Counterfeit Detection: 1899 Liberty Head Eagle

Posted on 11/5/2021

Surface anomalies reveal the true nature of this imposter.

With a mintage of over 1.2 million, 1899 eagles (gold $10) struck in Philadelphia carry little numismatic premium outside the highest grades today. A counterfeiter is more likely to target the 1899-O (with a mintage of 37,047) or perhaps the 1899-S (841,000 struck), but even a common gold coin like the 1899 eagle is sometimes forged.

The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) grading team encountered this spurious eagle in a submission from a respected dealer. The coin has the correct weight and is struck in gold, which deepens the mystery of why a counterfeiter would target it. It’s possible the coin was struck to disguise gold bullion as a U.S. Mint issue, thereby circumventing the U.S. ban on hoarding gold from 1933 to 1974. If this was the forger’s intention, then they would not have cared about profiting from the numismatic value by replicating a particular date/mintmark rarity.

A genuine 1899 Liberty Head Eagle (top) and a counterfeit (bottom).
Click images to enlarge.

A closer look reveals that the details on the fake are a tad softer and more round than those of the genuine example. Still, overall, the counterfeit’s quality is quite good. The reason is because this is a highly deceptive transfer die counterfeit, which uses a real coin as the basis for dies employed to strike fakes.

The transfer-die process can leave defects on the dies. For instance, a large depression on the counterfeit’s reverse is visible between the C and A in AMERICA. This flaw was present on the reverse die and will be repeated on every coin struck from it.

Often, a counterfeiter will try to address noticeable problems on the dies before using them to strike the spurious coins. To disguise a die defect, forgers often leave behind toolmarks, which appear raised on the fake. The eagle denomination is slightly bigger than a quarter, so this is delicate work. On this counterfeit, toolmarks appear to the left of Liberty’s mouth on the obverse and above the dot after AMERICA on the reverse.

Toolmarks are visible to the left of Liberty’s mouth on the obverse and above the dot after AMERICA on the reverse.
Click images to enlarge.

Collectors want to know that all their coins are genuine, regardless of how rare or common the date. Luckily, NGC backs its determinations of authenticity and grade with the NGC Guarantee.

Reproduced with permission from the August 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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