Counterfeit Detection: 1891 Double Eagle

Posted on 12/16/2014

NGC graders identified an 1891-S Double Eagle with a removed mintmark. Because most alterations involve added, not removed, mintmarks, this coin might easily fool unsuspecting collectors.

The California Gold Rush created an immediate need for a mint to turn the recovered gold dust and nuggets into spendable coins. A number of private mints were quickly started and these struck a variety of coins termed “Territorial Gold Pieces” by collectors. In 1852, Congress authorized the establishment of a US Branch Mint in California and two years later the San Francisco Mint opened for business.

All denominations of gold coins—dollars to double eagles—were struck by the San Francisco Mint in its first year of operations. Mintages of the United States’ highest valued circulating coin, the $20 double eagle, were particularly significant at the San Francisco Mint and its production of this denomination outpaced all of the other mint locations nearly every year.

In certain years, the San Francisco Mint struck significantly greater numbers of double eagles than the other mint facilities. For example, in 1891 the San Francisco Mint struck 1,288,125 double eagles, while the Philadelphia Mint produced a mere 1,390 specimens.

This scenario presents an opportunity for a counterfeiter to remove the “S” mintmark from a genuine 1891-S Double Eagle to make it appear to be a Philadelphia 1891, which has no mintmark. This type of alteration can often be very deceptive because the coin was originally a genuine specimen and all of its features are correct except for the mintmark.

Counterfeit 1891 Double Eagle
Click images to enlarge.

NGC graders identified an 1891-S Double Eagle with a removed mintmark in one submission. In this case, the alteration was fairly crude; a counterfeiter roughly scratched away the “S” mintmark. It is obvious that something was removed and anyone familiar with the location of the mintmark on a Liberty Head double eagle will know what was done. In fact, traces of the “S” can still be seen under magnification.

Counterfeit 1891 Double Eagle Diagnostics
Click images to enlarge.

The value difference between an 1891 and an 1891-S is significant so it is no surprise that someone would attempt to alter an 1891-S. The large size of the mintmark on a Liberty Head Double Eagle, however, makes this type of alteration much more difficult.

Most alterations involve added mintmarks, but it is important to remember that mintmarks are also sometimes removed, especially when it comes to US gold issues. While this piece is not particularly deceptive, it can fool collectors who may be unaccustomed to removed mintmark alterations.

Interested in reading more articles on Counterfeit Detection? Click here.

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