Detecting counterfeit U.S. coins made by the Chinese and others

Yesterday, @poppadave mentioned that he had almost been taken in by some counterfeit U.S. coins that were advertised on-line. This has been a major problem for well over a decade. These fakes are sold over the Internet, in stores and in flea markets. They are not necessarily expensive coins. In fact the Chinese have made a specially out of counterfeiting coins that would be worth less than $30 to $40 if they were real. It’s one of the ways they use to get your guard down.

@poppadave caught his counterfeits because they came to a magnet. Silver and gold are not magnetic. Today the Chinese have “fixed” that problem. Their more recent products are not magnetic.

Let’s start with the Morgan Silver Dollar. Here is a genuine 1883-CC Morgan Dollar that was made at the Carson City, Nevada Mint.

Note that the real thing has sharp, clear devices.

Here is a Chinese fake “1886 -CC silver dollar.”

Note that the “6” in the date does not match the other three digits. That could not happen on a genuine U.S. coin from this era.

And if you compare the “CC” mint market with the 1883-CC I posted earlier, you will see that the letters are not shaped the same. This is a subtle difference, and it’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s one of things that experienced collectors and dealers note.

Finally, the Carson City Mint did not make any silver dollars dated 1886. You could note that by buying a copy of a reference book like A Guide Book of United States Coins which collectors also call “The Red Book.”

I’ll post one more fake and see if you would like me to go further.

The American Silver Eagle is a bullion coin that the U.S. Mint system issues every year. These coins provide an easy way for people to invest in silver. Each piece contains one troy ounce of .999 silver. They are easy to buy and easy to sell. Some of them have a collector value, but most are bullion coins. Here is a genuine example of the in Uncirculated condition.

Here is obvious fake. The Chinese put the wrong date on it. These coins were first issued in 1986.

These coins are almost always in full Mint State condition. They would never have been used in circulation. So if you see an ad for them in “AU” as @poppadave did, “run Forest run!”

Each year, the Mint System makes these coins in Proof. A Proof coin is specially made piece that is struck with highly polished dies on high polished planchets or coin blanks. They have better design details than the “regular” coinage. Here is a 2015 Proof Silver Eagle.

These coins come in a mint box, mounted in a plush box with a Certificate or Authenticity. Here is a fake Chinese “2015 Proof Silver Eagle.” A pawn shop owner got stuck with this and found out what he had when he tried to get it certified.

The outside box, plush box and the Certificate of Authenticity are all real. The coin is a fake. The crooks can buy the boxes and the certificate from dealers who send these coins in for certification. The coin capsule can be opened, the coin removed and then resealed with a fake coin inside. Here are photos of the fake coin.

You will notice that the fake piece is growing spots. It fact it started going bad soon after the pawn shop guy bought it.

The Chinese did not do a great job with copying the artwork. Here are a couple of detailed pictures:

Genuine Coin




Genuine Coin Reverse

Fack Coin Reverse

I hope that you have found this interesting. It has become for novice collectors, and sadly the Chinese are getting better at this all the time.

The Chinese made the mistake for awhile of making these on STEEL blanks lightly plated in either silver silver or chromium. They’ve gotten smarter and are making them out of BRASS lightly plated in silver these days. Brass also isn’t subject to detection with a magnet. Another clue was the VERY low prices–often 50% of what the coins/bullion would bring on the spot market. People began to realize that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, so the Chinese have RAISED their per unit price to more accurately reflect what a real coin would normally bring. They’re getting better and better at this.

  1. Are the “bullion” coins up to weight and fineness?

  2. Are common date, circulated dimes, quarters, halves & dollars “safe” buys?

  3. What about gold coins both modern and vintage?

Slightly off topic. The Chinese are also busy making counterfeit knives. Some are very deceptive. Usually sold on Ebay or gun shows. Targets are knives made by Microtech, Emerson, Spyderco and Extrema Ratio. Best to buy from an authorized dealer.

The pieces from Canada, The United States and most every western nation are okay. The Chinese Panda gold coins have had a following for a long time. I refuse to buy them because they won’t do anything about the counterfeits.

Nothing is totally safe because the Chinese will make anything. People were amazed when they made a counterfeit 1958 Wreath Cent which is worth less than 5 cents.

If you are buying 90% silver U.S. coins (dated 1964 and before), they are currently worth about 13 times their face value. I would advise you to buy from a reputable dealer if you are buying these coins by roll or bag.

Silver Dollars, Peace and especially Morgan Dollars are the most dangerous because the Chinese have made so many of them. They make common dates in worn condition. Their favorite selling points are on the Internet and at flea markets. EBay is risky too because observers are always trying to knock out the uncertified counterfeits, but they come back like mushrooms.

If they rare collectors’ items, I would strongly advise you to buy NGC or PCGS certified coins. PCGS has more clout, but NGC is a strong #2. ICG, and ANACS are okay but not as well respected in the market.

As for bullion coins, I like U.S. Gold Eagles or Canadian Maple Leafs. Once more reputable dealers is the key. I think that buying these modern bullion gold coins in certification holders is a waste of money.

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I ordered a digital scale on Amazon Prime the other day so I could weigh any of my coins to determine their authenticity that way. I have a micrometer to measure dimensions. So far, my scale hasn’t arrived and Amazon says it “has been delayed in shipping.” I don’t know what that means.

Authentic American Silver Eagles have the following characteristics and are .999 silver and .001 copper:

  • 1 Troy oz weight, or 31.103 grams
  • Diameter of 40.6 mm, or 1.598 inches
  • Thickness of 2.98 mm, or .1193 inches