The mysteries in numismatics inspire research, knowledge

Published : 09/26/12
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Q. David Bowers writes in this week’s installment of his “The Joys of Collecting” column: “Numismatics has more mysteries than anyone can easily count.”

That statement was in reference to a curious Civil War token issued by a Cincinnati shop with mysterious inscriptions. As Bowers describes in the column, “The words have no obvious connection with each other, but most are pronounceable — not random letters.”

Numismatics has many mysteries that keep our hobby an interesting hotbed of discovery.

In the Oct. 1 Special Edition, Coin World published a story on an interesting 1934 Peace dollar with the correct weight and specific gravity characteristic of a silver dollar of the era, but with some highly unusual characteristics.

The staff of grading service ANACS identified depressions, patches of tooling marks, along with an unusual surface sheen that led them to believe that they were looking at a highly deceptive struck counterfeit dollar.

ANACS then sent the coin to Numismatic Guaranty Corp. for an opinion. This isn’t unusual as grading services often consult outside experts, even when they may work for other grading services. Nearly all top rare coin graders are also expert numismatists.

The verdict from NGC? The coin was a genuine 1934 Peace dollar from the Philadelphia Mint that showed evidence of PVC contamination.

One of the tools used by NGC in assessing the authenticity of the dollar was Heritage Auctions’ online auction archive. The high resolution images proved valuable to NGC when making its case for the coin’s authenticity, since NGC was able to identify three other coins that also had similar tooling marks. At least one of these coins was certified more than a decade ago before the influx of Chinese counterfeits.

In its findings, which NGC posted online, the firm noted that it was curious that the die markers were not already identified in dollar references since, as a Peace dollar variety, it “would likely have achieved some notoriety.”

ANACS is holding its ground in believing that the coin it examined “suggests a well-made, highly detailed struck counterfeit.”

As ANACS’ senior numismatist Michael Fahey said, “we can never be 100 percent certain about any high quality fake until we have two examples to compare side by side.”

Either way, this debate only benefits the hobby.

It has already identified a new 1934 Peace dollar variety that is unusual and potentially collectible.

Perhaps more importantly, the debate serves as a useful reminder that things like authentication are not always clearly defined and that collaboration only serves to increase the coin collecting hobby’s knowledge pool.

As the sophistication of counterfeiters continues to increase, so must the hobby’s understanding that there is a lot out there that waits to be discovered by sharp-eyed collectors, dealers and researchers.

Mysteries continue, and that’s a key element to keeping our hobby lively.


Steve Roach

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