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How to identify replica and counterfeit American coins

How to identify replica and counterfeit American coins

Currency counterfeiting is not limited to money in circulation or to legal tender coins. Forgery of old coins is done to deceive collectors and beginner hobbyists into believing they have acquired an investment grade coin for a cheap price. Old and modern American coins counterfeiting is primarily done overseas and distributed in the United States. Some original silver and gold American coins are highly valued in the numismatic market and are target for counterfeiting.

Replicas and Counterfeits American Silver Coins

The counterfeiting of coins includes modern collectible investment grade coins. The American Silver Eagle quarter, dollar and commemorative coins are among the most often counterfeited and replicated. Fake silver coins look like the authentic ones to the inexperience eyes and are mass produced. However, these generally weigh less than original silver coins because they are not 100% pure. The US Mint has alerted consumers to various silver coins “hot items” that violate counterfeit laws, including:

  • Counterfeits Pre-1950 Eagles Silver Coins – these have been mass produced by Chinese companies, weigh less than the original silver coins and are unmarked versions.
  • The Barack Obama presidential $1 coins, American Eagles, Half-dollar commemorative coins and sets of multiple coins featuring the president – These coins are advertised by private businesses on television and newspapers, not authorized by the US Mint.
  • Error George Washington Presidential $1 coins – these coins are being counterfeited to make them mirror the true coins that were minted in error.
  • September 11th Colorized Commemorative Coins – these coins have been colorized by private companies and not approved by the US Mint.
  • American Buffalo Commemorative Coins Replicas – The original coin measures 1.5 inches in diameter, the replica Buffalo coin has a diameter of 3.5 inches.

Counterfeit Forgeries of Rare American Coins

Original rare and old American coins may be very valuable to investors and collectors of coins. Because originals of these types are very few they can fetch high prices at auctions. However, even these coins are often counterfeited. According to the American Numismatic Association, ANA, among the rare, old and highly valued American coins that have been counterfeited are:

  • The 1846 Seated Liberty Dollar – the fake measures 37.59mm in diameter, the original measures 38.1 mm.
  • The 1883-S Trade Dollar – the fake has the San Francisco mint mark, but there were no Trade Dollar produced at this mint in 1883.
  • The 1804 Draped Bust Dollar – the fake measures 38.70mm, the original measures 39-40mm in diameter

Tips to Avoid Counterfeits and Replicas of American Coins

When buying American collectible coins these tips can help consumers avoid forgeries and replicas:

  • Hire Professional Coins Authentication or Grading Services before purchasing a valuable coin.
  • Buy from reputable dealers and sellers of coins.
  • Visit the US Mint to learn about alerts issued for American coins counterfeiting and replicas.
  • Visit numismatic Associations websites, these often have articles and consumer alerts on coin counterfeiting and replicas
  • Consult a Standard Catalog of American Coins; these are numismatic guides with detailed descriptions and pictures of authentic coins.
  • Know the difference between a counterfeit and a replica coin – the counterfeit is made to look exactly like the original coin. The replica is made to mimic the original coin, but contains subtle differences in the wording, size and pictures used.

Early American Counterfeiting

Since there has been money in America, there had been people trying to counterfeit it.

Indians Cheated the Colonists

Indian wampum, strings of shell beads, was no exception. Counterfeit wampum became such a problem that the General Court of Rhode Island ordered all of the counterfeit wampum confiscated.

Wampum in Rhode Island was made from white whelk shells and purple quahog shells.

With gold and silver coins in short supply, the colonist agreed to accept the wampum as legal tender.

Once the deception was uncovered, the colonists went back to gold and silver coins.

First American Mint

Massachussetts authorized the first mint in British North America in 1652. The mint created silver coins. Some were stamped with NE for “New England” or had images of trees.

These also became the first coins counterfeited in America. John duPlessis was convicted of counterfeiting these coins in 1674.

Problems With Counterfeiting

“In 1682, William Penn complained that he could not bring his ‘holy experiment’ in Pennsylvania to fruition when half the coinage in the colony was phony.” (Thomas Craughwell, Stealing Lincoln’s Body, Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007: pg. 31).

Counterfeit coins from England made their way overseas to become part of the American economy. Fake British halfpence were found during the construction of Interstate 95 in Pennsylvania. These coins date back to 1699, according to the University of Notre Dame Department of Special Collections. They are believed to have been buried shortly after arriving in America and never made it into general circulation.

Counterfeiting was such a problem in Connecticut in 1721 that the government considered accepting them as legal tender and valuing them at 2 pence.

Importing Counterfeit Coins

It is also believed that by the mid-18th Century, Britain may have been shipping counterfeit coins to American. The coins had been confiscated as currency in Britain. The information came out in the September 22, 1753 Boston Weekly News-Letter as part of a letter J. Williard of London sent to the editor of the paper.

The information apparently proved correct. Later newspaper reports show a man was arrested with bags of counterfeit coins, which were up to a third lighter than the legal coins.

Not Trusting Your Money

The obvious outcome is that people became suspicious of their currency. The New York Gazette reported on December 3, 1753, “The Confusion in this City, occasioned by counterfeit Copper English Halfpence amongst us, is almost inconceivable; — for notwithstanding the large Quantities of good Pence we have now long had, there is now hardly any Sum offered, but there are counterfeit Ones intermixed; and to such a Degree of Suspicion, is the common People raised, that many good Pence, which have passed current perhaps for about 20 Years past are now refused.”