Collector’s Edge

Posted on 11/12/2019

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Q: A neighbor asked me to appraise his late father's coin collection. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about most US coins, but I'm not an expert. There are several 1955 doubled-die cents, and I'm trying to figure out which ones to send for certification. A few look fake, and I don't want to waste money just to confirm that. Is there a book that can guide me?

A: In the 1980s the ANA published a two-volume set of reprints from The Numismatist that included the various articles about counterfeit coins that had appeared starting in 1977. These books are available on loan to members from the Dwight N. Manley Library, but there's a much faster way to get the same information online. The ANA now offers a searchable database of every article published in The Numismatist since the very first issue. This resource is available to all members by creating a username and password.

To show just much information is at hand, I did a simple search on the words "1955 counterfeit," and several pages of listings appeared. The first hit was a May 1981 article titled "Die Characteristics of Some Counterfeit 1955 Doubled Die Cents." This included descriptions and photos of no fewer than five different counterfeits of the popular variety as well as a photo of a genuine piece illustrating the die polishing lines adjacent to the letter T in CENT that have long been used by authenticators. The next entry was a follow-up piece from July of that year describing and illustrating three more counterfeits of the famous doubled-die cent. While most of these coins are rather crude by current standards, I'm saying that as a professional authenticator. What's obvious to me may not be to most collectors, and these online articles are thus very important as the first step in authentication. For a coin as valuable as the 1955 DDO cent, certification and encapsulation is almost mandatory, but these articles serve the reader's goal of weeding out the less deceptive fakes. One of the best articles you'll find on counterfeit and altered 1955 DDO cents is on the NGC website.

Genuine 1955 Doubled Die Obverse Lincoln Cent
Click images to enlarge.

Photos of a genuine example of this popular variety are included with this article for reference.

Let's try another example: Typing "1916-D counterfeit" into the website's search window resulted in several pages worth of articles that featured counterfeit or altered 1916-D dimes. By far the most important of these is from January 1982 and is titled "Die Study of 1916-D Dimes." The best way to distinguish a potential fake or alteration is by knowing exactly how the genuine coins look, and this article includes descriptions and photos of the four known reverse dies for this issue. By studying the style and position of the mintmark on each of these dies, a collector can spot most altered pieces.

Genuine 1916-D Dime
Click images to enlarge.

Until recently, with the flood of Chinese-made counterfeits, the 1916-D dime was rarely seen as an outright fake. A rare exception is this spurious example documented by NGC.

In most cases, the menace consists of alterations to otherwise genuine coins. Adding a D mintmark to a common 1916(P) dime was the trick most often played, and this usually could be detected by the mintmark being the wrong style. Genuine 1916-D dimes have a mintmark unique to that year and a portion of the 1917-D issue, while all later pieces had visually different D mintmarks. Most alterations didn't allow for this fact. The excellent photos found in The Numismatist clearly reveal the characteristics of genuine pieces. A close-up photo of the mintmark shared by 1916-D and some 1917-D dimes is included here. Note that the inside of the letter D is somewhat triangular.

Close-up of 1917-D Dime
Click image to enlarge.

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