A genuine counterfeit
About the same time that Philadelphia coin dealer Ebenezer Locke Mason Jr. was creating electrotypes of Jefferson head cents (in the 1860s), New York dealer William D. Smith was creating his own 1793 cents from well-worn 1793 and 1794 cents.
The coins, largely unknown to the collector community, are called Smith counterfeits by cognoscenti. In a 2013 article on contemporary counterfeits, Coin World’s Paul Gilkes wrote, “Some collectors suggest the Smith counterfeits are not counterfeits at all, but simply alterations to genuine U.S. Mint cents.”
Smith took well-worn cents and extensively engraved the remaining surface, rounding Liberty’s cheeks and giving definition to her hair strands. The result — lightweight by necessity — is nowhere near original looking but has a not-unattractive, otherworldly presence that attracts collectors.
Stack’s in its 2007 John Ford XVII sale catalog, wrote that Smith was noted for his “trademark smiling Liberty, bold date, and abundant reverse berries.”
The description for an Extra Fine Smith counterfeit that fetched $2,990, said, “Their manufacture in the 1860s was not meant to fool anyone, but rather to make a nearly worthless cent (like a low-grade and granular Wreath cent, worth just pennies in the 1860s) into something admirable and perhaps suitable as a hole-filler in the place of the elusive high-grade cents of 1793.”
In January, Ira and Larry Goldberg sold a Fine 12 1793 Flowing Hair, Wreath Reverse cent for $2,585. The price was about a third of what an unaltered Fine 12 piece would bring, but more than an unaltered poor coin would sell for.
The intriguing pieces are prized today for their whimsy and connection to mid-19th century collecting, when the hobby was young.
Next: Copy or counterfeit?
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