Counterfeit Detection: 1903-O Morgan Dollar

Posted on 12/27/2020

The date and mintmark on this coin give it away as a fake.

By Numismatic Guaranty Corporation®

The 1903-O Morgan dollar was once considered the key date in the entire Morgan series. For decades, it was believed that most had been melted down prior to their release. In fact, the 1955 Guide Book of United States Coins (the “Red Book”) lists the value of the 1903-O Morgan at $275 in Uncirculated, and the now-coveted 1893-S appears at just $250.

However, in the 1960s, the U.S. Department of the Treasury released many bags of Morgans that contained numerous 1903-O examples. This caused the value of uncirculated specimens to plummet to just $47.50 in 1975, compared to $16,000 for the 1893-S!

Today, the NGC Price Guide values the 1903-O at $720 in Mint State-65, which still makes the coin a semi-key. But compare that to the 1893-S at $670,000 in the same grade, and you can see how far it has fallen. Still, the 1903-O is a better date and, therefore, is targeted by counterfeiters.

Counterfeit 1903-O Morgan Dollar
Click images to enlarge.

At first glance, this coin would certainly fool many collectors. However, further inspection reveals it has some odd features. The most glaring is the date, which simply doesn’t look right.

Closeup view of the genuine “1903-O Morgan Dollar” date (left) and the counterfeit date (right)
Click images to enlarge.

Note how rounded the tops of the numbers are and how thin they appear. Additionally, the date and stars aren’t well-defined on genuine examples. This is very common on New Orleans Mint issues, which often were struck with less pressure to prolong the life of the dies. The strong strike should make a serious Morgan collector very suspicious.

The counterfeit’s surface also has an unusual texture. The coin might have been created using laser-engraved dies or an engraving machine, but the forger did a decent job of hiding the parallel lines (which originated on the dies) that often appear on these types of fakes.

On the reverse, strange spikes, likely caused by a die that was damaged during its creation, emerge from below the eagle’s wing. Additionally, you can see the telltale parallel lines at a 45-degree angle throughout the design.

Also of note is the “O” mintmark, which looks as if metal seeped into the opening. A prominent die gouge appears around the mintmark and the O in DOLLAR. A die gouge that large would undoubtedly have been a very popular VAM variety if the coin were genuine!

Counterfeit 1903-O Morgan Dollar mintmark
Click image to enlarge.

This fake weighs 27.04g — 0.31g heavier than a genuine example and more than three times the official U.S. Mint tolerance of .097g. It also is composed of 54-percent copper, 33-percent zinc, 11-percent nickel and only 1-percent silver, as opposed to the expected 90-percent silver and 10-percent copper. The former alloy is much lighter than the latter, which explains why the counterfeit is 3.2mm thick rather than the standard 2.4mm.

Reproduced with permission from the September 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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