Counterfeit Detection: 1908-S Indian Head Cent

Posted on 12/8/2020

This fake cent has a shortage of details — and too much copper.

Indian Head Cents were issued from 1859 to 1909, struck annually by the Philadelphia Mint. As the need for small change increased in the western United States in the early 20th century, branch mints were authorized to strike cents for the first time. In the final two years of the Indian Head series, cents were also struck in San Francisco.

Both these San Francisco issues carry a considerable numismatic premium. In uncirculated grades, the 1908-S is worth about six times the Philadelphia issues, and the difference is even greater in circulated grades. Here’s an example from the Eric P. Newman Collection that shows what a nice uncirculated example looks like.

1908-S Cent graded NGC MS 65 RB and pedigreed to the Eric P. Newman Collection. Realized: $1,527 at a Heritage Auctions sale in November 2014.
Click images to enlarge.

NGC recently received a submission of a 1908-S Cent that was not nearly as nice as the one above. Nevertheless, even circulated examples can be worth over $100. Unfortunately for the submitter, this example is not even genuine, so it’s worth only the copper it was struck in.

Counterfeit 1908-S Cent
Click images to enlarge.

The first clue that this is a fake is the poor details throughout. This is especially noticeable in the necklace and feathers on the obverse, as well as in the wreath on the reverse. In addition, the surfaces of the letters are pimpled and rounded; they ought to be smooth and flat from proper striking pressure.

Close-ups of counterfeit 1908-S Cent
Click images to enlarge.

There are also random lumps that pop up in the fields, such as around the lettering in AMERICA on the obverse and also around the ONE on the reverse.

Close-up of counterfeit 1908-S Cent
Click image to enlarge.

Spikes emerging from the denticles at the rim are also a bad sign. They usually are “tool marks,” where a counterfeiter needed to do additional work on the die’s surfaces in order to better conceal his deception.

Finally, an analysis of the coin’s metal confirms that it is a fake. While it weighs 3.13 grams (within tolerance of the expected 3.11 grams), it is 99% copper, with a small amount of zinc and iron. A genuine Indian Head Cent struck from 1864 to 1909 should be 95% copper, with the balance tin and zinc.

Whether you are buying a gold ultra-rarity or a relatively affordable bronze coin, please remember that NGC backs its determinations of authenticity and grade with the NGC Guarantee.

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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