Counterfeit Detection: 1908-S Indian Head Cent

Posted by Max Spiegel, Numismatic Researcher on 1/15/2013

The grading room was recently presented with a 1908-S Indian Head Cent for certification.

The 1908-S cent had the third-lowest mintage in the Indian Head cent series with 1,115,000 pieces struck. The first of only two San Francisco Mint Indian Head cents, the 1908-S can trade for more than $100 in average circulated grades according to the NGC US Coin Price Guide. This creates an opportunity for a counterfeiter, and although fake 1908-S Indian Head cents are less common than their 1877 and 1909-S counterparts, they are seen occasionally.

Counterfeit 1908-S Indian Head Cent
Click images to enlarge.

One such fake was recently identified by NGC graders. This 1908-S has several issues that become apparent at first glance. Perhaps most obviously, the appearance of the digits in the date does not match the letters in UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. While the letters are boldly defined as typically seen on Indian Head cents, the date is weak and misshapen. A closer inspection reveals flaws in a few letters, such as the spur below the U in UNITED. Other letters are blurred or indistinct.

There are several lumps in the obverse field, particularly above and to the right of the headdress. The reverse also has several raised lines near the denticles. These raised areas are common features of counterfeits and are virtually never seen on genuine specimens.

The obverse of this counterfeit is significantly worse than the reverse and possesses many diagnostics to help identify it. The counterfeiter has probably used the same reverse design to produce 1909-S Indian Head cents, and there may be other dates that possess similar features. While these fakes can often be easily detected, it is important to always look closely at the coin, particularly the better dates.

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