Home > Stories by TimeLine Auctions

Stories by TimeLine Auctions

Her Life at Stake for Coining a Fake


TimeLine researchers expose wrongdoers who create, and attempt to sell, spurious coins and antiquities. Such crimes have, of course, occurred throughout history. Fakers, when exposed, have suffered severe retribution. TimeLine recently uncovered a newspaper report on the execution of an 18th century coiner. Not much of a headline story, you might imagine. After all, several hundred counterfeiters paid with their lives during the reign of George III. But two striking facts jumped out from the newspaper page as this amazing eye-witness account was read by TimeLine staff: the fake maker was a young woman, she was burned at the stake for her crime, and the burning took place in a public square in London barely two hundred years ago. Here is the report on her final hour:

Hereford Journal, June 1786

This morning the following malefactors were executed at the gates of Newgate Prison: Edward Griffith, for highway robbery; George Woodward for horse stealing; Daniel Keef for a street-robbery; Jonathan Harwood for assault on the highway; William Watts, for a house burglary; William Smith for making counterfeit halfpence; and Phoebe Harris for counterfeiting shillings. The men came up to the scaffold about twenty minutes past seven; and, after devoutly singing the psalm called The Sinner's Lamentation, their trapdoors were dropped at a quarter to eight. Shortly after the convicts were pronounced dead, twelve persons from the crowd of onlookers approached the scaffold, and had the hands of the deceased repeatedly stroked upon their faces and necks by the executioner, as a (supposed) cure for the protuberances called wens. About a quarter of an hour after the trapdoors had dropped, the female convict was led by two officers of justice to a stake fixed in the ground a short distance from the scaffold. At the top of the eleven-foot stake was a curved piece iron, to which the end of her halter was tied. The prisoner stood on a low stool, which, after a priest prayed with her a short time, was pulled away, and she was suspended by the neck, her feet being scarcely twelve inches from the pavement. Soon after life had ceased, two cartloads of faggots were placed round her, and set fire; the flames presently burning the halter. The convict fell a few inches, and was then sustained by an iron chain that had been wrapped around her chest and fixed to the stake. Some scattered remains of the body were perceptible in the fire at half past ten, and the fire had not completely burnt out at twelve o'clock. Phoebe Harris was a well-made little woman about thirty years of age, of pale complexion, and not disagreeable features. When she walked out of the prison gates she appeared terrified, and trembled greatly as she advanced to the stake, where the apparatus for the punishment she was about to experience filled her mind with horror and consternation. A great concourse of people attended on the above melancholy occasion.

* You can bid on a genuine example of a George III shilling (but not on a Phoebe Harris fake) in
TimeLine’s current coin auction on 27th May 2023.

Tanja Maijala (Head of Administration), TimeLine Auctions, 16th May 2023