The problems of counterfeit coins and “coin doctoring” are two issues
that have the potential to harm the coin market in the long term if
not properly addressed.
The flow of counterfeit coins into the United States will be
seriously impacted by Internet auction powerhouse eBay’s announcement
that it will no longer allow the listing of replica coins effective
Feb. 20. The threat of counterfeit U.S. coins, primarily from Chinese
sellers, has been a burden on the market for several years. While
people purchasing the counterfeits on eBay typically knew what they
were getting, subsequent buyers often did not.
For replicas, eBay sellers typically pictured coins marked COPY in
accordance with the Hobby Protection Act. However, buyers reported
receiving coins without the required clear markings. To average
collectors, many of these coins were good enough to pass as
legitimate; especially with copper and copper-nickel coins that did
not require precious metals to fully replicate the originals. For
example, replica large cents in circulated condition were highly deceptive.
A long-term effect of the sale of these replicas marked with COPY is
that these “coins” will eventually get passed down to future
generations, and those who will receive them, likely unaware that they
are replicas, could sell them as coins, whereby the pieces might
trickle into the marketplace, casually included in collections of
Now that eBay has placed restrictions on the sale of replicas, a
major supply point into the United States has been cut off. Especially
when one considers that the sale of low-level forgeries potentially
funded more advanced studies for counterfeiters for high-end coins,
the new eBay policy should prove beneficial to the market in the long-term.
The ongoing discussion of “coin doctoring” continues to bring this
problem to the attention of the hobby, and the multi-year struggles of
the Professional Numismatists Guild to adopt a definition shows the
problematic nature of the topic as the line between conservation and
deceptive surface manipulation is often a fine one.
Like with the counterfeiting problem, as technology improves and the
techniques of coin doctors improve, the potential for coin buyers to
be harmed expands.
The long-term threat to the hobby is that once a coin buyer is
burned, he or she may never return to buy another rare coin. ■