As a professional authenticator at several third-party grading services, I have seen the quality of counterfeits increase to the point that many of the modern ones may as well be considered to be genuine! This is especially true with popular gold “bullion” coins from all over the world. While many of these coins have little numismatic interest, it is a convenient way to form raw gold into a recognizable shape other than a bar.
Recently in this column, I wrote about a very deceptive counterfeit gold sovereign that defied immediate detection. I believe that coins such as this are commonly passed over as genuine by some experienced gold dealers. Since the fakes are made of fine gold and exquisitely executed so they appear 100 genuine – no bullion trader or bullion “stacker” is hurt.
Numismatists have a different view. Government issues, even restrikes, are not the same as counterfeits no matter how good a fake appears. In the 1970s, a famous, world-traveling numismatist told me that the U.S. gold counterfeits we were seeing at the Certification Service were only made to form raw gold into a recognizable shape that was familiar around the world rather than to fool collectors. I thought that if this were the case, it is unfortunate that the pieces were not up to the standard fineness of the genuine coins they were modeled after. Perhaps this was a way for foreigners to avoid any prosecution.
Eventually, common-date U.S. gold coins began to acquire a numismatic value. This made the difference in value between their gold content and collector value to become significant enough that they became a lucrative target for counterfeiters. In a very short time, the older fakes improved dramatically. The crude, early die struck fakes of the 1960s that one respected authority incorrectly claimed were cast gave way to much better and more deceptive pieces that fooled experienced dealers/collectors on a regular basis. On several occasions, many state-of-the-art fakes of that time were deceptive enough that our opinions as the professional authenticators who detected them were questioned.
Today, it is hard to find some of those crudely made die struck fakes but I got “lucky” when the group of counterfeit sovereigns I wrote about previously was submitted for authentication at ICG. In the following three micrographs, you should be able to see a difference in the sharpness and style – the quality – of these counterfeits from a poorly made specimen (Figure 1), one much better (Figure 2) and finally a piece that would fool most examiners (Figure 3).
The coin in Figure 1 is a poorly executed fake. Coins as this were commonly seen in the 1970s. The color (gold alloy) is “off,” tool marks are visible from the rims and the letters are referred to as “fatty.” The next piece is “good gold” yet the coin is not “Mint Quality.” Its fields are smooth and lack evidence of striking. The frosty and original surface continues over the contact marks, indicating they were transferred to the counterfeit die. Its surface is dull. Figure 3 is an example of a deceptive fake. Its details are sharp, and flow lines give it very attractive luster. There is nothing very specific that I can write to help you detect this coin. If you don’t have another example to look for repeating depressions, the only thing that made me suspicious was the microscopic texture of its field. That comes from examining lots of coins very closely. If you have doubts about any coins in your collection, it is best for your peace of mind to have them authenticated.