Counterfeit Detection: Liberty Half Eagles

Posted on 9/13/2016

These counterfeit gold coins were found unexpectedly among a group of US coins freshly returned from Europe.

It’s well known to collectors that most Nineteenth and Twentieth Century US gold coins available to collectors today have “come back” from Europe. Laws enacted to strengthen the economy during the Great Depression made it illegal for Americans and American corporations to possess monetary gold within the continental United States. This law was in force from April 5, 1933 to December 31, 1974. As a result, during the post-War era a huge number of US gold coins were transferred to Europe to settle international accounts.

Starting in the late 1970s and continuing to this day, a great “repatriation” has occurred. Dealers have scoured European banks to find gold coins for the US market. The most interesting of these groups contain coins that have sat untouched since the 1940s. While some of these coins can appear “dirty” with dark high points, the very best of them have a rich orange patina and full mint bloom. They are among the most appealing US gold coins available in the marketplace.

NGC is fortunate to be the preferred grading service for US gold coins of this type. Relatively frequently, newly discovered mini-hoards are sent to NGC’s office in Sarasota for certification before being offered to US-based collectors for the first time in their history. It was among one such fresh group of Liberty Half Eagles that an interesting discovery was made.

Counterfeit 1907 Liberty Half Eagle
Click images to enlarge.

First, a 1907 $5 with mushy devices was found. Immediately suspicious of its authenticity, it was set aside for further study. In many cases, counterfeit US gold coins are off-color; they are the wrong orange hue. To graders, who see many dozens of these coins every day, this is an obvious tell, allowing them to identify counterfeit coins quickly and at arm’s length. This coin, however, had wonderful original color, owing to its long storage in near-ideal conditions. It was well-matched with other coins in the group.

Counterfeit 1882 Liberty Half Eagle
Click images to enlarge.

Further along in the group, an 1882 $5 was identified with similar characteristics and was similarly set aside. When both coins were examined side-by-side, an exciting discovery was made: they were struck from the same reverse die! A series of unusual lines can be seen through the TAT in STATES. Further, repeating depressions are visible on the shield at the center of reverse. These depressions were contact marks on a host coin which transferred to the die used to strike these coins. Depressions of this type are conclusive evidence that coins are counterfeit.

Red circles compare some of the repeating features identified on the reverses of these counterfeit coins. Can you find others?
Click images to enlarge.

In total, three more counterfeit coins, two dated 1907 and one more 1882, were identified among the many hundreds of genuine Liberty Half Eagles that comprised this group. Very seldom are counterfeit coins with this high-level of surface quality seen. Interestingly, these coins prove that counterfeit coins had entered streams of international commerce. They are old fakes, probably unknown by their previous owners. Were it not for the careful review required by NGC certification, these coins likely would never have been properly identify for generations more.

Interested in more Counterfeit Detection articles, click here.

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