Fake Coins, Counterfeit Coins, & Altered Coins

Fake 1875-S U.S. Trade Dollar
Fake 1943-S Copper Lincoln Wheat Cent

Counterfeit coins are created for a variety of reasons. The ones that concern us the most are coins made to intentionally deceive a coin collector out of his money. Hundreds of thousands of fake coins are being sold in this country without the required “copy” or “replica” stamped on the coin. Buying coins, especially sight-unseen online, can be harmful to your wallet if you can’t trust the source. Your best protection is education.

Fake Coin Types, & why people counterfeit coins

  • Replica or Copy Coins. There are many coins that are so rare and prohibitively expensive that a normal collector would be unable to locate or acquire. So a collector may choose to add a copy or replica coin to a collection so as to have example of what a real one would look like. Honest replica and copy coins should be marked by the manufacturer as such.
  • Fantasy Coins – these are coins that never existed. Usually produced to commemorate places or occasions.
  • Contemporary Fake Coins – Coins meant to circulate along with authentic coins for monetary exchange. When the 1883 Liberty Head nickel was first produced it looked similar to a $5.00 Liberty Head gold coin. So unscrupulous individuals gold plated the nickels so as to appear as a U.S. $5.00 piece. This way when the crook purchased something they received change of $5.00 for their fraudulent nickel. Fake gold coins are probably the most common to come across.
1798 Fantasy Dollar, 1796 Bust Dollar, 1802 Bust Dollar, & 1887-CC Morgan Dollar. All counterfeit.
  • Altered and Doctored Coins – These are coins that have been altered or tampered with. This is done to increase the value to a collector by making a coin look to be in a higher quality/grade, or something that it is not, like having a certain mint mark or error.
  • Collector Fake Coins – These are coins that are produced well after the real coins were struck. Usually to fool coin collectors into thinking they are viewing an authentic coin.
1894-S Barber Dime. Only one exists, yet here are two?
1943 / 1920-S Fantasy Error Copper Lincoln Wheat Cent Obv.
1943 / 1920-S Fantasy Error Copper Lincoln Wheat Cent Rev

Methods used to create fake coins

  • Cast Counterfeit. This is the most basic and crudest of all counterfeit coins.
  • Electrotype. Made by impressing a genuine coin into a soft substance and electroplating the negative impression and creating a positive shell.
  • Transfer Die Copy. Involves transferring the coin design to a working die used to strike coins.
  • Spark-Erosion. An electrical process used to etch a copy of the coin into die steel.
  • Struck Counterfeit. This involves the hand carving and creation of a model die used to strike coins.

Ways to test the authenticity of a coin

  • Visual Test. Examine the coin under magnification. Fake coins will usually not have the same level of detail of a Mint struck coin. Do not forget to examine the edge which is the third side of a coin.
  • Magnetic test. Gold and silver coins are non-magnetic. If your coin reacts to a magnet it is a fake.
  • Weight Test. Involves weighing the coin on a scale that is sensitive to tenths of a gram.
  • Chemical Test. Also known as an “acid test”.  This tests the metal content and is destructive of the coin.
  • Sound Test. Sometimes called a “ring test”. Gold and silver coins that have been struck will exhibit a bell like ring when struck by another object.
  • Specific Gravity Test. This is a complicated test that requires preparation and analysis. It involves simple calculations of the coins weight in open air and suspended in water.
  • Fire Assay Test. This involves melting down the coin to render the base metal.
  • Submit the coin for authentication.

Fake Coins And The Grading Services

Major coin grading services have been at the forefront of the battle against fraudulent coins. Purchasing coins that have been graded and authenticated by PCGS, NGC, and Anacs can be your best protection. However, beware that the grading services neither have been and are not foolproof. In addition the crooks have gotten more sophisticated in that they can fake the slab or holder as well as the coin.

1928 Saint Gaudens PCGS MS64 - Authentic
1928 Saint Gaudens PCGS Certified (Fake coin and fake PCGS holder).
1794 Flowing Hair Dollar (Fake coin in a fake PCGS holder)

Verify the authenticity of your slabbed coin:
PCGS Slab Verification 
NGC Slab Verification

Collecting Fake Coins as a Hobby?

Group of body bagged coins from PCGS and NGC.

As difficult as this may be to believe, some folks choose to collect fake coins as a hobby and for educational purposes. For a variety of reasons some fake coins become famous and thus collectible.

Examples of this are fake gold coins like the 1907 High Relief Saint Gaudens with the Omega Symbol in its talons, and the Kroll copies of California Fractional Gold coins. Other collectible coins like the fake Morgan dollars with a micro “O” mint mark.

These were so convincing that PCGS actually authenticated and graded them for a time.

Protect yourself from Counterfeit Coins

  • Educate yourself. There is no substitute for knowledge. Check out the American Numismatic Association, Coin World, and Numismatic News.
  • Consult a reputable coin dealer like American Rarities to discern authenticity and quality.
  • Purchase certified coins, or submit the coins to one of the major coin grading services like PCGS, NGC, or Anacs.
  • Submit pictures of your coins to our Authentication Service. (link to AR Authentication Page)

Professional Associations