Authenticating Varieties Without a Reference

Posted by Skip Fazzari, Authentication Consultant to NGC, on 6/20/2008

The Information Age allows collectors and dealers to identify rare varieties like never before. But when no reference material exists for a variety, it can make authentication a real headache, as Skip Fazzari demonstrates.

There are many interesting coin varieties that can bring a premium to the lucky collector who finds them. Many of these can be purchased from your local coin dealer, who may not have the time to look for them. Years ago, it was difficult to learn about some of the scarcer varieties, and nearly impossible to see one, in order to know what to look for — unless you were a member of one of the specialty clubs, such as CONECA or the Liberty Seated Collectors Club. Without the help of micrographs, the task of authentication was both interesting and challenging.

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Can you imagine how difficult it was to authenticate a Canadian 1926 Far 6 nickel for the first time without a genuine comparison specimen or an illustration in a book? I remember my first reaction to one of these coins was, “far from what?” Today, collectors have much more information at their disposal, as more information is gathered into reference books.

Another popular variety that gave us trouble at first was the 1964 Accented Hair Kennedy half dollar. I can remember puzzling over this variety when a dealer sent his coin in to be authenticated. The case was made more complicated than it should have been because his coin was not what he thought it was. In actuality, it was an Uncirculated 1964 Kennedy half with Normal Hair! When we borrowed a number of BU Kennedy halves to use as comparison coins, we couldn’t see any major difference in the hair. Who could know at the time that we were trying to find differences in the hair of virtually identical coins made from the same hub! Such are the trials of authentication if you do not know what the genuine coin should look like.

After Breen’s Encyclopedia of US and Colonial Coin was published, this variety was illustrated and we learned that the Accented Hair die variety was only found on 1964 Kennedy Proofs. Breen’s work may be out of print now but I recommend it for every numismatic library. Once we learned what to look for, the Accented Hair coin became an easy variety to identify. The micrograph shows an Accented Hair coin. Look for the “frosty W” shaped pattern of incuse lines in the hair above the ear to identify this variety. These coins can be found unattributed in 1964 Proof sets.

Breen writes that the Accented Hair variety is only found on some 1964 Proof Kennedy halves. The most desirable Proofs are called Cameos. They have mirror fields and frosty devices. Incidentally, I hope that one of those worn-out Proof dies was also used to make business strikes. If it exists, a Brilliant Uncirculated Accented Hair Kennedy half would make a nice addition to any collection.

This article previously featured in Numismatic News.