Detecting Counterfeits column from the Aug.
10, 2015, issue of
One of the initial steps in the authentication process is to
determine if a given coin is worth enough to attract the attention of
a counterfeiter. A 1909-S Lincoln, V.D.B. cent, a 1916 Standing Liberty quarter dollar, and
virtually any U.S. gold coin qualifies at this step. A 1916-S Indian
Head 5-cent coin does not.
Coin Values lists a price of $15 for the
1916-S in Very Good condition, a value that would be off the radar for
any self-respecting counterfeiter.
Despite this, we have the example illustrated here. It drew the
attention of the ANACS graders when we inspected it for the
requested variety of “Missing Designer’s Initial,” a popular die
variety in the “Buffalo nickel” series. On a genuine coin, the F below
the date (for designer James Earle Fraser) disappeared due to
overpolishing of the obverse die.
On this fake, the F is not visible, but due to a loss of details
from the transfer process, where the design of a genuine coin is
transferred to a set of fake dies. If the transfer process is
performed properly, nearly all of the fine details end up on the fake
dies — if the process is done poorly, the result is a less deceptive counterfeit.
Another diagnostic for this counterfeit is a straight die crack on
the obverse, running diagonally from the rim at 8:30 to the back of
the Indian’s head. Genuine dies used to produce circulation strike
coins rarely exhibit straight die cracks.
For the Indian Head 5-cent coin specialist, the S Mint mark is
another diagnostic for this fake. A genuine 1916-S 5-cent coin will
have the same style Mint mark as a 1909-S Lincoln, V.D.B. cent or a
1913-S Indian Head 5-cent coin. This counterfeit has a Mint mark that
most closely resembles the style used in the 1920s and 1930s.
The weight, diameter and composition of this fake are all accurate,
which is to be expected — there is no reason for a counterfeiter to
deliberately reduce the metal content in a fake that contains less
than 10 cents worth of copper and nickel.
Many counterfeiters purchase genuine unstruck U.S. Mint blanks from
the error community for their product, ensuring that the
specifications will be correct.
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