Counterfeit Detection: 1914-S Lincoln Cent

Posted by Max Spiegel, NGC on 6/10/2014

NGC graders identified a recently submitted fake 1914-S cent as a slightly above-average copy.

The 1914-D Lincoln Cent is well known as one of the keys to the series, but its San Francisco counterpart is a scarce issue in its own right, as are all S-Mint Lincoln cents from 1909-1915. It had a mintage of only 4,137,000 pieces, which is quite low compared to the more than 75 million Philadelphia cents struck that year.

NGC has graded just over 600 examples of the 1914-S in nearly all grades from Good to MS 66. Values top $100 in AU 50, according to the NGC US Coin Price Guide, and low Mint State examples can sell for several hundred dollars.

Counterfeiters are targeting virtually all dates of vintage (pre-1965) US coins and the 1914-S is no exception. NGC graders identified a fake 1914-S cent in a recent submission that is a slightly above-average copy.

Left: Genuine 1909-S VDB; Right: Counterfeit 1914-S
The mintmark on a genuine 1914-S should be the same size and shape as the mintmark on a 1909-S VDB
Click images to enlarge.

Perhaps the most important issue with this piece is the shape of the “S” mintmark. A genuine 1914-S should have a compact mintmark with large, square serifs—the same mintmark style used on the 1909-S VDB. On this forgery, however, the mintmark is incorrectly shaped.

Counterfeit 1914-S Lincoln Cent
Click images to enlarge.

The obverse details are relatively sharp on this counterfeit although the reverse, particularly at the wheat ears and the UNI of UNITED, is quite a bit softer. A closer inspection under a loupe, however, reveals several raised dots and lines that are diagnostic of many fakes. For example, there are two tiny raised spurs at the rim to the left of the upright of the L in LIBERTY. Less prominent raised lines can be seen elsewhere around the rim on both the obverse and the reverse. Minuscule raised dots can also be found throughout the design elements.

The fields of this counterfeit have an altered appearance with a swirling pattern throughout, especially on the reverse by the T in CENT and between the right wheat ear and the rim. Although this may appear to be cleaning at first glance, it was actually imparted by the imitation dies and is almost certainly a result of the counterfeiter’s attempts to disguise the raised lines and lumps.

This type of counterfeit is deceptive for a couple of reasons. First, the 1914-S is a date that, until recently, is not typically faked and therefore many collectors may not be suspicious of uncertified examples. Second, the quality of this spurious piece is better than usual and identifying it requires greater attention to detail. It is important to study every potential acquisition, even coins that aren’t the “key dates,” and if there is any doubt you should consult the services of a reputable third-party coin grading company.

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