For as long as coins have been made, so too have counterfeit coins. The practice of counterfeiting has been nicknamed “The World’s Second-Oldest Profession” and has existed since ancient times. Not only have counterfeits been made for everyday circulation, but an even more dangerous breed of counterfeit collectible coins (i.e. those meant to deceive collectors) exist too. This article will provide a general overview of counterfeit collectible coins and how to avoid them.
There are two basic categories of counterfeit coins: those which are 100% fake (i.e. no government origin whatsoever) and genuine coins that have been deceptively/fraudulently altered. Coins in the former category are easier to spot. Despite their best efforts, counterfeiters often have difficulty replicating the exact look of original United States Mint products. Whether it’s luster, surface quality, texture, coloration or strike, there are usually telltale signs that a coin is 100% fake.
Deceptively altered coins are significantly more difficult to spot. These are coins that start out with a genuine base but are fraudulently modified to enhance their value. Perhaps the most common example is adding or removing a mintmark. An 1895-S Morgan Silver Dollar, as an example, is worth around $750 in XF 40 – AU 50 condition. An 1895 Dollar without a mintmark, meanwhile, sells for tens of thousands. Counterfeiters have long attempted to shave off the mintmark from 1895-S Morgans and pass them off as the infinitely rarer plain version.
Certain key date coins are notoriously susceptible to counterfeiting. 1916-D Dimes and 1932-D Quarters are favorite targets of counterfeiters, as adding a “D” mintmark can add hundreds if not thousands of dollars in value. Some advanced counterfeiters have even created “sandwich” coins by combining together the obverse and reverse of two difference coins. An example would be matching an 1884-O Dollar obverse with an 1879-S Dollar reverse to make an 1884-S. A genuine 1884-S is $7500+ in Uncirculated, but the 1884-O and 1879-S are worth around $100 combined.
The best protection against counterfeit coins is to only buy items certified by PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) or NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation). These two third-party grading services employ some of the industry’s top experts on counterfeit detection. Many seasoned numismatists have never seen a counterfeit coin in their holders.
The second-best protection against counterfeit merchandise is dealing with reputable, well-established firms. Buying uncertified coins from private sellers online or from classified ads can be extremely risky. Major numismatic dealers are prohibited by trade organizations from knowingly selling counterfeit coins and, should they make an unintentional mistake, will be required to buy back any coin that is eventually deemed counterfeit. This policy extends beyond any time limit or return policy.