Examining an Added Mintmark

Posted by Skip Fazzari, Authentication Consultant to NGC, on 2/15/2008

Although counterfeiting techniques keep improving, mintmarks are still added to coins using the same two methods. Skip Fazzari describes how to spot these fakes.

When many things get old, they are discarded and new things, perhaps better made, take their place. Not so with old counterfeit and altered coins. Although some fakes are taken off the market each year and are either put into reference collections or destroyed, others remain to plague another generation and are passed on to one unsuspecting collector after another.

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Most will agree that coin alterations consist of the addition or removal of parts of a coin’s design. Interestingly, although techniques of fakery have improved over the years, a majority of the coins with added mintmarks are still made by two methods. For the most common type of alteration, a numeral or letter is applied directly to the surface of the host coin. The micrograph taken at 20x shows an example of a coin altered in this way. In this case, a “D” mintmark has been placed on the reverse of a genuine 1916 Mercury dime to produce a coveted 1916-D coin. Most coins with altered date numerals or mintmarks can be detected by locating the seam where the added part (a “D” in this example) and the field come together; however, dirt and toning may obscure the seam. On many recently seen alterations such as this one, a seam may not be present or at the least be extremely difficult to detect without a microscope. Some fakers have become very sophisticated at their art and cover their tracks well. Excellent alterations are found where the side of the added letter or numeral has been blended into the field in an attempt to hide any evidence of the seam. You may also see a discoloration around an added mintmark where the surface of the field has been tooled.

On this coin, the center of the “D” is nearly perfect in shape, but the rest of the letter has a slightly different shape than that of a genuine “D” mintmark. Additionally, at 20x, there is evidence of tooling at the right and on the top of the “D.” Discoloration or tooling around an alteration or a misshapen letter or numeral should raise suspicion of an alteration; but this is not always the case. Be cautious when examining a coin for alterations because some genuine coins with damage to their date or mintmark may look suspect.

Altered 1916-D dimes are very common. They are encountered in all grades from Gem Uncirculated to Good. Alterations to coins grading lower than Good are rare. Usually, the dimes seen grading Good down to Poor that are not genuine 1916-D are actually worn 1916-S coins. The eyes of a collector are such that any coin having a trace of raised metal near the correct position becomes the “wished for D” to fill his album hole. It is best to have key date coins such as this authenticated at one of the top grading services. That way, you’ll avoid the shock years from now if you learn that you have one of these fakes in your collection.

This article previously featured in Numismatic News.