US Coins

Identifying a fake key-date 1893-S Morgan dollar

Detecting Counterfeits column from Nov. 14, 2016, weekly issue of Coin World:

The fake illustrated here is a slightly better counterfeit of a rare date Morgan silver dollar.

Thousands of fake 1893-S Morgan dollars have found their way into the U.S. rare coin marketplace over the last few years. I would rate this piece as moderately well made, but with enough defects that the average collector should be able to verify that it is not genuine.

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Nearly all of the design details are accurate, indicating that this fake was struck from counterfeit dies that were made using genuine coins as models. The weight, thickness, diameter and metal composition are all exactly the same as a genuine Morgan dollar, which shows that the counterfeiters took the time to use accurate 90 percent silver blanks.

Additionally, the counterfeit appears to exhibit light wear on the high points, along with a light cleaning that has impaired the luster and hairlined the surfaces.

Morgan dollar history

Morgan dollar: For decades the Morgan dollar has ranked at the top U.S. coin collectors' favorite coins. Why is the Morgan dollar so popular? There are many reasons, including: large size, attractive designs, numerous varieties, historical significance. How much are Morgan dollars worth?

All of this gives the fake a more natural appearance, increasing its chances of fooling a collector.

However, a quick look at the date reveals that the 3 is a bit taller than the other digits. A closer inspection shows that the 3 in the date is also a different style, with a more homemade appearance.

At this point a collector can visit for specific diagnostics for a genuine 1893-S Morgan dollar. Comparing our fake to the images at VAM World, we can see that the date position on the fake is different than on the genuine 1893-S dollar. While the S Mint mark is the correct style and size, it is a bit closer to the ribbon bow than on either genuine reverse. (All authentic 1893-S Morgan dollars were struck from a single obverse die and one of two reverse dies.) 

All of this indicates that the counterfeiter used a common date Morgan dollar from the 1890s to create the obverse die and a common date San Francisco Mint dollar to create the reverse die. Some quick alteration work on the last digit in the date on the fake obverse die produced a set of counterfeit dies that could be used to strike hundreds of fakes. Even if the resulting counterfeits are sold for only a few hundred dollars each, the counterfeiters will make a significant profit overall.  

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