COUNTERFEIT CHINESE SILVER COINS - 15 EASY SUGGESTIONS FOR DETECTING FAKES
1. Weight the coin. If the weight does not match US Mint standards, it is fake. Weights for good silver fakes will be accurate, but only for the rarest fakes (.900 fine U.S. bust dollars, Spanish pieces of eight, etc.).
2. DO NOT RELY ON A MAGNET TO DETECT A FAKE. All metals used in these fakes are non-ferrous and are all non-magnetic. Of course any silver coin that sticks to a magnet is an obvious fake. White copper is 75% copper, the remainder being nickel and zinc. Other Chinese fakes are copper and brass plated with silver.
3. Check the alignment of dates, especially on early coinage and silver dollars. Often the counterfeiters will try and 'tweak' their own die by crafting a number by hand. For example, 1893 CC Morgan dollar fakes often have a "9" that is slightly misformed, and not struck in the same depth as the 1, 8, and 3.
4. Check the thickness of the coin. To keep their coins within proper weight limits and diameter, they are forced to make the coins 'thicker' than real coins to compensate for the lower density of copper, nickel and zinc. NOTE: This test cannot be used on coins struck in 90% silver.
5. Check the edge of the coin for any verdigris, or green patina caused by the copper leaching through the nickel and zinc, or silver plating. Silver turns black with oxidation; copper turns green. If you see any green on the edges of the coin is it almost always a fake.
6. Examine the mintmark closely. In nearly every case of a Carson City Morgan, the "CC" is too small, large, or incorrectly spaced. This also applies to New Orleans and San Francisco mint marks.
7. Use known legitimate coins or images as 'compares.' Most of us don't have a spare 1893 CC Morgan laying around the house. However, you can locate images of nearly every authentic US coin by searching eBay or coin dealer websites. Find a raw or slabbed coin with a good photo and compare a known authentic coin to one in question. It is a 99% certainty that there will be flaws in the date, mintmark, or other characteristics.
SUGGESTION ON USING CHINESE COMPARES: Chinese counterfeiters often use the same die to produce a series of coins with a similar obverse/reverse (i.e. Morgan dollar, Seated Liberty dollar, etc.) and only alter the dates/mintmarks. If a dealer is offering many similar coins for sale, get a few high resolution photos of a few different dates of similar grade; then check the coins for any flaws common to more than one coin (weakly struck devices, nicks, dents, scratches, or any anomalies. I have seen an entire series of fake Canadian silver half dollars with a tiny nick at the base of Victoria's bust; this would look like an authentic imperfection without the compares. I have seen series of Seated dollars with the identical dent in the shield, as they used the die for a dozen different dates. NO TWO COINS WILL HAVE IDENTICAL IMPERFECTIONS FROM CIRCULATION!!!
8. Examine the denticles around the rim (and the rim). Because the die presses used in China are not as good as US Mint presses (even from the 19th century), you can sometimes find an indentation near the rim where the die struck the planchet off-center, or the planchet was slightly larger or smaller diameter than needed (in millimeters). Authentic coins do not have this problem, aside from errors. Genuine US coins have uniform denticles around the rim; many replicas are off-center. A POORLY STRUCK RIM IS AN INSTANT RED FLAG FOR AUTHENTICITY.
9. Use the time-tested 'ring test'. Take a silver coin of known content and compare the resonance of the sound with that of the suspect coin. Unless the coin is a 90% silver strike, you will hear the difference. Flip the coin onto a surface that will not damage the coin, but will allow it to 'ring'. NOTE: Replica coins made of brass with silver plating will resonate like silver. However, brass is much lower density than silver, so the coin will not weigh properly. To match proper weight, the counterfeit will have to be thicker, larger diameter, or a combination of both.
10. Do not trust slabbed coins from China, even in NGC and PCGS holders. Purchasing a 'genuine' coin from China is highly discouraged. It is possible to open PCGS holders and swap genuine coins for fakes, or simply counterfeit a holder and assign a bogus bar code. It is easy to counterfeit holograms and holders when tens of thousands of dollars are at stake.
11. Check for "unnatural" wear due to weak strikes, or weakly-struck devices. Many Chinese fakes are poorly struck, leaving weak features on the coins. This actually is an advantage, as it gives the coin a worn look. However, this is usually an unintended byproduct of the minting process. Some devices may appear weak, worn, or nearly impossible to see. The key is that, on an authentic coin. WEAR IS UNIFORM. A weak strike will exhibit uneven wear, or even wear on low relief devices while maintaining a near-perfect rim. This is impossible and thus a dead giveaway of a fake.
12. Nearly all 'circulated' Chinese fakes grade EF to AU. You will notice that nearly all Chinese fake circulated coinage grades in the EF/AU range. They exhibit a uniform gray color and rarely grade below EF (if they were real). If you see a group of coins with nearly identical grade, chances are good they are fakes.
13. Beware of silver plate and artificial 'rainbow toning'. The Chinese have minted many coins in copper and plated them with .999 fine silver, which allows the coin to tone and gives it a realistic luster. Additionally, some counterfeiters will use chemical and natural processes to give their coins a 'rainbow tone' that makes them look authentic. *NOTE- Authentic coins can also be artifically toned. If a Chinese seller has a rainbow toned coin, examine closely and you will find the tone has an unnatural rainbow color, similar to an oil slick on water.
14. Check the surface of the coin for grease. Aside from the 'uncirculated' fakes, nearly all counterfeit 'circulated' coins have a dirty, greasy surface that will rub off on your hand. This is NOT like dirt trapped in the devices of an old coin, because dirt is not greasy. Grease is the easiest way to give a coin that 'old' dirty look by trapping grease in the devices. It also helps to keep the coins from corroding while they sit in boxes waiting to be sold on eBay.
15. Check the alignment of the obverse and reverse. Unless the counterfeiter is trying to make a .900 fine fake, they are not generally concerned with the alignment of the obverse and reverse. Simply flip the coin over and check the alignment. If the alignment of the strikes is incorrect, you have a fake.
Never underestimate the Chinese. China was the inventor of the white copper alloy, called parfong, to sell to British and foreigners who would easily mistake it for sterling when used in flatware, candlesticks, or any other silver objects, including coins. Also, some Chinese forgeries are so good that even experts have been fooled (i.e. Spanish reales) until long after the coin is sold. However, these coins command a high price due to their precision. Trust your instincts-- if the price is too good to be true, IT IS FAKE.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide to detecting counterfeit, but should help the average collector to detect fakes prior to being ripped off.
Thousands of years ago, the philosopher Archimedes developed a simple test to see if a Greek king's mint was ripping him off by adding too much copper or silver to gold coins, and thus skimming on the precious metals. Archimedes answer was simple--each metal has a unique specific gravity/density. By placing the coin in a glass of water and measuring the amount of water displaced, Archimedes could instantly tell if gold and silver coins were of proper density or adulterated with other metals of less density.
Today we can use mass spectometry and gas chromotography to tell the exact content of any alloy. However, most of us don't have a laboratory at home (I know I don't) so here are some easy ways to spot a fake/Counterfeit Chinese coin.