Category Archives: Coin News

How to identify Counterfeit Silver Dollars

I’ve noticed an increasing number of counterfeit silver dollars being offered on eBay and in trade shows lately. Some counterfeits are obvious, but others can fool collectors even after close scrutiny. Even coins in graded slabs are suspect – counterfeiters have started using fake slabs with bar codes and serial numbers that match legitimately graded coins.

Flickr - CoinForgeryEbay - Fake Morgan dollar

Photo courtesy of CoinForgeryEbay on Flickr

According to the US Hobby Protection Act of 1973, fake coins must be marked “copy” before they are sold in the United States. Sec. 304.6 of the law discusses marking requirements for fake numismatic items. The law discusses minimum sizes of the word copy (which should be incused, but can be raised if the material can not be stamped into). Unfortunately, the law is hard to enforce outside of the US. These seem to be flooding out of East Asia

First off, let’s talk about spotting obvious fakes. Many phony silver coins are made of base metal, which often has a pewter tone to it. Often, they are magnetic (while genuine silver dollars are not). When dropped on a table, non-silver coins do not ring the same way as silver does (BUT – I wouldn’t recommend ever drop testing a coin!). There are jewelers tools that can test metal purity using acid or electric conductivity. Obviously, the conductivity test is better for collectable coins… it doesn’t damage coins like acid etching does.

So, let’s say a suspect coin has the right look and the metal content tests in the right range. One of the next things to look for is proper date and mint mark combinations. If you find a 1920 Morgan Dollar, the odds are pretty good that it’s a fake. The same is also true for an 1896-CC (none were minted in Carson City in that year).

Weight is also an easy way to diagnose a fake. While some fakes are made with the proper metal composition and specific density, it is very common to find lightweight substitutions. So, measure the weight of a suspected counterfeit using a precise scale (I spent less than $30 to buy one that does both troy and avoirdupois ounces, grams, and pounds). In general, silver dollars will weigh within 3% of their book weight. If your scale is not precise enough to measure fractions of an ounce, you can weigh multiple coins and take an average (ie; 10 coins, divided by 10 will generally spot if there are any fakes in the group).

Next, check the boundaries of the coin. If the design continues off of the edge (or is unevenly centered) then the odds are high that it is a fake. Mint errors like this do exist, but they are rare.

The edge of the dollar is also worth checking. Milled edges were first added to coins to reduce edge filing & make counterfeiting more difficult. So, these security features continue to be worth checking. The edge is also where cast marks are most visible. If a coin is copied by casting (basically making an imprint of the coin to produce molds), then the two casts have to be joined somewhere. Look for a line around the edge (often at the top or the bottom to make it less conspicuous).

If a coin is cast, it will have other trace marks that are easily identifiable. Pitting is common (pores in the surface of the coin). If there were any dings or scratches on the original coin, they will show up in the cast copy as having “added metal” – that is, there wont be any curls of metal from one place to another, the raised portions will just appear as if put there during the minting process.

It’s also common for fake coins to have weak areas of detail. For example, if several letters in the legend or motto are faded more than others, that’s a huge red flag. This happens most often in cast copies, but can also be the result of uneven force during the minting process.

Fake American Silver Eagle

Fake American Silver Eagle courtesy of HeritageFutures on Flickr

Recently, CoinWorld ran an article about a Secret Service investigation into counterfeited silver dollars. It has some useful information about dates and mintmarks used by one particular counterfeiter, but every date and mint mark of the Morgan and Peace Dollars has shown up at one time or another. I’d also like to hear more about an investigation of the “victims” in these cases. One of the pawn shops that was targeted bought 100 counterfeit coins for $925… which works out to $9.25 per coin (or $11.96/ounce of silver – if the coins had been genuine).

Oh, and if you bought any coins from this guy, you might want to have them double checked.

Remember the old saying – “You can’t cheat an honest man”? The reverse also holds true. If you find a coin offered at a price that’s too good to be true, just remember that it might be.

Recommended Posts – what are those?

Outbrain plugin logo

Outbrain plugin logo

You may have noticed a few changes around the site. I’m playing with a few different themes, I’ve added a cloud tag, and I’m using some cool new plugin tools. One of those is the Outbrain plugin – this is a tool that makes page recommendations based on reader feedback. I installed it so that I could get some info about the articles that you like, so that I can write more of the good stuff and spend less time spinning my wheels.

So, on the side of the page, you should notice some links to popular articles on my site. You can leave feedback on articles by clicking stars at the bottom of the text. The more feedback you leave, the more accurate the predictions that Outbrain makes should be.

I’m also toying with the idea of allowing Outbrain to serve links to other people’s pages. I wont get a dime from doing this – instead, it rewards the company for creating such a useful tool. It also earns money for charity. Outbrain partners with the following charities, and I get to pick one to donate to:

  • International Red Cross
  • Women’s Bean Project
  • Tag-A-Giant (Bluefin Tuna conservation)
  • The Hunger Project
  • Make-a-Wish Foundation
  • The Alliance for Climate Protection
  • Since I’m launching this plugin on the same day that a series of earthquakes struck Japan, I”m going to select the International Red Cross as the first charity. What do you think? Which of those charities do you think are most deserving of donations?

    Recycled Silver Coin Introduced At World Money Fair in Berlin

    Recycled Silver Coin : Prototype United Future World Currency from Cookson Precious Metals

    Recycled Silver Coin : Prototype United Future World Currency from Cookson Precious Metals

    Recently, the United Future World Currency project (UFWC) unveiled a new pattern coin made entirely from recycled materials. This silver coin is the size of a standard silver bullion coin, but it is made with reclaimed silver. According to the UFWC press release, there were only 200 produced in 2011 & they were released January 29th, 2011 at the World Money Fair in Berlin.

    The silver eco coin was struck by the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, Wales. It has a fineness of 95.8%, weighs 32.45 grams, and is 40 mm in diameter (the same as the “Britannia” bullion silver coin). All 200 coins were produced in proof condition.

    On the obverse, the UFWC coin shows an arboreal pattern that the artist calls the Tree of Life. The tree has 5 leaves, each “representing one of the five inhabited continents” (presumably, North and South America are considered a single continent). The legend on the coin reads “United Future World Currency” and is written around the obverse along with 5 five-sided stars from 5:00 to 7:00. The engraver of the Tree of Life design is Laura Cretara, and her initials appear below and to the right of the Tree of Life.

    Recycled Silver Coin : Prototype UFWC - 2 Unit Obverse

    Recycled Silver Coin : Prototype UFWC - 2 Unit Obverse

    The reverse shows a stylized number 2 (that appears in 5 layers) set inside a matte ring. The legend in the outer ring reads “Unity In Diversity * Test * Limited Issue LL” and has 5 five-sided stars. Offset from the center of the ring are 4 arrows forming a circular recycling symbol. The artist who designed this side of the coin is Luc Luycx, and LL is presumably his initials. The silver was provided by Cookson Precious Metals UK.

    Recycled Silver Coin : Prototype UFWC - 2 Unit Reverse
    Recycled Silver Coin : Prototype UFWC – 2 Unit Reverse

    The UFWC organization raises some interesting points about the sustainability of our hobby. Worldwide, mines produce 17,000 to 20,000 metric tons of silver annually. These mines extract millions of tons of other material to get at that silver – even the richest veins of ore have only 44 ppm of silver. That means every ton of silver that’s dug up also churns up more than 23,000 tons of other material. Often, the ‘waste’ material includes other ores (such as copper and gold ore) but a large portion of the waste is toxic heavy metals (such as arsenic, lead, and mercury).

    There are plans to reduce the environmental impact of mines (including mining high-concentration underwater volcanic vents), but the future will likely bring more pollution per unit of output simply because most of the richest ore veins have already been tapped. Instead of mining in new and environmentally sensitive areas or digging ever-deeper and more dangerous mines, perhaps we should consider using more recycled metals. Not only does reclamation reduce the impact of mining, but it also solves waste disposal problems.

    Recycling scrap metal also saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas pollution. For example, making something with recycled aluminum uses about 92 percent less energy than using virgin aluminum ore. The energy savings for other common coin metals are considerable: we could save 90% on copper & 56% with steel. Energy savings like that add up, from 20 to 30 lbs of CO2 saved per ounce of metal used.

    Stockholder reports for mining companies indicate that smelting silver ore cost approximately $0.40 an ounce in 2010. I used the price of coal and natural gas to compute a rough estimate of energy use and emissions. For 2010, natural gas cost ~$4.50 per MBtu and coal cost ~$1.50 per MBtu. Assuming that energy accounts for 90% of the smelting cost, and that the average energy cost from a mix of fuel sources was approximately $2/MMBtu, then that means each ounce of silver requires about 0.18 MBtu to smelt.

    Here’s my formula:

    1 MMBtu * $/MMBtu = 90% x $0.40/ounce

    So, how much is 0.18 MBtu? That’s equivalent to 180 cubic feet of natural gas. It’s enough energy to boil one thousand 16 ounce pint glass of water from a starting temperature just above freezing. That’s 52.75 kW of power: or about as much power as the average American house consumes every 2 days, just to smelt and refine 1 ounce of silver.

    Emissions vary from 117 to 227 lbs of Co2 per MMBtu (with natural gas at the low end, and anthracite coal at the high end). For ease of use, let’s consider the nice round number of 200 lbs of CO2 per MBtu. Straight multiplication gives us a usable figure: 0.18 MBtu x 200 lbs of Co2 = 36 lbs of carbon dioxide per ounce of silver coined. To put that in perspective, that’s about as much air pollution as driving a car for 50 miles.

    In 2010, the US mint produced more than 34,000,000 American Silver Eagle bullion coins. In order to mine each of those 1 ounce silver rounds, approximately 5 tons of ore were dug up. If my calculations are accurate, refining and smelting the ore would take more than 6,000,000 MBtu of energy and produce more than 600,000 tons of carbon dioxide. That’s just for a single type of commemorative coin produced in a single year!

    Switching to reclaimed metals would cut those numbers significantly, and that would also result in some cost savings that could even trickle down to consumers. One can only imagine the savings available in switching to recycled zinc, copper, and nickel in US circulating coins. Well, I could probably sit down and approximate those numbers, but I’ve had enough math for one day.

    In February, additional coins will be available for purchase at These will likely include non-proof versions of the 2-unit coin, as well as 1-unit coins in bronze and silver with modifications to commemorate Expo 2015 in Milan.

    UFWC Goldlike Bronze - 1 Unit Coin Obverse

    UFWC Goldlike Bronze - 1 Unit Coin Obverse

    UFWC Goldlike Bronze - 1 Unit Coin Reverse

    UFWC Goldlike Bronze - 1 Unit Coin Reverse

    If you have one of these coins, I’d love to see some pictures. Please share details in the comments section below – or feel free to challenge me on anything you read in this post.

    Did you find this page from my Facebook Ad?

    Yesterday, I decided to play with Facebook ads and created one for this website. If you found this site from following the Facebook ad, please let me know. I’d love to hear what motivated you to click the link.

    I’m running advertisements and hoping for feedback about how the site is working on different operating systems, browsers, and screen resolutions. Oh, and I may be a bit narcissistic. It’s okay though, because narcissism isn’t a disorder anymore, right?

    The first ad I created looks like this:

    Facebook Ad for MyCoins.Co featuring a Medal from 1904

    Facebook Ad for MyCoins.Co featuring a Medal from 1904

    I was inspired to take that tone by the South Park Episode “Cartmanland”. If you don’t have half an hour to watch it, there’s an excellent Wikipedia article on Cartmanland. In the episode, Cartman inherits an amusement park and decides to keep it all to himself. He even buys TV ads to rub it in. His plan backfires because the advertising creates pent-up demand and customers line up to spoil his private wonderland. Good stuff.

    I’m not really a jerk like that. I just want to show off the coins and medals that I’ve collected. Hopefully, I’ll learn some new things about my collection by putting it out in the public sphere.

    On a related note – did you hear about the jerk who was abusive to his customers in order to get higher search engine rankings? Until recently, there was a flaw in Google that allowed companies to boost their rankings by generating consumer backlash. In other words, Google rewarded companies that treated their customers like trash by elevating their search results. After the NY Times ran an expose on DecorMyEyes, the flaw was supposedly fixed. So, maybe there is such a thing as bad publicity.

    Anyway, welcome to! I hope that you’ll take a look around and leave me some feedback about what works on the site and what doesn’t.

    How To Identify Counterfeit British £1 Coins

    Fake British pounds are turning into a major problem in the United Kingdom. Up to 70,000,000 counterfeits are in circulation out of 1,474,000,000 £1 coins in use. That means anywhere from 2% to 5% of the circulating pounds are phony. £1 coins are widely used for everything from paying bus fare to making change at the supermarket, so there’s a good chance that the average citizen runs into multiple counterfeit £s in the course of a day.

    Real Vs. Counterfeit UK Pounds

    Real Vs. Counterfeit UK Pounds. Not so obvious, right?

    Here are the diagnostics for identifying a counterfeit:

    1) Check that the patterns on the obverse and reverse match for the year of mintage. There were 31 different designs in the last 27 years, so there are a lot of potential mis-matches. The Royal Mint has published a guide to obverse and reverse pairings from 1983-2010. Presumably, someone producing mismatched copies could argue that they did not actually counterfeit a circulating coin; this could be why so many false pairings have been produced.

    2) The color of the coin should be a coppery gold. The color of forgeries is often noticeably lighter (from added aluminum or zinc content) or darker (from excess brass or bronze). Corrosion is also more common on counterfeits. On a related note, circulating coins rarely look like they came straight from the mint. A shiny 1985 £1 in your pocket change should set off alarm bells.

    3) Check the edge lettering. The edge inscription changed over time, so forgers occasionally put the wrong one. I’ll put a list of the correct inscriptions in the comments section of this post. Pay special attention to the St. George cross – many fakes mess up this detail since it calls for a special engraving character.

    4) The edge milling should be regularly spaced and of uniform depth. This security reeding is particularly difficult to counterfeit (based on the error rate – I haven’t tried ripping off Her Majesty myself).

    5) Check the weight. Genuine UK £1 coins weigh 9.5 grams. While this may be tricky to measure at the cash register, some fakes have been reported to weigh noticeably light (6 grams or less).

    6) The orientation of the obverse and reverse should be medallic. That is, if you hold the coin at 12 and 6 o’clock and spin the coin, the front and back should line up perfectly. The design doesn’t align properly on some fake lbs. If the obverse and reverse do not line up, that indicates misaligned dies. The Royal Mint does occasionally make this mistake, but it is rare on genuine coins.

    Unfortunately, this counterfeiting problem is going to make error collecting challenging for United Kingdom pounds. I wonder – is anyone cataloging the counterfeits & forming a list of die varieties? These counterfeits may be collectible in their own right some day.

    If you have scans of counterfeits, I’d love to see them. Please share links in the comments!

    Decus et Tutamen

    Modern Islamic Gold and Silver Coins

    The Malaysian state of Kelantan recently began to issue gold and silver currency for use in circulation. The new gold 8 dinar and silver 10 dirham have values of approximately $1511 and $10 each. Only a few thousand of the coins have been produced so far, but the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party is pushing local businesses to adopt the currency as an alternative to the Malaysian Ringgit.

    Kelantan Gold Dinar and Silver Dirham

    Kelantan Gold Dinar and Silver Dirham

    At this small scale, minting Islamic silver and gold is almost pure political theater. The coins are likely to have marginal effect on the local economy. Even if all of the coins minted are the silver variety, there will still be only about 1 coin per resident of Kelantan.

    The coin specs are a bit hard to pin down, but they appear to be as follows:

    Islamic Dinar: 4.25 grams of 22k gold (0.1374 oz AGW)

    Kelantan Gold 8 Dinar: 34 grams of 22k gold (1.0991 oz AGW), 32mm diameter

    Kelantan Silver 10 Dirham: 10 grams of 99.9% pure silver (0.3527 oz ASW), 41mm diameter

    Other sizes may also be available, but these 8 Dinar and 10 Dirham seem to be the primary issues.

    Long term implications:

    These coins are likely to appear on the collector market and may trade for a premium over their precious metal content. Both the gold and silver coins will likely be produced in very small quantities, which will drive up their rarity. The first run was only 150,000 coins and sold out almost immediately. On a related note; the fineness of these coins is an unknown quantity – while the Kelantan mint will have strong incentives to ensure purity, there is a risk of fraud and counterfeiting.

    Similar Islamic bullion coins have been minted in Indonesia for use in Australia, Malaysia and Singapore. These coins have been marketed as compliant with Shariah Law, and are promoted by clerics worldwide. Prominent supporters in London, South Africa, and Canada tout Islamic gold dinars as compliant with Islamic principles of money lending, which forbids charging interest (‘Riba’ ). Islamic banks often ask for a share of profits from the companies that they lend to (‘Mudarabha’), instead of charging fees and fixed interest rates.

    In related news, Virginia and Georgia are also trying to return to the gold and silver standard. Isn’t it interesting that the Tea Party and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party are pushing the same monetary policy?