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New Pillar dollar fakes can fool you

A few weeks ago I came across an article in which the writer warned of deceptive counterfeit Pillar dollars entering the coin market. At the time, all I could do was to wish to actually see one of these fakes to determine for myself how deceptive they actually are.
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First thing, I should like to take care of some unfinished business from two previous columns. While writing about counterfeit slabs and stickers, I neglected to point out that Numismatic Guaranty Corp., Professional Coin Grading Service and Certified Acceptance Corp. have websites where you can verify the authenticity of their products.

Next, I wish to congratulate seven readers for properly identifying the less famous variety #2 1955 doubled-die obverse Lincoln cent pictured in my January column despite the typo indicating that the coin was dated between 1910 and 1945. The clue given to identify the variety should have dated the coin between 1910 and 1955.

I’ll use this month’s column to remind readers how important it is to keep current with your numismatic reading. I subscribe to several publications and confess that I am often too busy with work to follow my own advice. Nevertheless, try to do as I say, not as I do. I recommend that readers subscribe to all of the numismatic magazines and weekly newspapers. You should also join the American Numismatic Association so that you will receive The Numismatist magazine, an excellent monthly source of information.

A few weeks ago, during a marathon attempt to clean out my literature backlog, I came across an article in which the writer warned of deceptive counterfeit Pillar dollars entering the coin market. At the time, all I could do was to wish to actually see one of these fakes to determine for myself how deceptive they actually are.

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My wish has come true and the fakes are very deceptive – especially the partly corroded coins that simulate sea water damage. In fact, they are so well made that I should like to have a few hundred or so in an old strong box so I could fulfill one of my childhood fantasies, which is to run my fingers through a pile of pirate treasure. I actually came close to that dream a few years back at the Numismatic Conservation Service while we were sorting the silver treasure discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration Group.

Recently, several counterfeit Pillar dollars and Mexican 8 reales coins from different customers have appeared at the Independent Coin Grading offices. I’m sure these are the same type written about in the article. As I said before, the fakes are of very good quality. The fact that they have been submitted by dealers in foreign coins should confirm that they are quite deceptive. Otherwise, I should conclude that the dealers know the coins are bad and are trying to get one past the authenticators and into a slab – a common stunt I am familiar with.

Until I see more of these fakes, I am not completely comfortable revealing specific production defects; however, this new group is die struck. These fakes have replaced older examples made by primitive production methods such as centrifugal casting. Thus, clues to their detection such as edge file marks; wavy pour marks; and crystallized surface structures (one typical pattern is illustrated in Figure 1) are nonexistent. So far, I have seen two coins with identical dates and common defects. I’ve illustrated (40x) part of one counterfeit reverse with several markers from this one die circled in Figure 2.

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Matching up identical circulation marks that were transferred to the counterfeit dies from the genuine coin used as a model still remains one obvious tool in an authenticator’s arsenal; but you need to have extensive photo files or be lucky enough to have two identical fakes “in house” at the same time. What is more useful is to have the experience of viewing thousands of genuine coins using a stereo-microscope. Unfortunately, that’s something that I cannot easily put on the printed page. Nevertheless, the new fakes do not have quite the right look. For now, I’ll say that these counterfeits have uneven surfaces lacking the smoothness and flow of a genuine struck piece. Look for depressions, scratches and other marks that have the same surface texture of the surrounding fields. I promise to update you on some characteristics of genuine 8 reales coins versus those found on these fakes in the future as examples become more common. At this point, I don’t wish to help the fakers improve their product – it’s already good.

You probably should have any of these types of coins purchased in the last year checked for authenticity by a major grading service. Until then, keep up with your reading as other authors my publish more on this subject.

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