Counterfeit Detection: 1900-S Half Eagle
Posted on 6/14/2016
When we think of counterfeiting in the coin market today, we imagine deceitful people attempting to pass off a fake as genuine to a dealer or collector based on its numismatic value. This wasn’t always the case, however. In the Middle East, in the 1970s, merchants often favored gold coins simply as a store of value. They preferred pre-1933 US gold coinage to any other type, which gave rise to a premium for such coins in the marketplace.
Enterprising counterfeiters found that if they bought gold bullion in other forms and then struck it into fake US gold coins, they could net a tidy profit. The buyer was often not privy to the fact (or simply didn’t mind) that the coin they bought was not actually struck by the US Mint. They were happy as long as it was of the correct weight and fineness, which these particular fakes usually are.
However, once the United States numismatic community began heating up, many of these Middle Eastern counterfeits began flooding into the marketplace. This 1900-S Half Eagle is an example of one of those counterfeits that made its way from a Middle Eastern merchant to a US collection.
With a mintage of only 329,000 pieces, this particular date has more numismatic value than most of the Middle Eastern counterfeits. The coin has decent luster, and has the right color as well due to the use of the correct gold fineness by the counterfeiter. However, the hair is struck much softer than it should be and there is a lack of fine details in the deepest part of the devices as well. This loss of detail was likely a product of the die-transfer counterfeit process. Additionally, details are missing on the tops of many of the stars, especially the ones on the left side of the coin which all look rather mushy.
Two parallel scratches can also be seen coming out of the ear. These are scratches left by the counterfeiters on the die and would not normally be seen on a genuine example. However, they will be on every example of this particular fake, which is good die-marker to remember.
Tool marks can also be seen emerging from under the denticles at 12 o’ clock on the obverse. These marks are a by-product of the counterfeiter attempting to remove a defect from the die. They can sometimes be seen on genuine examples, but you should definitely be wary of a coin that has them as they are more often seen on fakes, especially US gold. As for the reverse of this coin, it has fewer flaws than the obverse, but some tool marks can still be seen above “R” in “AMERICA.” Additionally, the entire reverse is not struck as well as a genuine piece should be, which has resulted in a rounded look to the letters and devices.
Pre-1933 US gold can be a very interesting and rewarding field of numismatics to collect and study. However, as old collections come up for sale, more of these older fakes will likely be entering the marketplace. Therefore one must be very careful when buying pre-1933 gold. In addition to knowing what to look for on fakes, you should also look at as many genuine pieces as possible to familiarize yourself with the genuine “look.” As always, NGC-graded coins are guaranteed to be authentic.
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