Counterfeit Detection: 1804 Draped Bust Dollar

Posted on 1/1/2020

A forger attempted to replicate the "King of American Coins."

By Numismatic Guaranty Corporation

The 1804 Draped Bust dollar is often called the “King of American Coins.” Only 15 examples are known: 8 originals (Class I), 6 restrikes (Class III) and 1 restrike without edge lettering (Class II). Even the lowest-graded specimens (Class III) are worth a fortune, as evidenced by a specimen graded About Uncirculated-55 by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) that sold for $1,880,000 in 2014. Of course, with such a large amount of money to be made, some enterprising counterfeiters will alter genuine dollars to pass them off as extreme rarities. That is the case with the example shown here.

An altered Draped Bust dollar compared to a genuine one.
Click images to enlarge.

While this coin appears to be a genuine 1804 example, it is, in fact, an altered 1802 dollar. All known 1804s have well-established provenance, with some dating back to the mid-1800s. The NGC grading team is extremely skeptical of any supposed 1804 dollar. When compared to a genuine specimen, it’s clear this piece looks nothing like it should.

Firstly, all 1804 dollars were struck in proof and show evidence of that special handling, including reflective fields and exceptional strike. Additionally, these coins have been coveted nearly since the moment they were struck, so it is highly unlikely one would wear to the level shown on this piece.

Taking a closer look at the date also reveals some major issues. Note how the surface texture appears uniform around the first three digits, yet is smoothed out and has a different color around the 4. This is evidence that the counterfeiter haphazardly altered the last digit in the date. He left many toolmarks and an area of discoloration around the 4 that immediately identify this dollar as a fake.

The smoothed surface and discoloration around the 4 of 1804 make it clear that this dollar is altered.
Research indicates that the coin is a common 1802 variety.
Click images to enlarge.

The NGC research team was able to positively identify the variety of the altered coin as a more common 1802 BB-241 (a reference to The United States Early Silver Dollars from 1794 to 1803, written by M.H. Bolender in 1988 and updated by Q. David Bowers and Mark Borckardt in 1993). Whereas a genuine 1802 of this variety would be worth perhaps $2,000, a Class III 1804 in this same level of preservation likely would fetch seven figures! Considering the submitter valued the coin at $300, he likely assumed it was altered but wanted to be sure.

Whether it is an ultra-rarity like an 1804 dollar or something a little more common, any coin in a genuine NGC holder is guaranteed to be authentic.

Reproduced with permission from the August 2019 edition of The Numismatist, official publication of the American Numismatic Association.

Did you know? NGC has created a comprehensive Counterfeit Detection resource to help collectors and dealers identify counterfeit and altered coins. Visit

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