US Coins

1894-O Morgan dollar problem: Detecting Counterfeits

Detecting Counterfeits column from Dec. 14, 2015, issue of Coin World:

The 1894-O Morgan silver dollar is a better date, but it is certainly not a rarity like the 1889-CC or 1893-S Morgan dollars. Coin World’s Coin Values lists the 1894-O Morgan dollar at $100 in Extremely Fine 40 and $200 in About Uncirculated 50, so a modest financial incentive exists for the counterfeiter.

The fake shown here is an average quality counterfeit from Asia, with enough diagnostics that most collectors could make an accurate determination. First of all, the weight is off — a genuine Morgan silver dollar weighs approximately 26.73 grams, while this fake weighs 26.93 grams. In my experience, the U.S. Mint production facilities were extremely good at maintaining accurate weights, so a piece that is 0.2 gram overweight should immediately send out alarms.

The edge reeding on this fake is also a good diagnostic. The reeding is much finer than on a genuine coin, with approximately 20 percent to 25 percent more reeds, and is also much sharper to the touch than on a genuine example. This diagnostic will not help if the coin is inside a holder, but if you have the opportunity to hold one of these fakes, you should be able to feel the difference.

Like many Morgan dollars from the New Orleans Mint, the typical 1894-O dollar comes with a weak strike. The transfer process, where all the details of a genuine model coin are transferred over to a set of fake dies, tends to magnify this weakness, with the result that the central areas of the obverse and reverse are both weak and fuzzy.

Some of the peripheral letters also lost definition during the transfer process. You can see in the enlargement that the D and O of DOLLAR are not sharp or crisp, appearing to slide towards the rim.

Most collectors can see this type of distortion much easier when they have a genuine coin side-by-side with the suspect piece.

Finally, a number of raised concentric lines are on the raised rim of the fake. ANACS graders have seen a number of fake Morgan dollars with these lines on the rims — likely the result of the counterfeit die-making process. If you spot them, take a much closer look at the rest of the coin.

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