Counterfeit Detection: 1882 Three Dollar Gold Piece

Posted by Max Spiegel, Numismatic Researcher on 11/20/2012

On the Omega three dollar coins, the counterfeiter’s signature can be seen within the loop of the R in LIBERTY.

Three dollar gold pieces are often overlooked by collectors despite having an unusual denomination and a plethora of low mintage issues. Minted from 1854 to 1889, three dollar gold pieces were unpopular and seldom circulated; by the denomination’s final decade, mintages ranged from a low of merely 500 pieces to a high of just 6,000 coins. According to the NGC Census most examples that we have graded are in About Uncirculated to low Mint State grades, further evidence that these coins saw little use at the time.

In most other United States series, coins with mintages as low as three dollar gold pieces would sell for huge sums. Nonetheless, while the prices for many circulated three dollar gold pieces are fairly modest, they quickly escalate, particularly at the mid-to-high Mint State level. Counterfeits are not especially common, but there are some well made fakes out there.

Several months ago NGC received this counterfeit 1882 three dollar. A mere 1,500 examples were struck in 1882, and the NGC US Coin Price Guide reports a value of $3,910 in AU 58—the most common grade.

Counterfeit 1882 Three Dollar Gold
Click images to enlarge.

There are a couple of problems with this coin that become apparent at first glance. First, Liberty’s hair, headdress, and the motto LIBERTY are weaker than normal and blend into the surrounding area. Second, a portion of the right obverse field has been manipulated. The areas immediately to the right of Liberty’s hair and between the CA in AMERICA are unnatural and have clearly been altered in an attempt to disguise some of the coin’s flaws.

Looking closer, a few small lumps around LIBERTY and a few other obverse letters become apparent. Many three dollar gold pieces show pronounced die polish lines—not surprising given their low mintages—but this piece has none.

This is the so-called Omega fake three dollar, named for the Greek letter Ω (omega) that the counterfeiter used to mark his handiwork. The Omega counterfeiter is best known for the high quality 1907 High Relief $20 fakes, but several other series were targeted including the 1882 three dollar.

On the Omega three dollar coins, the counterfeit’s Ω signature can be seen within the loop of the R in LIBERTY. While this piece has been altered to the point where the Ω is very faint, on other counterfeits it can be quite prominent. A few other forgeries were made by the Omega counterfeiter, and all can be linked by the presence of this Greek letter. The Omega High Relief twenties are far more deceptive, but this is still an above average counterfeit.

Click images to enlarge.