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Fake Dollars Vary Widely in Quality
By F. Michael Fazzari, Numismatic News
September 04, 2012

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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As a way to lead into the “meat” of this month’s column, I’ll share some of the behind-the-scene antics and some of the unusual practices I’ve seen while working at various grading services. Generally, each order we see is different. We don’t know what’s in the box until it’s opened and the grading process starts. Every year or so, some joker in the office will put a large dead spider or huge beetle into a box that looks like a normal submission to get a laugh at another grader’s reaction. After being the “target” of this practice and fooled once, I am cognizant of the weight of every box as soon as I first pick it up. However, I’ll admit that a submission of California fractional gold has caused me to pause on several occasions as it takes a few of them in flips to outweigh a large beetle.

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Once the box is opened, in most cases, there is no specific order in which the coins are arranged. It would be helpful to graders and speed up the order if the coins were arranged by denomination, type or country, but that is the exception. Last week, in a large order, a submitter placed each of his gold coins intermingled between one or two Morgan dollars. This went on and on through 90 coins. More commonly, many dealers will save the counterfeit or altered coins in their order for last. It’s probably their way to signal that they know the coins are “bad” and want us to know that they know – whatever. Another common practice is to put the lowest grade coins in the beginning of the order; hopefully, to get the better coins at the end graded higher as we reach the end of the box. I guess it is similar to the “Dancing with the Stars” TV show. The judges give low marks in the beginning and raise their marks slowly so as to leave room at the top as the show progresses. If they were to rate an average performance as a “nine,” the better performances would suffer as the dancers improved.

Sometimes, I wonder if our customers are trying to test us. The group of coins I’m writing about today might be one of those cases. How else can you explain the wide range of quality this order contained? All 12 coins were U.S. dollars dated between 1796 and 1899. There was no rhyme or reason to the order they were in. The coins ranged in quality from absolutely genuine to so obviously bad that it wouldn’t fool your aunt Sally from across the room. Expressions such as “Baaaaad,” “Chocolate” (referring to gold wrapped candy coins); and “Piece of C--p” are sometimes audibly heard in the grading room and echo in my mind. One counterfeit coin in the same box earned respect.

You may wonder as I did at how such a divergent assortment of coins could be selected without the owner knowing that a least a few of the crude pieces were fakes. Let’s look at some of the counterfeit coins using magnification. Although not in this sequence in the box, I’ll show them in increasing order from the easiest fake to detect to one very deceptive specimen.

The first coin in Figure 1, which I’ll call an “across-the-room” fake that should not fool any knowledgeable collector, was in the middle of the order flanked by two genuine coins that were harshly cleaned. Its crude, out-of-proportion design and lack of artistry coupled with the misshapen letters and numerals do not resemble any photo of an early dollar in the Red Book.

Figure 2 at 20X shows the granular surface, and “fatty” low relief numbers common to crude fakes. This coin weighs only 26.6 grams. It’s much lighter than the specified weight of 27.22 grams given for Trade dollars.






Our next counterfeit from this box (Figure 3) is much better made yet still of low quality. The weight of this coin is within tolerance for a Morgan dollar. The counterfeiters achieved this by filing the rims until an acceptable weight was reached. Its relief is not sharp either yet its surface is less granular. Without magnification, it is pleasing to look at and would probably fool many unwary collectors.




The specimen in Figure 4 is a high quality, very deceptive fake. Its weight is within tolerance, the color is “good silver,” and its relief is “crisp.” Only its edge reeding count and diagnostic markers that appear on this particular fake die confirm that it is counterfeit.

The lower grade Trade dollars and Morgans in the box were all genuine; however, as prices rise, I believe that many deceptive fakes will be artificially circulated to more easily pass them as genuine. As you study genuine coins more closely, many of the poor quality counterfeits in this order will look like “Chocolate” to you too. If a coin is questionable, you should have it checked at a major grading service.

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