As much as I love the daily calls inquiring about how much the 1795,1796, 1804, 1848-CC, the ridiculously large Washington Head dollar (my favorite) and other wonderful rarities are worth, I have decided it is time to put this stuff out there so many of you can quickly discern whether your coins (that you most likely bought for $25 with a vision of selling for $250,000) are real or counterfeit. There is an enormous amount of counterfeit coins circulating around the Los Angeles area, and truthfully in the world. While I am not going to get into hardcore counterfeiting techniques and the different methods in this article, I am going to show you a few basic characteristics of the coins that I see, and get called about, on a daily basis.
So,here is the breakdown of dates for the most common counterfeits that are out there right now. These coins normally come in a sheet or bags of 10-12 coins and contain the following dates:
1795 Flowing Hair and Draped Silver Dollar, 1796 Flowing Hair and Draped Bust Silver Dollar, 1797 Draped Bust Silver Dollar, 1799 Draped Bust Silver Dollar
1847-CC, 1848-CC Seated Dollar, 1864-CC Seated Dollar
1865 Washington Head Silver Dollar,
1873 Pattern Trade Dollar, 1874-CC Trade Dollar, 1875-CC Trade Dollar, 1885-CC Trade Dollar,
1883-CC Morgan Dollar, 1893-O Morgan Dollar, 1896-O Morgan Dollar and 1898-O Morgan Dollar
1906 Ellis Island Silver Dollar
These are the most common dates that I see in these “packs” of counterfeit dollar coins. If you go to my “Counterfeit Coin Gallery” you can see images of all of these. Now it is time to go through the process of determining why these are fake.
First Step: Does it stick to a magnet?
If the coin that is supposed to be a silver dollar sticks to a magnet, guess what, game over. There is nothing left to be said. Don’t think that somehow there is a reason it could still be real. Give up, drink a beer and don’t buy the same counterfeit coin twice. Please keep in mind that this advise only applies to coins that are parading to be a silver dollar, there are of course other coins that are rare that do not stick to a magnet. But…..silver coins do not stick to magnets!
Seconhttp://meridiancoin.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1315&action=editd Step: Was the coin even actually made by the U.S. Mint?
So, if your supposed silver dollar does not stick to a magnet, you have won big time……uhhh, no. Now it is time to get numismatic. A coin cannot exist if it was never made and we need to understand some basic things, with regards to our study sample here, in order to determine if any of the coins are counterfeit for the sole reason that the issue was never produced by the U.S. Mint. With the coins that I see most frequently, the counterfeits have made only three to four issues that just plain are impossible to be real. They are as follows:
A) 1847-CC, 1848-CC and 1864-CC Seated Dollars: Here is the deal on these coins. The “CC” that is stamped at 6:00 on the reverse just above the rim is called a mintmark and it is meant to denote from which Mint location a coin was struck. “CC” stands for Carson City and here is where the problem begins with these particular coins. The Carson City Mint did not open its doors until 1870. Therefore it is impossible that any Seated Dollar, or any coin for that matter, could have a “CC” mintmark on it unless it is dated 1870 or later. The photo here shows a 1864-CC that is fake whether it sticks to a magnet or not because the 1864-CC could not possible have been made due to the aforementioned facts.
B) The Large Washington Head silver dollar: This counterfeit, more than any other, makes me laugh every time I see it. I mean, come on, it does not even look like it could be real. The fact is that human perception is better than we think and I would bet most people know deep down inside that this coin is fake when they see it. There are so many things that are wrong with counterfeit that just look at the picture and take my word for it. It is NO good.
C) The 1906 Ellis Island Silver Dollar: At least this counterfeit is only 80 years off from when it was actually made. The 1906 Ellis Island silver dollar is 100% fake because the real coin was not struck until 1986 by the U.S. Mint as a silver commemorative dollar. Therefore, once again, it cannot be real because it was never made. Furthermore, the current 1906 Ellis Island counterfeit displays pretty much ever striking characteristic of a fake, mushy surfaces, soft lettering, raised bumps all over the fields and so forth. These are things we will touch on later, but for now, just know that this coin is no good, just like the 1865 Washington Head travesty.
Third Step: Does the coin weigh the wrong amount?
I cannot expect someone who has not been associated with coins for any amount of time to understand the natural heft of weight that a real silver, gold, platinum or palladium coin has. I can tell you that once you have felt it, it is a key characteristic to quickly rule a coin a counterfeit. With regards to United States silver dollars, real coins weigh between 26.73 grams to 27.22 grams in total weight and are basically struck in .900 fine silver. The average weight of these counterfeits is around 17 grams which is a huge difference from the real thing and instantly recognizable once it is understood. At this point, we have three really good techniques for quickly sizing up a coin when one first views it. Magnet test, numismatic existence and weight are things that can be done quickly. Technology has made the numismatic existence portion quick, you no longer have to go to some coin shop and ask a guy who looks like Yoda for his reference books. For instance, if you want to know if a particular coin exists, you can quickly go to www.coinfacts.com or even quickly call me. This leads us to the Fourth Step, the step which I think is the most intriguing and brings out the “want-to-be” coin nerd or detective in each of us. The fourth step is striking details on coins.
Fourth Step: Is the Coin Mushy, Irregular, Bumpy, etc…
The small, and sometimes tiny, details that can be observed on a coin can often times tell the whole story with regards to be original or counterfeit. The strike of the coin, the reeding, the edge, raised bumps in the fields, depressions, irregular lettering and other details are what we are going to want to look for on any suspicious coin. With the current counterfeits that this article is dealing with, the primary attributes that are immediately noticeable by the trained eye are: mushiness or softness of strike, irregular reedmarks and denticles, irregular lettering and raised bumps on lettering and in the fields. The following photographs are meant to show the differences between these attributes on a counterfeit example and a authentic example. In some cases, just a photo of the counterfeit is offered with an explanation of what you are looking at.
In the photos to the left and right, you can clearly see the difference between three key attributes of the counterfeits that this article pertains to versus a genuine coin. In this particular example, I have chosen the 1893-O Counterfeit Silver dollar that we see weekly versus and original 1904-o Morgan Silver Dollar. The first thing we will touch on is strike. The strike of a coin is composed when the dies that the U.S. mint uses compress together on a planchet (a planchet is basically the coin blank). Obviously, the actual U.S. Mint dies impart an enormous amount of pressure. Counterfeiters are using much less sophisticated machinery and therefore it shows. = If we look at the hair above the date, just along the neckline, on the 1893-O, we can clearly see it is soft and mushy and not in high relief. If we look at the 1904-O, the genuine coin, we can clearly see the detail of the hair in the same place. The difference is huge!
The second attribute we can see in the comparison of these two images is the definition of the numbers in the date. The “1893″ of the counterfeit example has digits that look almost hand cut with different sizes to the numbers. There is also not much relief between the highest point of the numeral and the metal below. When we look at the 1904-O, the letters look like they were stamped hard and the uniformity among digits is very obvious. Lastly, if we look at the rim just below the date on the 1893-O counterfeit, the denticles and the actual edge of the rim are mushed together. The denticles are the little squares coming off the rim, not a dental tool used to scrape plaque off your teeth. On the 1904-O, the denticles are much more defined, full-bodied and the rim is separated by a clear line as if it where just a few millimeters higher.
In the two images above we see one of the classic ways to instantly rule a coin as a fake. On the top, the edge reeding of the counterfeit is incomplete when looked at in the vertical sense. When I look at the counterfeit edge reeding, I envision some poor guy sitting in a stinky basement use a chisel to hammer the reeding into the coin while his criminal leader yells “Faster,faster”. When I look at the genuine reeding, on the bottom, it just looks like it was machine made. Each reed is equal proportionately and the depth and vertical reach are the same.
In the images below, look at the difference between real coins and fake coins. Just the overall sharpness is apparent. Again, we are trying to create a mental library of what good coins and bad coins look like. With that said, in today’s world we still always have to be very careful, especially dealers and traders.
At this point, I have tried to cover the most basic aspects that will hopefully help the individual collector or treasure seeker to protect themselves against fake coins. Remember, it doesn’t matter if it is only $25, if it is fake, it is your hard earned money that you are wasting. The good thing is that crude fakes are as easy as hell to spot once you have seen a few. Additionally, the chances of you really buying a bag of coins worth $250,000 at a gas station or flea market is basically zero…sorry. Coins are rare for a reason and if you can have a late evening conversation with your buddy about the 1799 silver dollars you both have been coincidentally buying….something is very, very wrong.
Until next time…..carry a magnet.