The 1844-O Seated Liberty half dime has a mintage of 220,000 pieces
and a current value of $750 in Very Fine condition. Not that many
coins from the original mintage have survived, especially in higher
grades, making it one of the scarcer date and Mint mark varieties in
the series. It is the kind of coin that most collectors have never
seen, much less held in their hand.
So I was rather surprised when I encountered an 1844-O half dime
in an order I was working on, followed by another one in the very next
order. The first coin was genuine and graded Fine with some surface
damage. The second coin I inspected was the piece shown here, a struck counterfeit.
It is not a difficult counterfeit to detect — the date digits are
the wrong style when compared to a genuine example, the lettering is a
bit crude, and the left foot of the M in DIME is missing. This fake is
too heavy for a genuine half dime, weighing 1.75 grams instead of the
standard 1.34 grams. Evidently, the counterfeiter had problems
producing such a small, thin coin, so the forger made the coin quite a
Since the counterfeiter recut the date into his fake die, one has
to assume that a common date half dime was used to produce the die, so
the actual costs involved in manufacturing this counterfeit were
fairly low. Even so, I had to wonder who the target audience for this
counterfeit would be.
No half dime variety specialist would be fooled by this example,
and the average collector would not be interested in a scarce date
Seated Liberty half dime.
Perhaps the counterfeiter intended this fake to be sold on one of
the Internet auction sites, where someone would take a chance on the
coin at 10 percent of its catalog value. Another possibility would be
selling this fake to a pawn shop for $50, or trying to sell it to a
novice collector at a flea market, yard sale or swap meet.
When your base cost for each counterfeit you produce is less than
$5, you do not need to sell each piece for close to its catalog value
to make money.
The lesson to be learned here is that a collector needs to be
worried about nearly any coin he or she is considering adding to a
collection. At one time counterfeits were mostly limited to gold coins
and key dates, such as the 1909-S Lincoln, V.D.B. cent, the 1916-D
Winged Liberty Head dime and the 1893-S Morgan silver dollar.
With hundreds of thousands of fakes streaming out of Asia each
year, many of which would be worth less than $50 if they were genuine,
collectors need to be on their guard.
One last note — one powerful resource available to coin collectors
is the Internet. At least one set of genuine images is available
online for virtually every U.S. coin, so it is possible for any
collector that is connected to the Internet to see what a genuine
example should look like.
Given this available information, very few numismatists should end
up with this type of counterfeit in their collections.
Michael Fahey is a senior numismatist at ANACS in Denver, Colo.