas of San Fran­cisco gold rush coins. In Florida, im­i­ta­tion re­strikes of sil­ver Span­ish galleon “trea­sure” coins — di­rect from China — will line the shelves of sou­venir stands.

Of course, not one of these will con­tain any ac­tual sil­ver, gold or other pre­cious me­tal. They also won’t be worth a frac­tion of what we pay for them.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t dis­cour­age pur­chas­ing these. I’ve done so in the past for fun. I re­al­ized their re­sale value would be lit­tle, if any. Now, though, comes some­thing of a game changer. Be­gin­ning in Fe­bru­ary, ebay banned the sale of any and all replica or coun­ter­feit coins and sim­i­lar items. The sit­u­a­tion is, what was “fun” has been re­placed by far too much il­licit profit.

Nat­u­rally, coun­ter­feit coins shouldn’t be al­lowed any­where. The U.S. Mint has a se­ri­ous con­sumer ad­vi­sory about pre-1950 U.S. coun­ter­feit coins from China. Ev­i­dently, coun­ter­feit­ing valu­able U.S. coins has be­come a ma­jor in­dus­try for the Chi­nese. Sub­stan­tial num­bers of what ap­pear to be high­grade, rare U.S. coins have turned up and have been traced to China. Many peo­ple pur­chas­ing them on­line even­tu­ally find they own very good, but worth­less, fakes.

Be­tween DVD bootlegs and fake de­signer hand­bags and fash­ion ac­ces­sories, and now coin coun­ter­feit­ing, it re­minds me of a line teach­ers and law en­force­ment of­fi­cers have used for­ever: “If they could only chan­nel all that ef­fort and en­ergy to­ward do­ing some­thing good, imag­ine what they could ac­com­plish.” Yeah, I won’t hold my breath.

What’s in­ter­est­ing is, on ebay, there is now no wig­gle room for fac­sim­ile coins — mean­ing even the types sold at sou­venir stands. Those have been al­lowed for decades be­cause of the Hobby Pro­tec­tion Act. It re­quires any repli­cas to be clearly stamped with the word “copy” or “fac­sim­ile.” More of­ten than not, even with such words stamped on them, the medi­ocre qual­ity of the re­pro­duc­tions made it clear the coins were not gen­uine.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see just how much the new ebay rule truly af­fects things. For in­stance, it’s not en­tirely dif­fer­ent from the count­less au­to­graphs sold on­line. It’s well known that 80-plus per­cent of those are fakes. But it will con­tinue. What seller is go­ing to let it be known up­front they’re sell­ing some­thing fake?

The same goes for “qual­ity” coun­ter­feited coins. New rules or not, by the time it’s dis­cov­ered they are fake, the sellers will be long gone. All the more rea­son to buy only from a known source you can trust.

On the sub­ject of buy­ing from some­one you know, con­sider a tem­po­rar­ily suc­cess­ful bur­glary in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia last month. From a ma­jor ex­hibit at a gold­min­ing mu­seum, two thieves made off with about $600,000 worth of gold nuggets — a hefty 351 ounces. That’s a lot of gold — nearly 22 pounds.

Here’s the catch: Gold nuggets, sim­i­lar to col­lectible coins or stamps, are like fin­ger­prints. No two are alike. Each is unique. They also are rare enough to have been pho­to­graph­i­cally doc­u­mented.

It’s not as if you can stand on a street corner and sell them. And if you advertise them on­line, they will be im­me­di­ately dis­closed. If you’re tal­ented enough or have con­nec­tions, you could melt them down, but that de­stroys a big chunk of their value. Of course, you can try to sell them over­seas. The thing is, with a lit­tle or­ga­ni­za­tion known as In­ter­pol, good luck with that.

In a nutshell, the thieves were most tal­ented in their tech­nique for ac­qui­si­tion. As for their fol­lowthrough of the dis­po­si­tion, prob­a­bly not so much.

It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how this plays out. I’ll keep you posted.


South West North East

The most com­mon form of de­fense against a suit con­tract is to force de­clarer to ruff at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. One ad­van­tage of this pro­ce­dure is that it keeps the de­fend­ers from break­ing new suits, but the pri­mary pur­pose is to com­pletely de­plete de­clarer’s trumps, af­ter which the de­fend­ers will be in po­si­tion to cash what­ever cards re­main in their long suits.

When de­clarer has a plen­ti­ful sup­ply of trumps, he usu­ally can with­stand this at­tack on his trump suit. But when he has only seven trumps di­vided 5-2 or 4-3, his sit­u­a­tion of­ten be­comes pre­car­i­ous.

Con­sider this deal where South reaches four spades as shown. West leads a heart, and hearts are con­tin­ued. De­clarer ruffs, and if he now draws trumps, ex­haust­ing his trumps in the process, he goes down one. He fin­ishes with only nine tricks — five spades and four clubs. When he leads a di­a­mond at trick 11, the de­fend­ers score the ace of di­a­monds and two more heart tricks.

This re­sult should not come as any great sur­prise to South. The 4-2 di­vi­sion of the op­pos­ing trumps is more likely than any other, oc­cur­ring nearly half the time.

To defuse this po­ten­tial threat to his con­tract, de­clarer should adopt a more cau­tious ap­proach. Af­ter trump­ing the heart at trick two, he should lead the jack of di­a­monds. If the jack holds the trick, he then can draw trumps and romp home with 10 tricks.

If the jack of di­a­monds is taken by the ace and a heart is re­turned, South must be care­ful not to ruff, which would re­duce him to three trumps and leave him prey to a 4-2 trump split. In­stead, he dis­cards a club or a di­a­mond, leav­ing his trump hold­ing in­tact. A heart con­tin­u­a­tion then can be ruffed in dummy, af­ter which he has the rest of the tricks and his con­tract.

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