No Such Thing as a “Junk” Coin

Posted on 6/1/2007

Skip Fazzari discusses how to closely examine a coin, and the rewards that come from doing so.

Skip Fazzari, NCS Authenticator and Senior Conservator

Learn Something from Every Coin You Examine

While professional graders and coin dealers tend to look at coins for their overall eye appeal and attractiveness, many others take a different approach. I have always examined coins closely for their details and flaws. This approach was put to good use when I began to authenticate coins as a profession. I taught myself to be “detail-oriented” and believe anyone can be self-taught to do this in much less time than it takes to learn the nuances of eye appeal.

As soon as you put this column down, get a hand lens out and examine some of your coins. There is no such thing as a “junk” coin or “common pocket change.” Treat every coin as if you are trying to authenticate it. You will learn something from every coin you examine because most of the characteristics you will see can also be found on the “best” coins in your collection. Over time, depending on the number of coins you examine, you will really learn what genuine coins should look like. If you are able to do this exercise using a stereo microscope, as is done in the ANA Authentication course, you will become more attuned to a coin’s details than most collectors. An added benefit to this type of training is the ability to identify many of the characteristics you will see on coins later when you only have access to a hand lens. The glossary in the Official ANA Grading Guide to United States coins will be helpful to identify any of the terms I use here to describe a coin.

As you look at a coin, break it down into its component parts so that you can fully focus on what you see. Is the shape of the coin correct? Is its lettering and design artful and uniform? Is its color as expected? The experience you gain will play an important role in the future. A golden color square Lincoln cent would raise some eyebrows here in the United States, yet many people from a foreign country would have no idea that the coin was unusual in any way. Many of us may be in the same predicament when it comes to viewing foreign or ancient coins. In coin authentication, there are exceptions to almost every rule. That is one reason why it’s so important to know what a genuine coin should look like. This “look” may change from country to country and for different time periods or coin type. In future columns, we’ll examine some of the detailed characteristics you can expect to find on the coins you examine.

Now let’s take a more detailed look at the coin you have chosen. Examine its fields. Are they smooth? Do you find any evidence of metal flow at the edges of the letters, denticals, and relief of the coin? Do the fields appear rough, granular, or crystalline? Are there any depressions, craters, or microscopic holes in the surface? Do you see any odd shape lumps either in the field or next to the relief areas? Can you find any lines from polishing the die or planchet?

coin edge
A magnified close up of the rim of an authentic Proof $10 Liberty shows concentric rings.

click image to enlarge

Don’t forget to examine the coin’s rim and edge. Is there a raised seam or any lumps of metal around the edge? Has the edge been filed? Is the edge smooth, lettered, or reeded? Are the edge letters uniform? Is the edge reeding uniform? So you see, the list of details you can find on coins goes on and on. These detailed characteristics can then be used to make a case for a coin’s authenticity.

Incidentally, just this week while looking for doubled edge lettering on the new dollars, I found several coins with a major difference INSIDE the letter punches. Some coins have slightly raised rounded letters (at the base) within the punch. At the moment, more study is needed to see if these coins will raise any interest, but the point I wish to make here is that I discovered something I was not even looking for by making a close examination of a common coin in circulation.

This article previously featured in Numismatic News.

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