In this day and age, most collectors have heard about
the important issue of counterfeit coins. While in the numismatic
world we are concerned about fake collectible pieces, there are
several countries battling the issue of contemporary counterfeits.
This problem is not likely to end soon. Should we be scared out of
our wits? Will all coins and currency be counterfeit soon? In
short, I believe the answer is no, but let me explain why.
The problem of contemporary counterfeits, or
counterfeits made for circulation, is not very prevalent in the
U.S., but it is an issue in other western countries. For instance,
the U.K. has had a huge problem with over 40 million fake pound
coins. A recent article estimates that to be approximately three
percent of circulating £1 coins are counterfeits. In the European
Union, there is a number of fake Euro coins circulating, but that
number is estimated to be a smaller than one tenth of a percent.
Even a few counterfeit coin factories in Canada have been found.
Although the United States does not have much of a problem with
counterfeit coins, there is undoubtedly an issue with counterfeit
bills and specifically superbills. The superbills, or fake $100
bills, are extremely high quality counterfeits that are very hard
to detect. It is unknown exactly where the bills are being produced
but this threat is certainly the greatest that the U.S. must
A very related issue is, of course, the
counterfeiting of collectible coins and paper money. While the key
date counterfeits and date/mintmark alterations might be most well
known, there are many other counterfeits in years or series that
collectors may not expect. Semi-key Mercury dimes, 1955 DDO Lincoln
cents and three-legged Buffaloes are all among the affected coin
series but there are certainly many others out there. While some
collectors are aware of this problem, it is important to check any
valuable or key date coin before you purchase it. To use the old
adage, "buy the book before the coin," so that you know about your
coins before you buy them, and remember to look closely at any and
all numismatic purchases. This can also help you avoid other
problems, like cleaning marks or artificial toning, that might
deter you from buying the coin even if it is real. In fact, with
the counterfeit grading slabs that are being produced as well, even
collectors who buy exclusively slabbed coins must know a bit about
detecting copies as well. I would highly recommend taking the ANA
Summer Seminar course on this topic or the correspondence course
equivalent. After all, this area of numismatics is going to be even
more crucial to the future of the hobby.
While the technology with which counterfeiters
can continue producing fakes is constantly improving, I don't think
that there is much truth in the idea that counterfeits will kill
the hobby. After all, the pros at major grading companies can spot
the fakes, so why can't the average collector detect at least the
easier ones if not the majority? It does take some time to learn
about detecting these counterfeits, but as the ANA Summer Seminar
shows, even a week will give you a good basis of knowledge. As more
counterfeits are identified, knowing the new diagnostics is the key
to detection. And if you slip up once or twice, hopefully you have
been dealing with trustworthy numismatists who can help you out.
Just remember that you shouldn't be thinking that every coin out
there isn't genuine, but before you buy the coin, give it a second
look to be sure it really is what it looks like.
This story was previously published in the RCNA's CN
Journal, January/February 2013 edition.