Anyone who buys silver coins naturally wants to be sure that the coins they purchase are real. There are various methods a discerning collector can use to help arm themselves against some of the more commonly seen counterfeit coins on the market.
Anyone who buys silver coins naturally wants to be sure that the coins they purchase are real. The single best way to ensure this, is to deal only with well-established, reputable coin dealers. Most such companies are members of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG), which require dealers to adhere to a code of conduct. Many are also authorized dealers for the Numismatic Guarantee Corporation (NGC) and the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). If you are looking for a local dealer to buy or sell coins, it is advisable to search for those with these credentials, those that have been in business a long time, and to deal with establishments that deal specifically in coins and bullion.
In recent years the number of counterfeit coins – collector, circulating and bullion coins – as well as bars (especially those made of gold), have been on the increase. Some instances have been the subject of news reports, such as the 1 oz. bar purchased by a Canadian jeweler in late 2017 from a branch of the Royal Canadian Bank that turned out to be made not of gold, but of Tungsten. Counterfeit coins, including many from China, have turned up quite frequently on eBay, but that does not mean that any coin seller from China is automatically suspect. In addition, some companies and individuals produce replicas of famous coins and are required by law to note on the item that they are replicas.
In general, silver bullion items, especially those made of silver, tend to be less commonly counterfeited than silver collector coins, because there is much more money to be made from selling a scarce Morgan dollar such as an 1889-CC, or the series key, the 1893-S (both of which are among the most commonly-seen counterfeits at the grading companies), than there is from selling fake American Silver Eagles. However, from time to time there are certainly reports of fake silver bullion coins in the coin media. Gold bullion, such as counterfeit American Gold Eagles, which have been found and confiscated by customs enforcement agents, also do surface.
As for counterfeit collectible silver coins, they tend to be, but are not always, older coins – such as classic American issues from the 18th and 19th centuries, rare Chinese coins from the past, or coins such as the 1891 Eritrea 5 Lire silver coin, and other valuable, old world coins. These types of counterfeit coins are typically made through one of several main approaches, which include cast counterfeits, spark erosion counterfeits, electrotypes, transfer die counterfeits, altered dates and altered mint marks. They can range from crudely-made pieces that are easy for an experienced collector to spot, to pieces that are very deceptive, because they were made using an authentic example of the coin to produce dies to create the counterfeit pieces.
To avoid these kind of coins, it is advisable to purchase coins graded and authenticated by Numismatic Guarantee Corporation (NGC) or Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), as you can verify the serial number of the coin you are considering purchasing on the website of each company. Both NGC and PCGS have a section of their websites where you can look up the coin’s number, and in some cases also see a photo, that you can compare to the physical item the seller has. However, be aware that counterfeit slabs are also produced in China. To combat this, the grading companies have continued to make their slabs more secure over the years such as by adding holograms and other measures, but again the best defense is to be careful from whom you purchase, especially if it is a valuable or high-value item.
When it comes to bullion coins and bars, there are two main ways to verify if an item is really made of silver or gold. One, is to research how much the coin or bar should weigh and then use a calibrated digital scale to check the weight of the item. If you are not a dealer, this is generally your best bet.
Dealers take things a step further with devices known as precious metal verifiers. There are those that are relatively inexpensive such as the ones made by Sigma Metalytics (that cost about $1400), which can be used to test the precious metal purity of any coin or bar, even if it is encased in a grading slab. In addition, there are more advanced types of equipment such as the Oxford Instruments X-MET 5000 hand-held analyzer (that runs over $6,800), which are used by those in the coin and jewelry business as well as those in the precious metal mining industry.
In addition, items made by the Royal Canadian Mint have the highest standards of ant-counterfeiting protection. Their products can be easily authenticated from authorized dealers that use a new device created by the mint based on bullion DNA (digital non-destructive activation) technology. With this system, as the mint explains: “Every die used to produce the Gold and Silver Maple Leaf coins is laser micro-engraved with an anti-counterfeiting security mark: a textured maple leaf. Our registration process—digital non-destructive activation (DNA) technology—captures images encrypted with a string of codes, and stores these in our secure database. Using the specialized device, approved Bullion DNA dealers can easily verify the authenticity of registered Gold and Silver Maple Leaf bullion coins in three easy steps.” The steps include simply inserting the coin into the device, which then takes a high-resolution digital photo of the coin and compares that, to the photo of the coin in the mint’s database that was taken when the coin was registered.
In 2018, the precious metal industry continued to make progress on this issue through the anti-counterfeiting task force of the Industry Council for Tangible Assets. This task force works with U.S. customs and other officials, to educate them about how to spot counterfeit items, such as by becoming familiar with the different face values and weights of American Eagles and Buffaloes.
In addition, the current U.S. Mint Director David Ryder, who came on board last year, and who previously worked for several decades for companies that develop anti-counterfeiting and anti-forgery technologies for clients such as for the Royal Mint in the UK, has pledged to take the issue very seriously. He has met with representatives of four different companies that could contribute technological improvements to the Mint’s coins to make them more secure and harder to counterfeit.
“Coin counterfeiting remains a concern,” Coin World, January 21, 2019
“Counterfeit Detection” ( https://www.ngccoin.com/resources/counterfeit-detection/)
Royal Canadian Mint bullion (https://www.mint.ca/store/mint/about-the-mint/bullion-dna-8900026#.XDz2F1xKjIU
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||Louis is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst,” and in August 2021 the column received the NLG award for best column on modern U.S. coins. He has also received other awards for his writing. He is also a contributor to several magazines, including Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature;The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins; and and other publications. He began writing about coins in 2009. He is a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum hosted by ModernCoinMart and has written articles for MCM since 2014. He has collected classic and modern U.S. and world coins since he was about 10 and first joined the ANA in the 1970’s. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.|