Counterfeit Detection: Altered Cameo 1960 Franklin Half Dollar

Posted by Max Spiegel, NGC on 5/16/2014

A white "frost" was applied to this Franklin Half Dollar to give its elements a cameo appearance.

There are a number of ways that nefarious individuals alter coins in an attempt to trick unsuspecting buyers into thinking that the coin is better than it really is. These tactics often involve adding a mintmark to or altering the date of a common coin so that it appears to be a rare issue. They also include a variety of methods used to make the coin appear to be a higher grade.

Among the most common of these methods are polishing, improper cleaning, and whizzing—the process of using a fast-rotating wire brush to manipulate a circulated coin into appearing Mint State. Details are occasionally re-engraved; for example, there are sometimes attempts to use a tool to sharpen the stars on 19th century US coins or the head of a Standing Liberty quarter.

A far less common tactic, but perhaps more deceptive because it is seldom seen, is to apply white “frost” to a coin’s design elements to give it a Cameo or Ultra Cameo appearance. In many series, Cameo or Ultra Cameo coins are highly elusive and sell for a significant premium.

NGC graders identified an artificial Cameo effect on this 1960 Franklin Half Dollar. Looking closely, the white “frost” extends beyond the design elements and into the fields. This is particularly evident around the entire Liberty Bell, to the left of the U in UNITED, and by the R in LIBERTY. When this effect is created artificially it is virtually impossible to mimic the exactness of a Cameo appearance that naturally occurs from the minting process.

Altered Cameo 1960 Franklin Half
Click images to enlarge.

A 1960 Half Dollar in NGC PF 67 is worth $55 according to the NGC US Coin Price Guide, while a 1960 Half Dollar in NGC PF 67 Cameo is worth $175. In PF 67 Ultra Cameo, the value increases significantly to $650. With this potential upside, a disreputable person may attempt to artificially enhance the cameo appearance.

Familiarity with the different methods used to deceptively alter a coin is the best defense. By studying altered pieces and comparing them to their genuine counterparts, it becomes much easier to spot a coin that looks unnatural.

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