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Photographs are Not Enough
August 04, 2011

In my morning email was an inquiry from someone I do not know asking whether the coin he shows in attached photographs is real.

First, off, don’t buy a coin if you can’t tell if it is real or not.

This goes double since it is an 1844 Seated Liberty silver dollar, which is one of the coins that the Chinese fakers love to produce for the gullible.

Second, don’t rely on someone you don’t know (me, even if I am a hobby editor) to tell you if it is real or not. I cannot look over the shoulders of the nation’s collectors even if I wanted to.

This is what professional third-party grading services are for.

Third, sending photographs can be an effective method of authentication only if the coin is so badly faked that incorrect design elements stand out like a sore thumb.

In this case, the coin does look bad to me, though it is not one of those impossible date and mintmark combinations that have been dead giveaways for some of the worst fakes.

Fourth, to properly authenticate a coin, you need to see it and hold it.

Weight on Chinese fakes is often wrong.

You cannot tell the weight from a photograph.

The email writer provided no information other than the photos and the question as to whether the coin was fake.

Fifth: where was it purchased?

If it was offered online, that is a clue.

If it was bought at a flea market, that is another clue. Flea markets are flooded with fakes.

Sixth: what was the price?

When coins go for bargain prices, that is also a clue.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t buy coins you have no experience with. If you have spent your life collecting the coins of the 20th century, you have acquired a certain sense of what a genuine coin looks like.

You essentially have no defense other than your common sense when offered a coin you do not usually see.

Since the coin looks to be a VG-8, it prices at $313. Few current collectors have personal experience of it.

Now more than ever, collectors have to be careful and work with what they know.

I will send the images to the Numismatic News columnist on fakes and he can take a look. That will be a topic for another day.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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