This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
>> Subscribe today!
At the last coin show I attended, a dealer stopped by the Independent Coin Grading booth to have me authenticate a group of 1932-D quarters. Unfortunately, a few of his coins were altered. I covet altered and counterfeit coins for my teaching set; but for a host of reasons, I find that they are very difficult to acquire. I guess the main roadblock is the fact that they are usually offered to me at or close to the price of a genuine specimen because that’s what they cost the dealer in the fist place. In this instance, I was able to purchase each fake for a very reasonable price and now they are the basis for this column.
Study the micrographs and see if you can determine which 1932-D quarters are alterations. Ready? The coins in Figure 1 and 4 are authentic.
Figure 4 shows a genuine piece with a “smear” mintmark. Techs at the Treasury Department’s Mint Laboratory called this effect “Ejection Doubling.” It’s caused when part of the struck coin is still in contact with the dies as they open and the feed fingers push the coin off the press bed.
Incidentally, if you thought this coin had an added mintmark you’re in good company. That’s because in the early 1970s these coins fooled some professional authenticators and caused many coin dealers to condemn them also. With the establishment of a Certification Service in Washington, D.C., this error was soon corrected.
There is one other clue that can be used on occasion to authenticate coins. We call it “honest circulation.” By that, I mean a coin with the same “look” – surface texture, metal color, dirt and patina from circulation wear over its entire surface. Two of the coins here have that look. The area shown has an even color and no discoloration around the mintmark. Artful fakers are aware of this and may use artificial toning, paint, shoe polish, or other agents to “mask” their work. Even some of the newer Chinese counterfeits have altered surfaces that imitate honestly circulated specimens.
The other two coins have added mintmarks, but they should not deceive most collectors of Washington quarters. Both “Ds” have an incorrect shape. This alone is probably what caused the dealer to have them checked at the ICG table. Next, notice that the altered coins appear to be brighter in the micrographs. They have both been cleaned. This is usually done to give the altered coin a uniform appearance and blend the area around the added mintmark with the field.
You might be able to see that the fake in Figure 2 shows tooling scratches, especially to the left of the “D.” They result when the faker tried to blend the metal of the added “D” into the field. The mintmark on the other coin has a fairly large undercut (not visible in the micrograph) as if it were just dropped onto the coin. A 10x hand lens and good light would confirm this.
I cannot stress the importance of having your key coins checked by one of the major grading services. Sometimes, you can get a free verbal opinion on your coin’s grade and authenticity at a coin show they attend. Opinions given at shows might not always be identical to those when the coin is sent into the office where two or more graders plus a finalizer evaluate your coin under ideal lighting conditions.
ICG offers free opinions from a professional grader/authenticator at all times at every show they attend. The policy at the other services varies. Hopefully, in the future, the other grading services will become committed to serve collectors in this fashion. It is expensive to send a qualified grader/authenticator to all shows so check with a representative at their booth to see if this service is available.