US Coins

NGC identifies first 1894-O Morgan dollar fake

A “contemporary counterfeit” 1894-O Morgan dollar struck with a reverse hub type not employed at the New Orleans Mint until 1900 has been identified by Numismatic Guaranty Corp.

NGC grader and attributer Ben Wengel identified the discovery from a dealer’s bulk submission of coins. Wengel forwarded the piece to Leroy Van Allen, co-author with A. George Mallis of the Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of U.S. Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars, who confirmed Wengel’s find after a thorough examination.

The fake 1894-O dollar has been assigned the attribution VAM-13. Morgan and Peace dollar varieties are often attributed by VAM numbers, an acronym formed from the Van Allen and Mallis surnames.

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Contemporary counterfeits are pieces produced and circulated around the time of the genuine issues and are not to be confused with modern fakes currently entering the market from sources in Asia.

It is believed the counterfeit VAM-13 1894-O Morgan dollar was likely produced circa 1902 to 1904.

The counterfeit 1894-O dollar shares the same reverse die as a counterfeit VAM-6 1893-O Morgan dollar, confirmed by raised lumps to the right of the D in UNITED. The same reverse type was also used to strike the known counterfeit VAM-25 1896-O and VAM-62 1900-O Morgan dollars.

Wengel believes it is possible that other examples of contemporary counterfeit Morgan dollars from the 1890s and early 1900s bearing the New Orleans Mint’s O Mint mark await discovery.

Contemporary counterfeits have already been identified for 1893-O, 1894-O, 1896-O, 1900-O, 1901-O and 1902-O Morgan dollars.

Wengel detailed additional diagnostics on the discovery 1894-O Morgan dollar counterfeit:

??Die chips in the field near the fifth star left of the date on the obverse.

??A wide gap between the eagle’s neck and left wing on the reverse.

??Short double lines at wing edge, to the left below the first S in STATES on the reverse.

?O Mint mark tilted slightly to the left.

Wengel said NGC had the counterfeit 1894-O Morgan dollar metallurgically analyzed. The analysis determined the composition to be .918 fine silver, making it actually of higher grade silver than the government standard then, .900 fine for silver dollars.

Van Allen determined the 1894-O counterfeit was struck using the same collar die as was used for the fake 1893-O VAM-6, 1896-O VAM-25 and 1900-O VAM-62 Morgan dollars.

Van Allen said while the VAM-13 1894-O counterfeit is related to the fake 1893-O VAM-7 and -8 dollars, the 1896-O VAM-26 coin, the 1900-O VAM-60 dollar and the 1901-O VAM-58 dollar through various obverse and reverse counterfeit dies, “none of these coins have yet to be shown related to the Micro O series of counterfeits.”

Micro O counterfeits

Several different-sized Mint marks were employed to mark dies used at the New Orleans Mint, including one that numismatists call the “Micro O” that first appeared on silver dollars in 1880 from that branch Mint. Those 1880-O varieties are judged genuine.

All Mint marks at that time were added to the dies at the Philadelphia Mint before they were shipped to the various branch Mint facilities. The punches Mint engravers used to add the Mint marks to the dies often would be used for years, so it would not be uncommon to find coins struck years apart that bear the same Mint mark style.

Although numerous Micro O Morgan dollars of various dates were known to collectors and avidly collected by many as genuine, the numismatic community slowly accepted that many were high-quality contemporary counterfeits, some of which may have been identified in contemporary news accounts as early as 1897.

Today, after extensive research, numismatists have concluded that all purported Micro O varieties of 1896-O, 1900-O and 1902-O Morgan dollars are deceptive contemporary counterfeits produced with the same reverse die.

As Coin World reported in 2005, what makes these fakes so deceptive is that they are made of good silver. 

The nature of the 1896-O, 1900-O and 1902-O Morgan dollar counterfeits became broadly known in 2005 after Professional Coin Grading Service published the results of its research in the series. The three coin had previously been judged to be fake by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., though that was not widely known.

Despite their status as counterfeits, some collectors still collect the three dates as interesting relics related to the genuine series.

The findings about the 1896-O, 1900-O and 1902-O pieces do not affect the 1880-O and 1899-O Morgan, Micro O dollars, which are still considered genuine Mint products. 

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