Counterfeit Detection: 1885 Mexico 8 Reales / US Trade Dollar Mule

Posted on 11/12/2019

This farfetched coin combining the designs of silver coinage from two countries is a good exercise in authentication.

NGC graders recently spotted a very interesting coin submitted for authentication and grading. The coin was submitted as a US Mint Error piece. However, it is clearly not a United States coin, because Mexico’s “Cap and Rays” design from their 8 Reales coin appears on what we will consider to be the obverse. Yet when you flip it over, the design is the reverse of a US Trade Dollar! How could this be?

Counterfeit 1885 Mexico 8 Reales/US Trade Dollar
Click images to enlarge.

Maybe the idea of the mule seemed plausible because both the US and Mexico coins feature right-facing eagles with their wings spread. But as you might imagine, a die pairing like this could never happen. In 1885, the United States Mint was not striking 8 Reales coins for Mexico, and Mexico certainly wasn’t striking Trade Dollars for the United States.

This coin is clearly a fantasy piece by some counterfeiter. Perhaps the forger saw the record price of nearly $4 million that the NGC PF 66 1885 Trade Dollar sold for in January 2019 and was inspired to attempt to make their own 1885 Trade Dollar, but didn’t have the proper obverse die with an 1885 date?

The US side of this spurious coin bears an S mintmark, but no Trade Dollars were struck in San Francisco after 1878, the last year circulation issues were struck anywhere. Starting in 1879, the only way to acquire a newly issued US Trade Dollar was through the Proofs struck in Philadelphia, obviously without the S mintmark here.

Already, we are being asked to believe that a reverse die that hadn’t been used in at least seven years was somehow paired with a newly created 1885 one from Mexico.

Furthermore, whatever the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind this unusual counterfeit mule, the coin itself is quite poorly rendered when compared to genuine examples of the same coins.

Close-ups of the obverse of this counterfeit (left) and a genuine (right) Cap and Rays 8 Reales
Click images to enlarge.

As you can see from the close-ups above, there is a large loss of detail on both the cap and the rays. “LIBERTAD” is much shallower and poorly defined on the fake. Additionally, some of the details on the rays, especially closest to the cap, fade out on the fake as they didn’t transfer well when the counterfeit die was created.

Close-ups of the reverse of this counterfeit (left) and a genuine (right) Trade Dollar
Click images to enlarge.

The reverse suffers from even greater loss of detail than the obverse. All of the feather details on the eagle are quite poorly defined on the fake. The arrow shafts are also a bit broken on the counterfeit, and there is no detail on the eagle’s foot. Additionally, note how much extra rim there is beyond the denticles around the Trade Dollar side.

As if a final nail in the coffin was needed, the counterfeit has almost no silver. It is struck in a very odd composition of 72% Copper, 13% Zinc, 8% Mercury, 6% Nickel and 1% Silver. The coin also only weighs 26.64 grams, which is a bit under the 27.22 grams expected weight for a trade dollar, and the 27.07 grams standard weight for Mexican 8 Reales.

This piece likely would not fool many serious collectors. The NGC submitter placed a low value on it on the NGC submission form, perhaps indicating they felt the coin was probably counterfeit but still wanted NGC experts to confirm that.

If you are unsure of your authentication abilities, coins encapsulated by NGC are always guaranteed to be genuine.

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