If someone asks you to name some of the defects commonly found on counterfeit coins what would you say? What would you look for on a coin that you suspected to be counterfeit?
Did you say weight? One authenticator that I have worked with routinely weighed any coin he suspected might not be genuine. I cannot argue with his thoroughness, yet there were many times I had to suppress a smile or comment.
You see, most of the coins that were out of tolerance were not very good fakes to begin with. Besides, long ago, the people making deceptive fakes became more careful about the weight of their products.
Did you say color? As I have discussed here before, color gives us an important clue about the alloy composition of a particular coin.
What about its surface texture?
Let’s examine a group of recently made counterfeit coins from various countries to see what they have in common. Before looking at the illustrations, I’ll give a short description of what each looks like to the naked eye.
The coin in Figure 1 is a Danish 5 ore, KM#794.1 made of bronze. It grades MS-68 red. There are no marks on it and its surface is fully lustrous and spot free. And why not? It was probably just made to order a few weeks ago.
Figure 2 is a 30X view of a 1936 French 20 francs, KM#879. This coin would also grade very high, perhaps MS-66 because of a few dings. Its reeded edge feels very sharp to the touch and the fields of this fake are almost semi-prooflike. This would be an awesome coin if it were genuine.
Both of these coins fall into the category of “too-good to-be-true” and that alone should make one suspicious of their authenticity. The counterfeiters are not stupid. They have learned that it is easier to pass a dark, slightly circulated coin off as a genuine specimen.
The counterfeit Russian ruble, KM#19.2, in Figure 3 is an example of a coin that might have a better chance of passing undetected because it appears to have circulated. This coin is gray with dark accents around its relief.
Its “details” grade is XF/AU. However, there is virtually no actual friction wear on the coin. There are many “fresh” contact marks on its surface and there are also many depressed marks that were transferred from the original coin used to make the fake dies. These depressions have the same surface as the rest of the coin and will carry over to similar coins having a different date.
Figure 4 shows part of the reverse on a circulated Bust dime that is counterfeit.
Now let’s take a look at the micrographs to see what these coins have in common. All have small pimples on their relief. The Russian coin also has many in the field.
When two dealers get together to discuss a suspect coin you’ll often hear them mention a rough, granular surface or pimples. These characteristics are commonly found on fakes made by casting.
More recently, they are seen on fakes struck using dies made by a spark erosion process. Many of the new Chinese counterfeit coins have these defects and they cannot be polished off without affecting the coin’s design. Do you see the tiny pimples in each of the micrographs?
One note of caution is in order. I have found that sooner or later, every defect seen on a counterfeit will turn up on a genuine coin and the reverse is also true. For instance, environmental damage can give a genuine coin a rough granular appearance and a few stray pimples on a coin does not prove it’s a counterfeit. In fact, one variety of 1883-CC Morgan dollar is covered with little pimples on its reverse.
Should you wish to appreciate the severity of the Chinese assault on numismatics, log on to eBay and check out what’s available under copies and replicas. For the moment, most of these coins will fool many collectors but they are easily detected by major dealers and numismatists.
Nevertheless, I have already alerted you to the fact that at least one Chinese outfit, possibly with help from the highest authorities, is producing much more dangerous fakes that the ones I illustrate here.
As always, buy from reputable dealers. If you don’t feel comfortable about your authentication skills, purchase slabs and have any suspicious coins checked by a major grading service.