In the coin world, it is said that one day after the first coin was struck came the first counterfeit. Counterfeit coins are nothing new, but we are seeing a resurgence and it is important to know how to protect oneself.
Knowledge of what you collect is paramount. Knowing the weight and size of the coins you collect can be an important factor. Many counterfeits, especially the cruder ones, are often off-weight and/or the wrong size. A millimeter gauge and a small scale can be a collector’s friend. Simply weighing a coin can detect many counterfeits. In fact, for more advanced collectors, old numismatic counterfeit detectors were just simple scales. Dealers use them; so should you.
You also should familiarize yourself with the die characteristics of the coins you collect. This is a bit more difficult to do than weighing or measuring a coin, but most advanced collectors have learned some of these things. Often counterfeits have telltale signs that an advanced numismatist can pick up. There are a number of books that list many known counterfeits.
Professionals are your biggest asset in protecting against counterfeits. There are two certification companies that the market recommends, and both offer guarantees of authenticity. Professional Coin Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. are among the best safeguards against counterfeit coins, and that brings us to one more facet: counterfeit slabs. In today’s climate, counterfeiters are targeting the holder (slab) that deems a coin certified. The best advice is to deal with professional coin dealers that can ferret out counterfeit coins or slabs.
Two recent stories come to mind. First is the estate of Walter Samaszko Jr. In his estate, two dealers were brought in to evaluate his uncertified coins. I spot-checked roughly 200 of about 1,200 coins and spotted more than a dozen that were counterfeit. Without such safeguards, customers would now have counterfeits and not even know it. Buying from professional dealers can prevent this.
Second, a gentleman recently brought us an 1889 Carson City Morgan dollar. Based on the coin’s condition, it should have been worth about $1,000, but it was counterfeit. The telltale sign was the fact the denticles on the rim were of the wrong shape for a Carson City-minted coin; they looked like those of a coin struck in Philadelphia. A $500 investment that should have netted about $1,000 ended up being a near-total loss (the coin still has about $20 in silver in it).
Make sure you know as much as you can about what you buy. Dealing with a professional who stands behind his or her product is one of your best defenses against falling for counterfeits.
Allen Rowe owns Northern Nevada Coin in Carson City.