Morgan dollar die variety specialists are reportedly excited over a
recently discovered counterfeit 1900-O/CC Morgan dollar. The coin has
die links to the fake Micro O Morgan dollars that specialists
identified more than a decade ago and that remain popular with
collectors despite their illegal origin.
According to an Oct. 25 report by the Society of Silver Dollar
Collectors, the newly identified counterfeit coin pairs a known
counterfeit obverse die used in making two counterfeit 1900 Micro O
Morgan dollars with a fake reverse that bears an O/CC over Mint mark.
Related fakes of multiple dates were known with the Micro O Mint
mark but had only been suspected for this over Mint mark (the remnants
of the CC Mint mark had been obliterated on the other coins made from
John Baumgart, president of SSDC, is quick to note in an email to
Coin World that the discovery of the fake 1900-O/CC Morgan dollar does
not condemn all varieties of 1900-O/CC dollar as fakes. Pieces long
listed in standard and specialist reference books are still considered
to be genuine.
That is in marked contrast to the revelation in 2005 that Micro O
varieties of Morgan dollars of other, multiple dates were counterfeits
(though some genuine Micro O varieties exist).
Excitement over a fake
According to the Oct. 25 article published by the Society of Silver
Dollar Collectors, the counterfeit 1900-O/CC Morgan dollar was first
reported by Paul Vandenberg on VAMWorld, a website maintained for
collectors of Morgan dollar die varieties or marriages. Vandenberg
reported the coin after he determined that it did not seem to be the
die variety he had ordered. He was expecting a coin that was one of
the known counterfeit 1900-O Morgan, Micro O dollars — a die variety
cataloged as VAM-5 in the language of specialists in the series.
Other specialists examining photos of die markers (obverse die
gouges in UNUM and a clear O/CC Mint mark) on Vandenberg’s coin
confirmed that it was not the die marriage that he had expected, but
appeared to be a previously unidentified counterfeit marriage — a
discovery that generated excitement within the die variety community.
Leroy Van Allen, who with the late A. George Mallis was a pioneering
cataloger of Morgan dollar die varieties, or VAMs, then confirmed it
as a counterfeit 1900-O/CC Morgan dollar.
Van Allen has assigned the new counterfeit 1900-O/CC Morgan dollar
die as VAM-59.
Close examination of the reverse die revealed it to be one
previously identified as connected to other counterfeit New Orleans
Mint Morgan dollars of various dates (1896, 1900 and 1901), though it
had not been identified as bearing an O/CC over Mint mark. The
remnants of the CC Mint mark are stronger on the fake 1900-O/CC coin
than they are on the counterfeit dollars from the related die.
According to the SSDC article, “The fact that the mint mark is clear
on the 1900-O VAM 59 could indicate it was struck before the 1901-O
[coin], or that a higher quality copy die was made and used with the
While many collectors would shy away from counterfeit coins, it is
likely that VAM specialists will seek out new examples of the VAM 59
coin. As the SSDC article notes, “This discovery expands the size of
the Micro O counterfeit ‘family’ of die marriages further, and gives
collectors another very interesting coin to look for.”
Real versus fake
Collectors had long collected what are called Micro O varieties of
various dates: 1880-O, 1899-O, 1896-O, 1900-O, and 1902-O Morgan
dollars, so named because the Mint mark of the New Orleans Mint was
smaller than typically found on Morgan dollars.
However, some in the collecting community had reservations about the
legitimacy of some (though not all) of these pieces, because examples
exhibited certain characteristics of counterfeit dies. Still, even
with such suspicions, these Micro O dollars were listed in standard
and specialist books as legitimate, and some grading services
authenticated them as genuine.
Then, in August 2005, Professional Coin Grading Service announced it
would no longer grade the 1896-O, 1900-O, and 1902-O Micro O dollars
after they were determined to be “contemporary counterfeits,” pieces
made when the United States Mint was striking real silver dollars.
In reaction to PCGS’s August 2005 announcement, Numismatic Guaranty
Corp. officials stated that NGC had been aware of the nature of the
Micro O varieties of 1896-O, 1900-O, and 1902-O Morgan dollars “for
the better part of five years,” and that it had long refused to
authenticate them as genuine.
Since the determination of the three dates as counterfeits,
specialists have searched for related pieces. According to SSDC, the
related Micro O counterfeits identified as fakes since 2005 include “a
rare 1901-O Micro O, an 1896-O with a post-1900 ... reverse, and
several other coins dated 1900-O and 1902-O.”
The many Micro O varieties of 1880-O and 1899-O Morgan dollars are
genuine, according to specialists. Similarly, Baumgart notes, “There
are 6 die marriages for 1900-O/CC that have been cataloged forever
(VAMs 7-12), and they are unquestionably genuine.”
The six genuine varieties of 1900-O/CC Morgan dollars resulted from
the repurposing of reverse dies originally intended to be used by the
Carson City Mint in Nevada. When the Carson City Mint stopped striking
silver dollars in July 1899, reverse dies held at the facility were
returned to the Philadelphia Mint, where the CC Mint mark of each was
partially effaced and an O Mint mark punched over the remnants of the
original Mint mark.
The repunched dies were then sent to the New Orleans Mint and used
to strike 1900-O/CC Morgan dollars.
Since at least 1928, the over Mint marks were known to exist, but
collectors did not actively search them out until the 1950s.
The fake 1900-O/CC Morgan dollar and the Micro O dollar fakes appear
to date to the early 20th century. Many are made of a higher fineness
of silver than the genuine coins. The counterfeiters responsible for
the various related coins appear to have been prolific, producing many
die pairs — something today’s collectors appreciate.
According to Baumgart, 24 different die pairs have been identified
“in this family of contemporary counterfeits.”
“It’s hard to believe they made so many die pairs! And we are still
finding new ones,” according to one poster at VAMWorld.
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