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Comparison with genuine eases authentication task

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Let?s turn our powers of magnification to the two 1955 doubled die Lincoln cents pictured here. Can you determine the counterfeit example?

This exercise is going to be much easier because you have a genuine coin, or an image of one anyway, to use for comparison. This luxury is not available in most authentication situations. There was a reason the American Numismatic Association based its authentication service in Washington, D.C., back when it had the service. Proximity to the American Numismatic Society and the National Coin Collection at the Smithsonian Institution was a consideration, for just this purpose of comparison.

Imagine we acquire a genuine doubled die 1955 Lincoln cent from a museum collection and place the two specimens under a stereomicroscope. What?s the first characteristic you see while looking at both micrographs? It will also manifest itself when holding the actual coins under good light. Do you see it?

One of the coins is brighter.

Faz0422-b.jpgThe coin in Figure 1 has a more lively appearance because it has more microscopic metal flow that reflects light (these flow lines are what give a coin luster). Compare the area next to the rim at the lower right under the date of both coins. You?ll also see flow lines at the back of Lincoln?s collar and under his chin
on the genuine specimen.

Faz0422-c.jpgThe counterfeit coin in Figure 2 has a ?flat? look. Nevertheless, you can see that the counterfeit has almost the same strength of detail as the genuine. This makes it a deceptive counterfeit and shows the quality of the transfer dies used to make it. There are fewer bag  marks on the fake. This is normally a good thing as collectors strive to collect coins in the best condition. Sometimes a lack of marks puts many fakes into a ?too-good-to-be-true? category that should arouse suspicion.

Faz0422-a.jpgLastly, this specimen is a well-known counterfeit with published diagnostics. Note the tiny spur on the top serif of the first set of 5s and the lump in the top notch on the left in the second set. Your best defense against counterfeits is to use the major grading services, purchase coins already in slabs and to study the genuine coins already authenticated.

Let?s look at that again.

In a recent column, I illustrated a series of photos of a genuine 1915-S $20 gold piece to illustrate what a collector might expect to see while examining a coin at various powers of magnification. Unfortunately, the image at the highest magnification was cropped incorrectly. The area under the second ?1? in the date was missing from the micrograph, causing readers to search in vain for the horizontal ?comma-like? mark mentioned in the text. Since I cannot claim it was an April Fools? Day joke, let?s look at it again in Figure 3..

While some fakes can be detected with the naked eye or at low power, the best counterfeits often require high powers of magnification (over 20X) to detect ? at least until their characteristics become known. Figure 3 shows the date area of the genuine coin as it should have appeared. Note the notch in the top serif of the mintmark and the tiny blob of metal in the top opening of the ?S,? the metal flow in the field and what appears to be a single die scratch in the top opening of the ?5.? The tiny ?comma-like? mark can be found under the right edge of the second ?1.?

Next time you are at a major coin show, it might be interesting to see if you can find another genuine 1915-S $20 from this obverse die.        

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