There aren’t a lot of counterfeit American rare coins around, but detecting counterfeit coins has become everyone’s business.
The US Mint is meticulous in its craftsmanship and proud of the inherent quality of its product. The Mint treats its dies to give them characteristics that are nearly impossible to reproduce by a counterfeiter. This characteristic is called mint luster. Counterfeit coins almost always lack luster. That’s where the expression lackluster came from.
1. Altering a coin with the intent to deceive is considered to be counterfeit even though the coin itself is real. There are certain popular American coins to alter in order to make them more valuable. Adding or removing mint marks or date changes are the most common alterations.
Some frequently seen altered counterfeits are: 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent, 1916-D Mercury dime, 1893-S Morgan dollar, 1955 Doubled-Die Lincoln cent, 1907 St.Gaudens Double Eagle, 1804 Bust dollar, and 1856 Flying Eagle cent. If you own any of these US rare coins check closely for alterations.
2. Often though not always, counterfeit coins have soft, undefined features. They look similar to worn coins. In fact, worn versions of valuable rare coins are among the more popular counterfeits. I have a coin copy that I know isn’t real and to look at it, I can’t easily tell the difference from a real one. There is however a perceptible difference in its weight. Fakes will usually weigh significantly lighter than the real version.
3. I would be remiss, if I didn’t tell you about another infallible test. That’s the magnet test. Take a strong magnet and hover it near the coin. If the coin sticks it’s absolutely a fake. Most counterfeiters are too smart to make their products so easily detectable, so you’ll rarely find a magnetic American silver coin copy. But if you do, there won’t be any question about it.
4. Counterfeits rarely pass the “ring” test. A mint struck coin will “ring” when tapped or dropped. If you support a coin in its center with your index finger, and tap it lightly near the edge with a plastic pen or other hard object, it will produce a high pitched, sustained “tinggg”. This works wonderfully for large coins such as Morgan silver dollars. It isn’t useful at all, smaller for coins such as dimes.
This is the safest way to conduct the ring test on good coins that you don’t want to chance denting or nicking. A low pitch “tink” immediately alerts me that all is not well with my new rare US coin acquisition.
The “ring” test is probably the single most useful test when detecting counterfeit coins, but no single test is conclusive.
If an old American coin looks suspicious on the initial evaluation, there are more thorough visual inspections you can perform on it, as well as tests you can perform which will either positively acquit the suspect or convict it. Those tests are covered in other articles.
Learn all you can about your rare US coins, gold coins or silver dollars and you will be less likely to accept a counterfeit.
Go through your rare American coin collection with knowledge gained from all these articles on detecting counterfeit coins, and see if you can find any. I hope you don’t.
If you are interested in learning more about rare American coin, or foreign coin collecting and investing see NumisMaster from Krause Publications.