Counterfeit Detection: 1920 Pilgrim Tercentenary Commemorative

The relatively crude forgery of a 1920 Pilgrim Tercentenary Half Dollar shows extensive loss of detail throughout.

In recent years, the “Classic” Commemorative series has become increasingly popular. These coins were first issued in 1892 to celebrate the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, with nearly a million Columbian half dollars sold in that first year. The series continued for another 62 years to commemorate a total of 48 different subjects. Most of the commemorative coins issued were silver half dollars, but there was also an 1893 Isabella Quarter, a 1900 Lafayette Dollar and a handful of gold pieces, including two incredible $50 pieces.

Due to the popularity of the series and the rarity of many pieces, counterfeits exist of many issues and are seen from time-to-time by NGC. For example, NGC recently encountered a fake 1920 Pilgrim Tercentenary Half Dollar, one of the earlier issues in the Classic Commemorative series. This attractive coin features William Bradford, who governed the Plymouth Colony a total of five times. The reverse depicts the Mayflower sailing west towards the New World.

Counterfeit 1920 Pilgrim Tercentenary Half Dollar
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The relatively crude forgery examined by NGC shows extensive loss of detail throughout. The letters are poorly defined and seem to flow gently into the fields. Note the lack of detail in the hair, arm and book, as well as in the masts and side of the ship on the reverse. Additionally, the D between HALF and DOLLAR (for designer Cyrus E. Dallin, not the Denver Mint) is almost completely gone. Lastly, the surface of the coin has a very odd, unnatural look. Compare the coin above to the one below.

Genuine 1920 Pilgrim Tercentenary Half Dollar
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As you can see, the genuine example looks much better than the fake. The authentic coin has great luster and a strong strike. A close look reveals just how much more detail the genuine example has.

Close-up of Counterfeit (Left) and Genuine (Right) 1920 Pilgrim Tercentenary Half Dollars
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On the spurious coin (left), the lines on the book are essentially nonexistent. Additionally, the sharp lines of Bradford’s hat and clothing are reduced to mush through the die-transfer process. The difference is even more apparent on the reverse.

Close-up of Counterfeit (Left) and Genuine (Right) 1920 Pilgrim Tercentenary Half Dollars
Click images to enlarge.

The fake example was struck with such little pressure that some of the high points were not even struck. This is evidenced by the yellowish color on the masts. Also note how the back right corner of the ship was essentially completely lost in the transfer. Lastly, while you can see the wooden planks making up the side of the ship on the genuine example, they are missing on the fake, as are the railings of the deck.

This counterfeit was not a particularly good one, but it can still fool an unsuspecting or novice collector. When buying a coin, it is essential that you know what genuine examples are supposed to look like so that you can spot the counterfeits. In addition, it is helpful to be able to tell when weak details are the result of a soft strike instead of wear. If you have any doubt, or if you are still learning, remember that it is always safest to buy a certified coin that is guaranteed to be genuine and accurately graded.

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