Counterfeit Detection: The Top 10 Most Common Counterfeit US Coins

Posted on 1/12/2016

A list of the counterfeit US coins most often seen by NGC.

NGC has graded more than 33 million coins since it was founded in 1987. Although most of the coins it receives are genuine, NGC has identified hundreds of thousands of coins that are not genuine—counterfeits, altered dates, added mintmarks and other types of fakes.

Not surprisingly, some coins are counterfeited more often than others. This list reveals the top 10 most counterfeited US coins according to submissions received by NGC.

#10 – 1925-D Quarter Eagle

Indian Head Quarter and Half Eagles were faked in substantial numbers decades ago and many of these forgeries continue to appear in the marketplace. All dates and mintmark combinations are seen regularly, including relatively common dates like the 1925-D Quarter Eagle.

A Counterfeit 1912 Quarter Eagle. Click images to enlarge.

#9 – 1912 Quarter Eagle

Another Indian Head Quarter Eagle, the 1912 had a larger mintage than its 1925-D counterpart but it is actually rarer in high grades. In MS 63 for example, collectors can expect to pay $1,750 according to the NGC US Coin Price Guide.

#8 – 1911 Quarter Eagle

Interestingly, although the 1911-D Quarter Eagle is the key date in the series, its no mintmark Philadelphia counterpart is more often faked, at least based on submissions to NGC. This could be the case because the Philadelphia 1911 has the largest mintage in the series and therefore the spurious coins blend in more easily, or perhaps because collectors and dealers are far more cautious when looking at an example of the extremely rare 1911-D.

Learn more:
Counterfeit 1911-D Quarter Eagle
Chased Mintmark 1911-D Quarter Eagle

#7 – 1922 No D Lincoln Cent

The 1922 No D Lincoln Cent is one of several well-known key dates in the Lincoln Cent series. Most of the fakes seen by NGC are altered mintmarks—the 1922-D is quite common so counterfeiters will often use a tool to efface the mintmark. These are generally easy to detect.

Learn more:
Counterfeit 1922 No D Lincoln Cent

Left: A Genuine "S" Mintmark. Right: An Added "S" Mintmark on a 1909-S Indian Head Cent. Click images to enlarge.

#6 – 1909-S Indian Head Cent

Struck during the final year of the Indian Head Cent series—and the first year of the Lincoln Head Cent series—the 1909-S had a mintage of just 309,000 coins, the lowest of all Indian Head Cents. Even low grade examples sell for hundreds of dollars.

The Philadelphia 1909, however, had a mintage of more than 14 million coins and values are significantly lower by comparison. As a result, some nefarious individuals have added “S” mintmarks to these pieces in attempt to pass them off as genuine 1909-S Indian Head Cents. Struck counterfeits are seen only occasionally.

#5 – 1882 Three Dollar

The 1882 Three Dollar is a rare date with a mintage of only 1,500 coins, but it is not notably rarer than any other late date Three Dollar. Why then is this counterfeit seen so frequently by NGC?

A particular counterfeiter, known as the “Omega Counterfeiter” for the Ω symbol hidden on the fakes as a signature, targeted this coin. Significant quantities were produced and these forgeries often surface when older collections are sold. While these fakes are high quality, they are easily detected if you know what to look for.

Learn more:
Counterfeit 1882 Three Dollar Gold

#4 – 1914-D Lincoln Cent

Although not quite as rare or as famous as the 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent, the 1914-D Lincoln Cent is still very scarce and desirable. Its mintage of just under 1.2 million specimens is low for a one cent coin.

The 1914-D was overlooked when it was issued and, therefore, high grade examples are difficult to locate. In fact, Mint State 1914-D cents are rarer and more valuable than 1909-S VDB cents.

Most of the counterfeit 1914-D Lincoln Cents that NGC sees are complete forgeries although we do encounter some added mintmark examples and an occasional altered date.

#3 – 1914 Quarter Eagle

With the second-lowest mintage in the series (240,000 coins), the 1914 sells at a premium to every other Indian Head Quarter Eagle save for the key date 1911-D. Mint State examples are particularly scarce with Gems (MS 65) selling for more than $20,000.

The incuse design of Indian Head Quarter and Half Eagles makes them more challenging to authenticate and many coin dealers rely on NGC to definitively determine whether an example is authentic or not. The 1914 Quarter Eagle may be the date that is most commonly seen faked, but counterfeits of all dates in these series are routinely seen by NGC.

#2 – 1916-D Mercury Dime

The 1916-D Mercury Dime is a legendary key date with a minuscule mintage of just 264,000 coins. Struck during the first year of this popular series, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, the 1916-D has long been in high demand among collectors.

According to the NGC US Coin Price Guide, collectors should expect to pay close to $1,000 even for the lowest graded specimens. Prices quickly escalate in better grades and can top $10,000 in AU 55.

These values make this coin a tempting target for counterfeiters. Many added mintmark examples are seen since the Philadelphia 1916 has such a high mintage in comparison. Outright counterfeits also exist and NGC has even seen some deceptive pieces that are created by cutting a genuine Philadelphia 1916 through the edge and joining the top half with a side taken from a D-mintmark issue.

Learn more:
Die Struck Counterfeit 1916-D Mercury Dime
Examining an Added Mintmark
How Big is the Counterfeiting Problem?

The World's Most Commonly Counterfeited Coin: The 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent. Click images to enlarge.

#1 – 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent

No surprise here. The most famous US key date is also the US coin that is most commonly faked. Even people outside of the hobby have heard of the 1909-S VDB and anyone who has ever collected Lincoln Cents has had this coin on their want list.

Only 484,000 examples were struck before it was decided to remove Victor David Brenner’s initials from the reverse. Although many were saved by people interested in the new Lincoln Cent design, collector demand exceeds the supply. Mid-range circulated examples can easily fetch $1,000 or more.

NGC regularly sees added mintmark 1909-S VDB cents as well as outright counterfeits and even the occasional added VDB example.

Interested in reading more articles on Counterfeit Detection? Click here. And be sure to read NGC's monthly column in the ANA's The Numismatist.

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