Counterfeit coins: what types exist and how to identify them to avoid scams
Being fooled with a fake coin is one of the most terrible nightmares for any novice coin collector. It can even be for some who already have some experience in the world of numismatics.
To avoid being cheated with counterfeit coins, the ideal is to be prepared and take all possible measures. Measures that I am going to tell you about in this article.
But before we go into the subject, a clarification. Here you will find valuable information that will help you detect possible fraudulent coins, but in no case should this article be considered an exhaustive or definitive guide.
This is a very broad topic, about which infinite lines can be written.
Finally, the last word on whether any coin is a fake or not, should be left to an expert who analyzes the piece about which there are doubts.
This does not mean that you are incapable of detecting some counterfeit coins. In fact, if you follow the recommendations below, you may notice more easily those protective signs that trigger the alarms, especially in the most obvious cases and situations.
Now, after this disclaimer, let’s start by looking at what types of counterfeit coins exist and their most important differences.
Types of counterfeit coins
There are exactly 2 types of counterfeit coins or, rather, counterfeit coins . Knowing these types is very important to be able to identify them, and to know how to proceed when we detect them.
Also, as I will tell you later, there are coins whose use can be falsified, without the coin in question being really fake.
But first, let’s analyze the two types of counterfeit coins that we can say are really fake.
Counterfeit period coinsCounterfeit coins are those that are minted to be used in economic transactions. That is to say, to be given in exchange for products or services, as if it were real money, backed by the State, when it is not.
In other words, they are coins that are minted to buy. Therefore, they imitate and try to supplant the circulating money.
The COLEMONE website defines it as:
A counterfeit period coin is a counterfeit made in the period when the original currency was still in circulation, with the aim of passing it off as the original currency when purchasing goods and services.
An example of a period counterfeit coin is this piece of 8 Reales possibly minted in the period of Philip IV.
As a curious fact, this counterfeit coin was auctioned with a starting price of 90 euros , but after several bids, a collector got it for the price of 280 euros , plus the commission of the auction house.
As coins, in the different monetary systems, generally represent the smallest units, in order to make the criminal activity profitable, counterfeiters must mint and distribute many pieces. This, added to the security and quality measures that modern mints adopt, has discouraged the counterfeiting of coins today.
Numismatic counterfeits, on the other hand, are coins that imitate pieces of other periods, valuable and desired by collectors, to try to sell them as authentic.
I return to COLEMONE because I think his definition is simple and great:
A numismatic counterfeit is a forgery made long after the period of circulation of the coin, with the aim of introducing it and passing it off as real in the numismatic collecting market.
If we take into account that collectors pay exorbitant amounts, in the order of tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars for old coins, it is logical that some criminals try to swindle them by selling them a pig in a poke.
It is common for counterfeiters to select distant epochs in history to create their numismatic fakes.
It makes sense, for two reasons:First: Old coins are more demanded and valued by collectors with good purchasing power. With a single “hit” they can get a considerable sum of money. Second: The lack or scarce information on the technical characteristics of the coins, and the manufacturing processes used, make it difficult to distinguish the fakes from the authentic ones.
However, we must clarify that it is unlikely to fool the most experienced collectors. Those with years in the numismatic world are able to detect when they have a real piece before their eyes or, on the contrary, they are trying to sell a piece of metal with no collectible value.
To notice this, they look closely at small details, apply specific techniques, and call upon certain knowledge that I will tell you about later.
Legal coins with fraudulent uses
As I mentioned before, sometimes it is called “fake coins” to some pieces that are not in reality, but they try to make a fraudulent use of them.
For example, in August 2020 the Spanish media IDEAL, warned that “fake 50 cent coin arrives in Spain”. The alleged fake coins were pieces minted in a legitimate and legal way, only, to be used in another country with another exchange rate.
The IDEAL article explained how the Estonian kroons were being passed off as half euro coins. It is that both currencies share some characteristics that can facilitate confusion and fraudulent use. I show you both coins together so you can see for yourself.
What does vary greatly between these two currencies is their value. Since the 50 cents Estonian kroon was equivalent at that time (August 2020) to 3 euro cents. That is, only 6% of a 50 euro cent coin.
Although in this case the coin used is not a counterfeit per se, its use in Spain is fraudulent.
Do the old counterfeit coins have any value?
The answer is yes. Fake ancient coins have or may have some value today. Of course, always less than the authentic ones.
Fake period coins, along with the authentic ones, are witnesses of past periods of history. Therefore, as paradoxical as it may seem, a counterfeit of this type, with no real value in its time, can be sold at an auction of current coins.
For example, right now (June/2021) at the prestigious auction house Áureo y Calicó you can bid from 30 euros for this beautiful fake coin , minted in low silver during the very short reign of Louis I in 1724.
How to distinguish counterfeit coins?
The process of knowing when a coin is counterfeit can vary somewhat according to the type of counterfeits present.
The manufacture of period counterfeit coins is always limited by the technology available at the time. However, numismatic counterfeits are almost always modern and, therefore, criminals may have better technologies to imitate authentic coins.
So let’s divide this section into two topics.
Identifying counterfeit period coins
There are counterfeit period coins from almost every country and historical period. Wherever there was a state that minted coins; gold, silver or other metals, there were also people who profited by producing counterfeit money.
A common denominator in almost all cases is that the counterfeiters do not have access to the same technology and materials as the States. Therefore, they use those of inferior quality within their reach. This eliminates the possibility of making a reliable copy of the original coin.
Therefore, the first step to identify a counterfeit coin is to know the design, characteristics and details of the legitimate coin.
If you notice differences between the common coins and the one you are analyzing, you should set the alarm bells ringing. Especially when analyzing modern pieces, such as some valuable 2 euro coins or any other denomination.
These are the main issues you should pay attention to:
- Fonts or phrases with designs or sizes that do not match.
- Designs and drawings are not placed where they should be or do not have the right dimensions.
- Coin alignment is not correct
- Coarse engraving, with a poor finish or errors
I show you the difference between two 50 peseta Franco coins, one fake and the other authentic.
Once you compare both coins you can notice how the quality of the fake one is quite bad compared to the other one. In addition, not even the typeface of the exergue and the legend do not match the originals.
The opposite happens with the ancient counterfeit coins than with modern coins. That is to say, the ancient minting techniques were very rudimentary, that is why it is so difficult to find ancient coins exactly the same.
Think that you are analyzing American macuquinas, or ancient Roman coins, and you detect that you have two pieces that are identical down to the last detail. In this case you should be suspicious. It is quite likely that it is a clone by micro-fusion; therefore, it is actually a numismatic counterfeit and not a fake coin of the period.
In any case, we should always verify the characteristics of the piece, and see if they coincide with the known technical data. The elements we should check are:
- Quality and quantity of the metal of the coin
- Designs and drawings of the analyzed piece
- That the years and inscriptions on the coin match the historical period.
- Diameter and thickness of the edge of the coin (on some very old coins this can be a problem).
- That you are not in the presence of a coin plated with a metal on a base of lesser value.
The weight and dimensions of ancient coins may vary within certain ranges, but never by an outrageous amount. If they vary by more than one gram from the weight on the technical card, it is advisable to distance yourself from that coin, and from whoever is trying to sell it to you.
Identifying numismatic counterfeits
Now let’s take a closer look at how to know that a coin is a numismatic counterfeit.
This type of counterfeit is specialized and therefore sometimes difficult to detect. Many criminals research their potential victims, collectors or numismatic enthusiasts, before they set out to recreate an ancient coin. Then, they produce one or several pieces that they know will be to this person’s liking.
They look for a way to approach and offer their supposed ancient coins while claiming to have some very serious problems that force them to get rid of their pieces. Many times the offer is less than the value the real pieces can fetch. The collector thinks he has stumbled upon a great opportunity, and ends up being sheared like sheep.
It may seem an unlikely story, but believe me, it can happen.
Now, to identify numismatic fakes there are specialized techniques that help, for example, to determine the date of an ancient coin. Carbon 14 testing is one. But being totally honest, few collectors can afford such a thing.
So, in normal situations, we must appeal to common sense, and apply a critical eye analysis of some relevant aspects and parts.
First, numismatic counterfeits generally focus on old coins with an average market value.
The effort and resources involved in counterfeiting do not allow imitating cheap coins, as the fraud would not be profitable. On the other hand, counterfeiting a valuable ancient coin can be like putting a target on your back, as the controls and verifications on the most valuable pieces are usually justifiably stricter.
What should you look at more closely on ancient coins, to rule out that it is a numismatic counterfeit?
First, the edge of the coin . Check for evidence of recent manufacture, or gross modifications. If you observe rare and possibly recent horizontal lines. This type of element is very common on coins that have been melted, rather than minted.
Check the entire coin with a magnifying glass for possible bubbles left in the coin’s coin blanks. This is another unmistakable indicator that this piece has been cast and not minted. Sometimes these bubbles can be found in the corners where the figures and the field of the coin are located.
An example of a counterfeit coin, where you can see the bubbles is these 4 Sevillian Reales of the Catholic Monarchs, that Adolfo Ruiz Callejas shows in his numismatic blog.
Verify that the coin has a natural patina . Counterfeiters tend to recreate artificial patinas by making concentrations of soil and other elements in strategic places on the coin. In addition, this is done to cover many of the signs I have just mentioned.
If you are looking for or appraising coins with numismatic errors, look closely at the area where the error is supposed to be . Here you will be looking for indications that the numismatic error is legitimate, or was added after the fact to deceive potential buyers.
For example, if an area was altered to remove a detail such as the mint, or an attempt was made to alter the year to make it look like it was minted at a different time. These are the most common alterations, but others can be made.
Recommendations to NOT be fooled with counterfeit coins
Well, we are almost at the end of this article in which we review the basic knowledge you need to recognize counterfeit coins.
In closing, I want to share with you four tips to avoid scams with ancient or modern counterfeit coins. But first a clarification: following these tips will not prevent 100 percent that you can be scammed, it only reduces the chances of falling into a very crude fraud.
Whenever you have doubts about the authenticity of a coin, you should always consult an expert to check it and give his endorsement.
Now, these are the 4 basic recommendations that you should always follow:
Check the coin in the counterfeit coin catalogs
Before taking out your wallet to pay for that incredible opportunity you supposedly have in front of you, check the counterfeit coin catalogs you have at hand.
There are many you can consult, some are online and free, like this one from denarios.org, and others you’ll have to buy. Here’s what’s out there.
Check the estimated value of the type of coin offered.
No matter how desperate someone is for money, they are hardly going to sell a coin for drastically less than its actual value. Can you imagine someone trying to sell a 1933 Double Eagle, or a Sacred Heart Macuquina coin for a few hundred dollars?
I don’t think anything like that would happen. Anyone who owns any of these coins knows how valuable they are. They are not coins you find lying around in grandpa’s drawer. Therefore, check the market value of a coin, according to its type and design, and if you notice a very substantial difference with the amount you are being asked for a similar specimen: be suspicious.
To find out the average price of a coin, you can follow the steps in this Guide to find out the value of old coins.
Verify the credentials of the person offering the coin.
If the coin you want to buy passes the above filters, it is also advisable to find out as much as possible about the person offering it to you.
It is true that scammers tend to present well-crafted stories about themselves, and about the fake ancient coins they are offering you. A narrative full of gaps and empty spaces about both is as suspicious as an almost perfect story of why fate did everything possible to find them and you, so that you could have this coin now. Do I make myself clear…?
So, it is advisable to look for and verify information about both the piece you want to buy, and the person or institution that offers it to you. Good people will have no problem in providing you with this information, or if you want to verify it.
Finally, whenever you can, instead of buying coins individually, it is preferable to…
Buy coins only in safe places
Finally, the most effective way to avoid being cheated with counterfeit coins is to buy your collectibles in safe and recognized places. What are these places? Reputable auction houses and numismatic and other collectors’ stores.
Collectors’ stores and stores, as well as auction houses, have controls in place that almost completely reduce the chances of a counterfeit coin slipping into their lots. And if it were to happen, they would certainly take care of the matter by repairing the damage to the buyer and taking action against the perpetrators of the fraud.
For today we are closing the subject of counterfeit coins.
I hope this little article has been to your liking, and that you are now better prepared to identify counterfeit coins the next time you see them.
I believe that all the information shared here is of general interest to collectors and non-collectors alike. At the end of the day, we all pay and collect with coins at some point, so we are all exposed to at least one illegitimate specimen that we don’t want to have.
If you think other people might be interested in this content, then share it on your social networks. Also, if you know of specific cases of fake ancient coins, you can share them in the comments so that other readers know about them too, and be forewarned.