World Coins: Tourist Shop Counterfeits
Posted on 7/16/2013
Around the world, many counterfeiters try to fool unsuspecting travelers by selling their fakes in tourist shops and through street vendors. In the United States, the Hobby Protection Act requires such pieces to be stamped “COPY” but this law isn’t global, and unknowing tourists and collectors buy unmarked fakes without questioning their authenticity. These pieces often make their way back to the United States, and when the owners finally learn that these coins are not genuine the losses can be significant.
The first fake is a One Escudo that would commonly be found in a tourist shop. Although similar counterfeits are marked COPY, this one is not. If authentic, this coin would have been struck at the Mexico City Mint around 1702-1713 and be worth more than $1,000. The coin, however, weighs just 3.24 grams while authentic pieces weigh 3.38 grams. More importantly, the coin is not made from gold; it is a mixture of primarily copper and lead. Genuine examples are die struck, but this coin is cast, as evidenced from the seam around the edge. The granularity of the surfaces is also a result of the casting.
This next counterfeit is a Netherlands Utrecht 1793 3 Gulden (or 60 Stuiver). An authentic piece would weigh 31.8 grams, but this coin weighs only 26.9 grams. It is also made of copper and plated with silver; authentic pieces are .920 silver. Its complete lack of detail, raised rims and pale gray color are all indications that this coin is counterfeit. This type of counterfeit is often seen in flea markets or tourist stops in Asia today.
Chinese coins are often counterfeited for sale to tourists in China. This coin, cataloged as Kann-B43, features the bust of Hung Hsien. If genuine, it would date from around 1916 and be made of silver. This counterfeit, however, is a mixture of base metals with no actual silver content. These counterfeits are quite common. On the streets of Hong Kong I have seen similar fakes offered for as high as a couple hundred dollars, but occasionally they are sold for just a few dollars.
While larger silver coins have long been a target, small size counterfeits are also being produced. This Hong Kong 1868 20 Cents is a new arrival out of Asia. It weighs 5 grams, while authentic examples weigh 5.4 grams. This counterfeit is made of copper, zinc and magnesium when it should be .800 silver. The coin features a mushy or fuzzy looking design where authentic pieces are sharp. I have encountered these pieces sold by shops and street vendors in China.
These are just a handful of the types of counterfeits frequently encountered in tourist shops abroad. Unfortunately, many unsuspecting travelers buy these coins as souvenirs. On the positive side, those who are familiar with the genuine coins can usually spot these fakes without much difficulty.