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Fakes Finding Place in Numismatics
By F. Michael Fazzari, Numismatic News
May 10, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Would you believe that everything numismatic has a value to someone – even counterfeit and altered coins. I don’t recall this always being the case.

I got my start as a professional authenticator in 1972 after several weeks of on-the-job training. Each day was a learning process as it continues to be today. In a short period of time, with the help of consultants, we became able to detect the best counterfeits of our day. Years later, I learned that the experts at the U.S. Mint never once disagreed with our opinions.

However, there were a few errors made with regard to foreign coins. In those cases, we had relied on the opinion of dealer consultants. After that experience, I learned to trust my own eyes and instincts coupled with research using pedigreed genuine comparison coins before certifying a coin to be genuine. Authentication seemed easier back then. We saw mostly coins with added mintmarks and crudely made (by today’s standards) gold coins (Figure 1) that were “off color” with commonly seen defects such as tool marks and fatty, rounded, low relief.

In the 1970s, altered coins had no collector value and counterfeits like the one above were only worth the intrinsic value of their unknown fineness of gold. Once a coin was determined to be a counterfeit, it was returned to the submitter with a note that the coin should be turned over to the Secret Service so they could trace it back to its source of manufacture. Many dealers simply kept an assortment of their “bad” purchases in a reference collection or defaced/melted them to remove them from the marketplace.

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My first purchase of a fake coin for the teaching set I would form for my counterfeit seminars was a “so-called” Racketeer nickel. These were the first type of 1883 Liberty nickels without “Cents” on the reverse that were gold plated and then passed as $5 coins to the unwary. It was years later when I purchased another of these gold plated coins with a reeded edge that I learned that my first purchase (with the smooth edge of a common nickel) was actually just an altered coin – a fake of a fake.

Formerly, when coins that were considered to be genuine were discovered to be fakes, they were dropped from the reference books. Several Colonial specimens and some Territorial material have met this fate. Times have changed. Today, many counterfeits are no longer “worthless weeds” in a collection. There is even a reference book: “Contemporary Counterfeit Capped Bust Half Dollars” by Keith Davigon that I should like to own one day. It catalogs the known contemporary fakes in this popular series. Today these coins and others such as the counterfeit British coins made at Machin’s Mills can sell for hundreds of dollars. Other counterfeits such as the Micro “O” Morgan dollar coins are still listed with the notation that they are “privately made.” They are very collectible and bring good prices. If this trend continues, we may find other “privately made” coins such as the crude, counterfeit, magnetic, Peace dollars coming from China listed, valued and avidly collected in decades to come.

I’m not suggesting that you buck this trend. You may wish to start a collection of fakes for your own use. Otherwise, if someone wishes to purchase your counterfeit or altered coins, sell them for what they are. Ever since eBay closed down the Counterfeit/Replica section, it has become much harder to find coins for my teaching set. Ebay was also a good way to track improvements to the quality of modern fakes being offered.

I am constantly looking for new sources of counterfeits, donations and purchases at the shows I attend. The following micrographs show a recent purchase that has me stumped. It is an altered 1993 Kennedy half dollar. The former owner thought it was a genuine coin with a rotated reverse. A dealer at the show informed him that it was a “Cup & Saucer” alteration made by hollowing out ½ of a genuine coin with a lathe and then inserting a trimmed down coin of the same type into the recess. Figure 2 shows the copper colored “cup” section with circular lathe marks and the “saucer insert” laying across the top. These pieces are used as magicians’ coins, two-sided “win-the-coin-flip” pieces, or even “Mules” when two different type coins are used. Some of these coins contain a photo or were used to smuggle things. When I separated both parts of the coin for this column, I was shocked to find a Mexican peso (Fig. 3) attached to the underside of the “saucer” part of the alteration with the Kennedy reverse. I can understand removing the center of a 40 percent or 90 percent silver Kennedy half and replacing it with a copper core, but what was the purpose of this alteration to a clad specimen? The “saucer” insert is beveled so the only way it fits is with the peso side hidden. Any ideas?

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On May 10, 2013 Dr K.A. Rodgers said
I have been collecting fake British Trade Dollars for well over two decades. There are some fabulous contemporary examples out there. In one the reverse has been shaved off from inside the rim, the silver hollowed out to leave a thin cup, muck metal poured inside and then the shaved reverse replaced. Chops have been added to conceal the fraud.

Contemporary fakes are a different kettle of fish to modern fakes and have a long and venerable collecting history.

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