Counterfeit Detection: 1885 Double Eagle

Posted on 8/1/2021

Removing a minkmark made this coin appear more valuable.

By Numismatic Guaranty Corporation®

Coin collectors know that something as small as a mintmark can mean a substantial difference in value between coins of the same date. It is no surprise, therefore, that some of the most common counterfeits that Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) graders encounter involve mintmark alterations. This allows a counterfeiter to work with a real coin without having to bother producing fake dies. For example, a forger can create a spurious “key date” coin simply by adding an “S” mintmark to a 1909 VDB Lincoln cent, a “D” to a 1916 Mercury dime or “CC” to an 1889 Morgan dollar.

Sometimes, however, removing a mintmark from a coin can make it appear more valuable. Such is the case with this altered 1885 Liberty Head double eagle (gold $20) that was submitted to the NGC grading team recently.

This spurious Double Eagle might have sold for five figures over melt value
had it not been discovered.
Click images to enlarge.

Over its long run, the Liberty Head double eagle was struck at five mints: Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, Carson City and Denver. This means that collectors will encounter this flagship U.S. gold coin with a “O,” “S,” “CC” or “D” mintmark, or no mintmark if it was struck in Philadelphia.

The U.S. Mint produced 1885 double eagles at the Philadelphia, Carson City and San Francisco facilities. The Philadelphia location struck just 828 examples (including 77 proofs) with that date; the Carson City Mint produced a mere 9,450; and the San Francisco Mint churned out over 680,000.

Price guides today reflect this mintage disparity. A lightly circulated 1885-S carries a modest premium over its melt value—a few hundred dollars at most. Similar Philadelphia issues, on the other hand, can carry a premium of tens of thousands of dollars!

A close examination of the mintmark area is prudent for double eagles of this date and several others, including 1881 and 1882. The mintmark is located below the eagle on the reverse. This example shows toolmarks in this area—a sign that the counterfeiter was trying to cover their tracks. Hairline scratches also appear in the area and don’t look quite right.

After careful inspection, it is clear the counterfeiter obliterated the original mintmark. It was almost certainly an “S,” since the “CC” mintmark also brings a significant premium for 1885-dated issues.

Toolmarks and scratches under the eagle on the reverse make it clear that the counterfeiter removed a mintmark.
Click image to enlarge.

The quality of counterfeit and altered coins varies depending on the forger’s skill. If you are unsure about a coin’s authenticity, remember that NGC backs its findings with the NGC Guarantee.

Reproduced with permission from the April 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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