Coin fraud is an unfortunate reality in the coin collecting marketplace. Since the first coins were minted almost 2,400 years ago, unscrupulous people have been devising ways to manufacture counterfeit coins. It is no different today with the thousands of different types of coins available on the market. Both collectors and investors must be knowledgeable about the coins they are purchasing to avoid getting ripped off.
Even if a Silver Eagle or other silver coin passes these simple tests, it does not guarantee that it is authentic. The only definitive answer to the question of authenticity is the written conclusion of a recognized coin expert with an attached metallurgical report—an expense that in most cases makes little economic sense.
One way to increase your chances of buying coins that are authentic is to buy coins only from established coin dealers that are members in good standing of the U.S.-based Professional Numismatists Guild. In conjunction with that, use the tips and tests proposed below.
Detecting Coin Fraud
Follow these six easy steps:
- Does the silver coin look right? Any highly experienced coin authenticator will tell you that they often can't tell you why a given specimen is fake. All they can say is that it "doesn't look right." Learn what the genuine silver coin looks like, and even when there's no obvious disparity between the appearance of your coin and the genuine article, trust your senses and if "it doesn't look right," don't buy it!
- How much does the silver coin weigh? Counterfeiters make most silver coins from silvery metal alloys that weigh less than genuine the genuine silver coin. Weigh the coin in question; if the weight is wrong for the type, don't buy it! Even overweight coins are problematic because they might be silver-plated lead.
- How does the surface of the silver coin look? Fake silver coins may or may not have a silver-plated finish on them. Although higher-quality plated struck fakes might look pretty convincing, many counterfeiters don't bother to plate the coin with silver! Silver has a distinctive sheen to it that is neither too harsh nor too soft or "soapy" looking. Genuine silver coins will have an original mint luster that is distinctive from a counterfeit coin.
- How does the silver coin's edge look? If the coin edge should be reeded and isn't, this is a giant red flag, since mint errors of this type are infrequent. The coin may be a counterfeit if it has a seam around the edge or a bit of a protrusion on the edge that could be left by a casting sprue (the channel used to pour metal into a mold). Also, inspect the edge of the coin for file marks indicating a sprue or seam was removed. If any of these characteristics are evident on the coin, don't buy it!
- Does the silver coin pass a magnification check? Although the methods listed above will often enable you to rule out most fakes (especially the weight test,) sometimes close examination under a strong magnifier can help settle the matter. Look for silver plating that failed to fill into tiny spots and crevices. Look at the edge of the coin to see if the plating is visible where the rim meets the side; also look between the reeding. Sometimes just looking at the fields under 10x is enough to condemn the silver coin as a fake, because the fields may appear rough, or have small spots of copper or other non-silver impurities that show up when magnified.
- Does it pass the silver coin ring test? Silver coins have a distinctive ring when held on the tip of a finger and tapped with another coin, pen or pencil. Be careful doing this test, though since you don't want to ding or damage the coin, or drop it onto a hard surface. The ring test can be helpful when all other easy methods of checking are inconclusive.
Diagnosing a Fake Silver Eagle Bullion Coin
There was recently a counterfeit Silver Eagle circulating around coin shows. The six steps given above will help you determine that.
- 1906 silver eagle: One glance is all it took to condemn this Chinese-made fake Silver Eagle! Look at the date: 1906. The U.S. didn't even begin making the Silver Eagle until 1986! Mistakes like these are common on fakes. When you see something like this, don't try to rationalize a purchase decision by telling yourself the mint made an error or something, just pass, and save yourself some money.
- An ounce of silver that weighs 26 grams: If the incorrect date didn't already condemn this fake silver eagle, this does so decisively. A genuine silver eagle weighs 31.101 grams. (The forger also got the diameter wrong. This fake eagle measures 38.86 mm rather than the 40.6 mm it should.) The weight of a coin is something that forgers almost always get wrong. If a modern coin is off-weight, be very wary.
- This fake silver eagle is dull in appearance: The genuine silver eagle is a beautiful coin, resplendent with luster and with nice relief. This fake eagle, however, is dull and grayish looking, with almost no relief.
- A silver eagle with no reeding: If you ever see an American Silver Eagle without reeded edges, it's not a mint error, but a Chinese fake silver coin. One wonders how they can get things like this so obviously wrong.
- Magnifying the eagle's dullness: Under magnification, this fake eagle looks soapy and dull.
- This silver eagle has no ring: The ring test produces a tinny-sounding dink. Definitely not the pure bell ring of silver.