Counterfeit Detection: Altered China 1981 5 Fen

Posted on 8/9/2020

This coin began its life with a different year. Then someone tried to make it look like a key date.

The 1981 5 Fen is a well-known key date. Examples can be worth hundreds of times the value of more-common 5 Fen issues. NGC graders recently saw this example, which at first glance seems to be a very high-grade 1981 5 Fen worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

China 1981 5 Fen with an Altered Date.
Click images to enlarge.

As you can see from the photos above, the coin is very attractive and appears to be high grade, likely an MS 66 if not for the light cleaning near the last 1 in the date. However, a closer look reveals something much more nefarious.

Close-up of date on “1981” 5 Fen.
Click image to enlarge.

As you can see from the photo above, the area around the second “1” looks very different than the natural surfaces on the rest of the coin. Someone’s first inclination might be that it is simply a light cleaning in one area. However, the truth is much more nefarious. In fact, this coin is not a 1981, but is a different year from the 1980s. A skilled forger has moved the metal around in order to re-form the final digit in the date and make the coin appear to be a more desirable 1981.

Close-ups of the authentic “1” (left) and altered “1” (right).
Click images to enlarge.

With just a quick glance, the two digits above might look essentially the same. However, there are some minor differences. The biggest and most noticeable is not the digit itself, but rather the presence – or absence – of die polish lines. These raised lines are very clearly visible emerging from beneath the “1” on the genuine example, but they are completely missing from the altered coin.

Tool marks are evidence of the alteration left by the counterfeiter.
Click image to enlarge.

Instead, the altered digit shows evidence of tool marks emerging from the number. These tool marks are remnants of the counterfeiter’s work of moving metal around to create the new “1.” They are essentially small scratches in the metal and are depressed into the metal, unlike the raised die polish lines emerging from the first “1” in the date.

Counterfeiters will try anything to make money. Therefore, it is always important to remain vigilant and to know which dates are most likely to be altered and forged. If you are ever concerned about the prospect of purchasing a key-date coin raw, buy one in an NGC holder, as it is backed by the NGC Guarantee of authenticity and grade.

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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