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Fakes turn up as old sets get sold
By F. Michael Fazzari
May 16, 2018

One of my former colleagues often twisted an old saying into: “Everything old is old again” when he saw a decades-old published counterfeit submitted for authentication. It made sense.

Very often, both altered and counterfeit coins reside in longtime collections and do not appear on the market again until their owner dies or decides to sell the collection. Such a case occurred last week at Independent Coin Graders and made me recall his words.

As I examined a U.S. gold type set that was removed from an old Whitman folder, the $2.50 Indian and gem uncirculated 1904 $20 Liberty coins were both decades-old fakes. Usually with these sets, the $3 and the Type 2 gold dollar are the fakes. Thankfully for the deceased owner’s family, this was not the case. Anyway, it was nice to see these “old friends” I cut my teeth on long ago. It gave me an opportunity to make some micrographs of “wormy tool marks” – a common characteristic we saw on die-struck counterfeits in the 1970s.

It is much different today. In the 1970s and 1980s, the counterfeiters sought to produce the most perfect fakes possible in Gem Uncirculated condition. In the Authentication Bureau, we would see “perfect” coins, fully lustrous and without rub or blemish, yet lacking in high point detail. Back then, I warned my authentication class students to be wary of any coin that looked too good to be true! That appearance had become one characteristic of a coin that raised a red flag demanding a careful examination. Coins such as this are still being produced by modern counterfeiters; yet a close look using some type of magnification will reveal a tiny granular, fuzzy surface especially on their relief design.

Don’t be fooled. Today’s counterfeits are produced in several degrees of quality from cartoonish junk in Figure 1 to extremely deceptive pieces. That’s because several makers are involved. In my opinion, a few world governments are involved in producing the best fakes.

For instance, we know that high quality fakes are coming from Bulgaria and China that for a short time have fooled authentication experts in this country. These were not made at the dirty little mints producing souvenir imitations.

Years ago, extremely deceptive Trade dollars were on the market. Next we saw Flowing Hair dollars.

In both cases, these counterfeits were seen in high grades. Counterfeits in these grades made it easier for authenticators to map out identical contact marks from circulation that were on the original genuine coin used as a model to produce a counterfeit die. Many defects on the genuine coin would transfer and then show up on all fakes struck from the counterfeit die. Thanks to the availability of archived auction images and the like, researchers have discovered that even some damaged genuine coins were bought by the fakers at discounted prices, then repaired and used to make the counterfeit dies.

Recently, rather than try to produce a perfect counterfeit, the crooks have discovered they can pass more lower-grade fakes that have been damaged or corroded to make the authentication of a single example virtually impossible for most of us to detect! That’s why vintage copper coin types have become excellent targets.  For these, even a third-party grading service might not have the opportunity of having several coins of the same type to examine together.

Therefore, imaging of submissions has become extremely helpful, and both Numismatic Guaranty Corporation and the Professional Coin Grading Service are far advanced at this.

I’ve urged readers to join, or at the least to read, the Internet coin forums. Two that I visit regularly are Coin Talk and Collectors Universe. One member of both, Jack Young, has posted some excellent information on these boards with images of many very deceptive counterfeits discovered by his study group of Early American Coppers members.

Knowledge is power. All of you reading this owe it to yourselves to become more informed about your business or hobby with regard to authentication (and grading).

By doing that, you’ll become another set of eyes to help the third-party services weed out any suspicious coins you may encounter.



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