Counterfeit Detection: 1881-S Morgan Dollar

Raised areas and the incorrrect shape of the mintmark identify this 1881-S Morgan as a counterfeit.

The 1881-S Morgan dollar is not a coin that you would expect to see faked. It is easily the most common date in the Morgan dollar series, and NGC has graded nearly 212,000 examples—higher than any other issue. In MS 64, the most frequently encountered grade, an 1881-S sells for $85.20 according to the NGC US Coin Price Guide. Nonetheless, an NGC grader spotted a counterfeit 1881-S dollar in a submission several weeks ago.

Counterfeit 1881-S Morgan Dollar
Click images to enlarge.

This fake is not a particularly deceptive one, but the danger is that a common date such as the 1881-S can be easily overlooked, especially when grouped with legitimate examples. The coin’s most obvious faults are in the fields. There are a number of raised horizontal lines in the periphery that give it a rough appearance. Looking closely, raised lumps can be seen near many of the letters. Some of the most prominent are below Liberty’s chin, near the date, below the O in GOD, between the O and F of OF, and to the right of the R in DOLLAR. Raised areas like these are never seen on genuine pieces.

This counterfeit was undoubtedly made from an improper alloy, which caused the surfaces to have numerous flaws. Other diagnostics that help identify this fake include the softness of the design elements and the incorrect shape of the ‘S’ mintmark. Most collectors could probably tell this coin was fake with ease, but there are many people who wouldn’t have given an 1881-S a second thought.

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