The Indian Head gold $2.50 quarter eagles and half eagles have been
favorites of counterfeiters for as long as I have been working as an authenticator.
Something about the incuse design causes problems for many
collectors when they attempt to identify fakes — even veteran
numismatists and dealers have trouble with these pieces at times.
Due to this, my advice to collectors has always been to look for
depressions and tool marks on the surfaces of a questionable example.
The vast majority of counterfeit Indian Head quarter eagles and half
eagles were produced using the transfer die process, where all the
details of a genuine coin are transferred to a set of fake dies.
A depression occurs if there is a contact mark or defect on the
surface of the genuine model coin. This mark will transfer over to the
fake die, resulting in an identical incuse depression on each
counterfeit struck from this fake die. Most counterfeit gold coins
will exhibit dozens of depressions, since the typical genuine model
coin will have at least this many contact marks.
Tool marks are raised lines on the surfaces of a counterfeit. These
occur when the counterfeiter takes a close look at his fake dies, sees
a defect, and decides to “correct” the fake die using a sharp tool.
The process of removing a tiny amount of metal from the surface of a
fake die leaves microscopic scratches on the die face, and these
scratches result in raised lines on the resulting fake coin.
The 1909-D Indian Head half eagle shown here exhibits both
depressions and tool marks. A noticeable diagonal depression is found
in the headdress, to the lower right of the crescent, almost in the
dead center of the obverse. If your up-close vision is good, you can
spot this depression without magnification.
A patch of tool marks can be seen in the reverse field, below the
eagle’s beak. These take a little work to spot, but with good lighting
and a quality magnifier, most collectors will be able to see them.
Notice how the raised lines tend to vary in both size and direction,
which is the easiest way to differentiate between tool marks and die
polish lines, since die polish lines tend to be uniform in size and direction.