Counterfeit Detection: Altered Date 1815 Half Dollar

Posted on 8/4/2016

The altered date on this half dollar imitates a true numismatic rarity.

In the early part of the 19th century, the fledgling United States was in a crisis. US merchant ships were being blocked from conducting trade with mainland Europe by the British Royal Navy, leading to serious economic woes for the former colonies. This eventually led to Congress declaring war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Unfortunately this only seemed to make economic matters worse as it promoted paper currency to fall into disuse and bullion hoarding to become rampant.

The war finally ended on December 24, 1814 with the Treaty of Ghent, but it took a while for the economic situation in the country to return to normal. In fact, the US Mint did not have enough bullion to strike half dollars for most of the year. Once the bullion was finally acquired, Mint employees decided to reuse 1812 dies by punching a 5 over the 2 in the date. The Mint finally struck 47,150 half dollars in late 1815, all with the 1815/2 overdate.

The 1815/2 Capped Bust Half Dollar is a well-known rarity. Only one pair of dies was used to strike all of the half dollars in 1815 and an interesting story behind them adds mystique. NGC receives these rarities for authentication and grading from time-to-time, and the coin below is one recent submission.

Click image to enlarge.

A quick glance does not reveal any major issues as far as the coin’s authenticity as a whole. However, if you look closely at the date, you will notice some irregularities.

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The image above shows that the second “1” in the date is irregularly shaped and does not match the first. The base is not uniform on either side as it should be, and the top also looks too flat. The digit also appears to be wider at the top than at the base. Additionally, note the different coloration of the metal and lack of continuity in the flow lines in the metal itself. These are the result of intensive tooling that turned a coin dated 1825, which was worth maybe $100, into a forgery of a numismatic rarity that would have been worth around $4,000 if genuine.

This coin is what NGC denotes as “altered date.” A moderately skilled forger used tools to move the metal that formed a digit “2” into the approximate shape of a “1.” Below is an example of the date area of a genuine 1815/2 half dollar. Note the circled areas which are the remnants of the digit “2” underneath the “5.”

Click image to enlarge.

Lastly, capped bust half dollars are one of the most widely studied areas of numismatics with regards to the examination of die pairings. Due to the fact that the dies for these coins were all done by hand, there are always slight variations in the design. Using the most-trusted resource of the capped bust series, Early Half Dollar Die Varieties by Al C. Overton, the actual die pairing of this piece was easy to discover. The coin had been altered from a genuine 1825 Overton-113 variety, one of the most common pairings of that year. As you can see in the photos below, all of the design elements match up perfectly (aside from the altered date, of course.)

Click image to enlarge.

Interested in more Counterfeit Detection articles, click here.

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