Counterfeit Detection: Split-Second Authentication

Posted on 2/8/2010

Sometimes a feature allows you to immediately and conclusively determine that a coin is fake, regardless of any of the coin's other attributes. Here is an example of a fake coin purporting to be a Mexico 1741 pillar dollar.

Occasionally an authenticator can reach a decision about a coin’s authenticity in a fraction of a second. This scenario has played out many times...a collector places a coin in the hands of a numismatist. As soon as the coin touches his hand, he says, "No good." The response from the collector is usually one of incredulity, and a stream of follow-up questions, "Don’t you need to do more tests? Metallurgic analysis? Diagnostic studies? At least weigh the thing?!"

The truth is that sometimes certain attributes of a suspect coin can immediately reveal it to be fake and no further investigation is warranted or advised. Coins of this type are not generally deceptive to numismatists, but they do get by the occasional hobbyist or even the specialized collector who doesn’t usually venture out of his core focus area. We know this because counterfeits of this type are submitted to NGC, albeit infrequently. Some of these very obvious tell-tale attributes that are seen on counterfeits include the following:

  1. Coin bears a date (or date and mintmark combination) that was not used to strike authentic coins.
  2. Coin is the wrong size.
  3. Coin has an edge type that was not used to produce authentic coins.

To illustrate coins that fall into this category, we are going to focus on an example of a coin with a wrong edge type. Shown is a die-struck 1741 pillar dollar with a reeded edge. Genuine pillar dollars have deeply incised, ornamental edges that almost always upset the rim, making them rough and irregular. This fake has a thin, flat rim and a neatly reeded edge, quite unlike genuine examples of this issue. The difference is very striking to anyone familiar with genuine pillar dollars. In an instant, the coin can be discounted as a fake.

Foreign issues are not the only coin type to be copied in this way. The same type of counterfeit exists of early US dollars. While genuine Flowing Hair and Bust Dollars have lettered edges, counterfeits with reeded edges are plentiful. Although these are very seldom submitted to NGC for authentication, they do trade on online auction sites such as eBay.

Fakes displaying these errors are far more abundant than you might realize. By familiarizing yourself with the basic features of a coin type, you can easily detect the coins that display the most obvious mistakes of a an instant.

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