A Challenging Time for Coin Authenticators

Posted by Skip Fazzari, Authentication Consultant to NGC, on 8/11/2008

Skip Fazzari looks at steady improvements in counterfeiting technique, and discusses why the 21st century is a challenging time for coin authenticators. Learn more about why it’s more important than ever to have your collectibles authenticated.

This century is going to be a challenging time for coin authenticators. From past experience we know that the production method used to counterfeit coins is not a static art. In fact, we can trace a slow, continuous improvement through the years. Concurrent with this evolution, every decade or so is marked by a major jump in the quality of fakes that reach the marketplace. Each major jump can be attributed to improvements in die preparation, the actual transfer process where a counterfeit die is made using a genuine coin as the model. In the 1960s, a large percentage of die struck fakes replaced cast counterfeits. In the 1970s, the quality of these fakes became extremely deceptive as even the major die polish lines seen on many genuine coins could be copied. By the 1990s, the counterfeiters were using the correct alloys in their planchets; and it was no longer necessary for them to touch up their dies leaving “tell-tail” tooling marks. The die transfer process was reaching perfection. Which brings us to the subject of this month’s column…

Fairly recently, the counterfeiters have made another huge jump in the quality of their product. A new batch of counterfeit US Trade dollars have surfaced in the numismatic market. Apparently, astute dealers became suspicious when a large number of Trade dollars in similar condition were offered at a show. I got to examine a small group of Trade dollars containing 30 of these new counterfeits, two genuine coins and half a dozen relatively crude fakes. The new fakes are extremely deceptive. I found myself looking at these coins over and over in disbelief. The amount of microscopic detail transferred to the fake dies is truly amazing. I suspect that two genuine coins were “salted” into the group along with the poorly made fakes, to draw attention away from the new counterfeits, which appear genuine until examined very closely. It’s a good bet that most collectors would buy these coins if offered at a reasonable price.

The easiest way to authenticate these coins is to match up repeating contact marks on their surfaces. That is how they were detected originally. Since every coin is unique and no two coins circulate in the same way, it is virtually impossible for two coins to receive identical impact marks and scratches. (Note: while each coin had its own unique surface defects, others were common to the fakes.) Identical defects and circulation marks can be found on most counterfeits because they are transferred from the genuine coin used to produce the fake dies. Authenticators can plot these reoccurring defects and use them as “markers” to identify the fake dies and also to establish any die links to counterfeits with other dates. Obviously, in order to match defects, you’ll need several suspect coins to compare — something a little difficult for the average collector.

All of the new fakes in this lot had a similar appearance to genuine Trade dollars that have been repaired to remove “chopmarks.” Each coin had a bright, white, freshly cleaned surface. The fakes will become more deceptive with time as their surface becomes dull and toned. Most showed signs of re-engraving on parts of their relief design and every coin was tooled in parts of their field. Although the fakes I saw pose no threat to dealers and collectors who buy only choice, original coins, other counterfeits of this quality may have been produced without the repairs and cleaning. Now more then ever, it is recommended that you have any newly purchased Trade dollars authenticated at one of the major grading services.

This article previously featured in Numismatic News.

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