Counterfeit Detection: 1904 Half Eagle

Posted on 7/5/2021

An imitation of a relatively common gold coin has numerous problems.

By Numismatic Guaranty Corporation®

The Coronet Liberty half eagle (gold $5) series, which ran from 1839 to 1908, can provide a relatively affordable way to collect vintage gold, assuming you’re not trying to complete a full set! Like most later coins of the series, the 1904 issue carries little numismatic premium in most grades, as its mintage of 392,000 doesn’t make it a scarce date.

It’s a bit of a mystery, then, why someone would strike this counterfeit 1904 half eagle that was recently submitted to the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) grading team. The weight and metal content of the fake are within the U.S. Mint tolerances, so the forger is not profiting from the several hundred dollars’ worth of gold expected in the coin. As for the rarity factor, the 1904-S half eagles struck in San Francisco are less common and would have bought a heftier premium.

This spurious Half Eagle displays a strange luster and soft details throughout.
Click images to enlarge.

Nevertheless, a mint-state example of a 1904 issue struck in Philadelphia (which this counterfeit mimics) can still carry a numismatic premium of hundreds—and sometimes thousands—of dollars in high grades. Perhaps the forger believed that a common issue would draw less attention. A collector or dealer might not scrutinize a common date as closely and might jump at the chance to buy what appears to be a high-grade example for a modest premium over melt value. Whatever the motive for striking such a coin, plenty of clues lead to the conclusion that it is an imposter.

First, the fake has odd surfaces with a strange luster. The tops of the inscriptions are not flat as they should be. Additionally, soft details are evident, especially in the deepest parts of the design, such as under the shield on the eagle. Odd die scratches appear below the hair on Liberty’s neck. These features are not usual on a genuine coin.

Finally, spikes emerge from the rim near Liberty’s head on the obverse and adjacent to the word UNITED on the reverse. These are called toolmarks, and they occur when a forger attempts to conceal a problem with the die.

Die scratches are evident on Liberty's neck, and toolmarks are prominent near the rim next to Liberty's hair and UNITED. Soft deatails appear under the reverse sheild.
Click images to enlarge.

Counterfeiters are in the business of making money, and sometimes, even common coins make excellent targets. Therefore, it is important to always remain vigilant. The expertise that NGC brings to authenticating and grading coins is, of course, backed by the industry-leading NGC Guarantee.

Reproduced with permission from the March 2021 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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