The 1796 Draped Bust, Small Eagle, 15 Stars half dollar is a major
U.S. rarity. With a current price in Coin Values of $25,000 in About
Good 3, very few collectors seriously thinking about acquiring an
example for their collection will be looking at uncertified examples.
On the other hand, many collectors might take a chance with a
$25,000 coin that can be purchased for the bargain price of $1,500 to $2,500.
This is often a technique counterfeiters and their allies use,
offering expensive coins at prices low enough to entice the unwary.
It doesn’t take many sales like this to make a counterfeiting
The piece shown here appears to have started life as a Gallery
These modern imitations are not precise copies — differences in
design details, lettering and date digit styles are easy to see, and
they are all stamped with the word COPY in an obvious place.
They meet all the requirements listed in the Hobby Protection Act,
and are commonly bought and sold for what they are.
An unscrupulous individual took one of these copies and did his or
her best to disguise its origin.
The piece has been artificially circulated all the way down to
Fair to About Good condition, and darkly toned to look like a heavily
The piece has an area that has been tooled below the eagle’s
claws, which is one of the places that the Gallery Mint stamped COPY
into its reproductions.
The area has been ground down to the point of becoming concave,
but minute vestiges of the copy stamp remain. Those familiar with the
nuances of GM reproductions shouldn’t be fooled by this piece.
Even the edge of the coin has been changed, combining artificial
wear and damage to hide the differences in the edge lettering.
The weight of this piece is 12.82 grams, which is reasonable for
an early half dollar in low grade.
It is technically not a counterfeit or an alteration. But one can
make a strong case for misrepresentation in the act of artificially
circulating and wearing down the replica so that it may pass as genuine.
In any case, collectors need to be aware of the many reproductions
that have been made, and the potential for mischief they possess.
Michael Fahey is a senior numismatist at ANACS in Denver, Colo.