Counterfeit Detection: 1990 Chinese 50 Yuan

Posted on 10/1/2021

Obvious design discrepancies plague this large-size fake.

Modern Chinese coins are some of the most beautiful in all of numismatics. The lunar series, which cycles through each animal in the 12-year zodiac, is an exciting niche for collectors, as new designs are unveiled annually.

Several motifs were issued in 1990 for the Year of the Horse. The silver 50 yuan shown here, which features two horses drinking from a body of water on the obverse and a painstaking recreation of the Temple of Confucius on the reverse, has a mintage of just 2,000 pieces. As a result, this coin carries immense numismatic value.

A genuine 1990 50 Yuan (top) and its spurious counterpart (bottom).
Click images to enlarge.

At 70mm, nearly twice the diameter of a Morgan dollar, this coin is difficult to counterfeit convincingly. Recently, the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) grading team identified an obvious, poor-quality fake. Any collector with Internet access would simply be able to compare this coin with images on and easily determine that it is a forgery.

A close-up view of the horses shows that the counterfeit was struck with a die made from scratch and looks nothing like a genuine example. Details are too strong in some places, such as the horses’ facial features, manes and tails, and lack the nuance of the genuine piece.

The horses' faces, manes and tails are clear giveaways that this coin is a counterfeit.
(Genuine: top, counterfeit: bottom)
Click images to enlarge.

The absence of subtle details carries over to the reverse, which is much blockier than the original. The design on the middle of the stairs—and even the number of steps—is not remotely close to correct. The lathe lines left behind by the machine used to create the counterfeit dies are clearly visible on the stairs and flat areas of the pillars.

The counterfeit's reverse (right) has the wrong number of stairs and a blocky design.
Click images to enlarge.

While the counterfeit is the proper diameter, it comes in heavy at 159g, versus the expected 155.5g. Additionally, the composition is 73-percent copper, 25 percent zinc, 1-percent nickel and only 1-percent silver; a genuine example is 99.9-percent silver.

Certain Chinese coins intended for collectors (including this one) have been found with subtle design differences. This particular issue has varieties in which the 50元 is either uncentered (as seen on the genuine example) or centered (as seen on the counterfeit). However, no respectable mint would issue coins with differences as obvious as those seen here.

Not every counterfeit is as easy to identify as this one. If you have any doubts about whether a coin is genuine, please remember that NGC backs its determinations of authenticity and grade with the NGC Guarantee.

Reproduced with permission from the June 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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