Counterfeit Detection: 1880 Shield Nickel

Posted by Max Spiegel, Numismatic Researcher on 10/16/2012

Even with only a quick glance, a number of problems with this counterfeit Shield Nickel are obvious.

The first nickel five cent pieces were struck in 1866 and there have been relatively few key dates issued in the nearly 150 years since. Several varieties are often collected as part of the regular series, but other than these and a handful of low mintage issues, most nickels can be acquired in circulated grades for modest prices. It is not surprising, then, that counterfeit nickels are seen only rarely.

That will likely change, however, as more counterfeits of Chinese origin enter the United States. In a recent submission, NGC graders identified a fake circulation issue 1880 Shield Nickel that was almost certainly produced in China in recent years. According to the NGC US Coin Price Guide, the retail value for an authentic specimen values ranges from $540 in Good to $90,350 in MS 66. The 1880 is undoubtedly the key date in the series with a scant mintage of just 16,000 business strikes.

A number of problems with this counterfeit become obvious even at a quick glance. The design elements are weakly defined with a very granular texture. The leaves to the left of the shield blend into the fields. The date is misshapen, and the circular design element above is broken at the bottom. Several parallel raised lines, a common problem with many counterfeits, protrude from the date and the right obverse denticles.

Counterfeit 1880 Shield Nickel
Click images to enlarge.

Weak design definition is also seen on the reverse. Another fatal flaw is the botched rim around much of the reverse. Many of the recently made Chinese counterfeits seem to have either a raised “lip” or tooling marks on the rim. Although this is not a surefire way to tell the coin is counterfeit, for many series it is a red flag.

There is an incredible range of Chinese counterfeits in the marketplace; virtually every type of coin is targeted and the quality of the fakes varies dramatically. This nickel happens to be a poorly made counterfeit, but in a series where forgeries have been seldom seen it can be deceptive. Nonetheless, it shares many of the same issues seen on other Chinese-made imitations, and serves as a useful reference piece.