A counterfeit 2011 American Eagle silver bullion coin recently
passed as genuine at a coin shop in Toronto contains no silver, but
does contain a trace amount of gold in its composition.
Andrew Greenham from Forest City Coins in
London, Ontario, Canada, obtained the counterfeit from a second
Toronto dealer who had acquired 10 examples from yet a third,
unidentified, Toronto dealer, who was duped into purchasing the pieces
from an unidentified seller, as genuine silver Eagles.
It is unknown how many counterfeit 2011 silver
American Eagles were passed as genuine and whether fake silver
American Eagles bearing other dates are also in the marketplace.
U.S. Mint spokesman Michael White said Jan. 26
that Mint officials were unaware of the counterfeits. White said he
forwarded to the U.S. Secret Service information provided by Coin
World about the counterfeits. The Secret Service confirmed being
contacted by the Mint.
On Jan. 26, Greenham posted on the Numismatic
Guaranty Corp. Collectors Society online forum
(boards.collectors-society.com) images and some details about the
counterfeit. He posted the information he had obtained in order to
educate others about the existence of the counterfeits in the marketplace.
Greenham subsequently had the counterfeit
subjected to spectrographic analysis Jan. 29 and provided Coin World
with a copy of the results.
According to the University of Chicago website
at UChicago.edu, spectrographic analysis is a noninvasive process
where chemical elements are determined by measuring the wavelengths or
spectral line intensity of a sample of matter. “Spectroscopes break
down the light emitted or absorbed by chemical elements into specific
lines of color,” according to the website.
“Every chemical element has a ‘fingerprint’ of
its own that can be used to identify it.”
While the composition of a genuine American
Eagle silver bullion coin is supposed to be .999 fine silver, the
spectrographic analysis of Greenham’s counterfeit 2011 piece
discovered a homogenous composition of the following:
➤ 50.4753 percent nickel
➤ 39.3614 percent copper
➤ 10.1163 percent zinc
➤ 0.0271 percent gold
Greenham said officials at the unidentified
facility where the spectrographic analysis was conducted suggest that
“the gold is probably an anomaly, as it wouldn’t make sense to put any
of that in there.”
Comments posted by collectors and dealers on
the NGC Collectors Society message board after Greenham posted his
images of the counterfeit suggest the fake could fool the unsuspecting
unless a detailed examination were made. Other collectors suggested
the designs were crude, showing Liberty as having a Hobbit face,
mannish, almost resembling Bilbo Baggins, the main character in the
novel and movie The Hobbit.
One St. Louis dealer indicated on the message
board that his firm has seen similar counterfeits.
“We’ve gotten nailed by similar fakes,” the
dealer posted. “The sellers will often take a roll of genuine coins
and swap out a few in the middle. Thus, cursory inspection, or even
quickly rifling through the ‘roll’ fails to reveal the fakes. We keep
some fakes on-hand for employees to look at and learn what to watch
Said another: “Goofy obverse. They could
easily be slipped into solid date rolls without many noticing. Not
many people weigh each Eagle when they purchase, [especially] if you
are buying more than 10. They could pass. That’s the scary part. Lots
of newbies buy Eagles for some reason or another. I could easily see
people buying these, [because] they are good enough to be a threat.”
Among the general differences, the weight of
the counterfeit is 32.608 grams compared with the statutory weight of
31.101 grams for a genuine American Eagle silver bullion coin. The
fake is thicker than the genuine coin, by as much as 20 to 25 percent,
but the diameter of the fake is slightly smaller than the standard
The die orientation of obverse to reverse on
the counterfeit is medal turn, not coin turn. For a U.S. coin, when
its obverse is right side up, turning the coin on its vertical axis
will reveal an upside-down view of the reverse.
In medal turn, which is what appears on the
fake silver American Eagle, the obverse and reverse both face right
side up at the same time.
Some differences noted on the obverse of the
counterfeit, compared against the genuine coin’s obverse, are these:
➤ Liberty’s jawline on the counterfeit
American Eagle silver bullion coin is more masculine, almost appearing bearded.
➤ On the counterfeit American Eagle, the
lettering is thinner and not as defined as on a genuine example.
➤ The date digits are larger on the fake
American Eagle and spaced farther apart.
➤ The length of the first ray to the left of
the sun is shorter on the fake silver American Eagle coin.
➤ The top of the L in LIBERTY on the fake
extends farther left of the third ray.
➤ The E in LIBERTY on the counterfeit version
is almost completely exposed, while on a genuine American Eagle silver
bullion coin the bottom bar of the E is almost completely covered.
When comparing the reverse of the counterfeit
2011 American Eagle silver bullion coin to a genuine example, note
among the differences:
➤ The lettering is thinner on the counterfeit;
the tail of the U in UNITED is also longer. The tail was added to the
genuine American Eagle design in 2008.
➤ The stars above the eagle’s head are
slighter smaller and not as sharp in detail on the fake as on the
genuine American Eagle silver bullion coin.
➤ The eagle’s beak on the fake American Eagle
is larger than on the genuine coin, almost parrotlike in shape.
➤ The feathers on the eagle’s head and neck on
the counterfeit coin are not clearly defined as they can be found on
the genuine silver American Eagle.
Why a silver bullion coin?
Why would anyone want to counterfeit an
American Eagle silver bullion coin?
“Money,” Greenham said. “There are fake $2
coins here in Canada. Why bother faking a $2 coin? Because it’s profitable.”
Greenham says he doesn’t see enough American
Eagle silver bullion coins in his coin transactions to have all of the
fine details memorized.
“Perhaps that’s why they showed up in Canada,
as we’re all used to our Maple [Leaf], much more so than the American
Eagle,” Greenham said in his posting at the NGC website.
“They [the counterfeits] were originally
presented for sale to a Canadian dealer. I was told they were in
capsules and then in 12 or 20 pocket pages. If the dealer was pretty
busy or distracted in some way, he may not think about inspecting them
closely. As I said, if the first sale was successful, the seller would
then bring out some tubes.
“For me, whatever I’m buying, I’m paying
attention. I [believe] I would have stopped and compared with another
Eagle, because of the strangeness of the look. But when you’re busy
and need to get to the next guy, ...” Greenham said.