Counterfeit Detection: 1870-S Half Dollar

Posted on 11/29/2020

Analysis of the date and weight proves that this coin isn’t genuine.

By Numismatic Guaranty Corporation®

The San Francisco Mint struck just over 1 million Seated Liberty half dollars in 1870. Only five years after the end of the Civil War, Americans still preferred coinage over paper money, so most examples circulated extensively. This means that the 1870-S half dollar is quite scarce in Extra Fine or higher. The example shown was recently submitted to Numismatic Guaranty Corporation® (NGC®) and immediately caught the graders’ eyes.

At first glance, this coin appears to be an Almost Uncirculated (albeit cleaned) 1870-S half dollar worth hundreds of dollars. However, the fields, which should be smooth, are uneven and porous. This porosity is even more evident on the devices.

Counterfeit 1870-S Half Dollar
Click images to enlarge.

The details also are weak. The folds in the dress and the lines and LIBERTY on the shield are much less defined than they would be on a true moderately circulated coin. This is because of either poor detail on the counterfeiter’s dies, insufficient striking pressure, or both.

Closeup view of the counterfeit obverse
Click image to enlarge.

A closer examination of the date is particularly telling on this counterfeit. Note how it looks noticeably different from a genuine example.

Closeup view of the genuine "1870-S" Half Dollar date (left) and the counterfeit date (right)
Click images to enlarge.

In addition, the coin weighs only 10.92g, much less than the standard 12.5g. Finally, instead of the normal composition of 90-percent silver and 10-percent copper, this fake is struck in 64-percent copper, 34-percent zinc and 1-percent nickel.

This is not a particularly well-executed counterfeit. It would be discovered as being bogus simply by placing it on a scale accurate to the nearest gram. However, there are far higher-quality fakes being made every day, so it is important to be vigilant. As always, coins graded and encapsulated by NGC are guaranteed to be genuine.

Reproduced with permission from the August 2020 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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