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Learn How to Spot Fake Pandas
By F. Michael Fazzari, Numismatic News
May 28, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Have you heard the expression: “I’ve got some bad news and some good news?” You may be left with that feeling when you finish this column.

I use a stereo microscope and fluorescent light to examine most coins that come across my desk. That is the way I was taught. This does have some drawbacks. It takes longer for me to authenticate and grade each coin.

I must first view it with my naked eye (to establish its basic grade, originality, and eye appeal); then view both sides and the rim under the microscope (this confirms its authenticity and aids in grading and detecting alterations); and finally, I use a 7 power hand lens and my naked eye again for a final grade determination.

While this operation may take a total of 30 seconds or more depending on how interesting or unusual the coin might be, I have heard that some dealers/graders/authenticators may examine up to 10 coins in the same amount of time!

Over the years, I’ve kept a file containing almost a dozen counterfeits that have slipped past professional authenticators because they were not attentive enough or only used a hand lens to view the coin in question. I’ve been guilty of this in the past 41 years. Thankfully, in most cases of inattention at major grading services, the error is caught before the coin enters the market.

In my experience, there are usually several grades of counterfeits in the marketplace at one time. Let’s deal with those being made today, principally in China. At least one entity is producing the extremely deceptive “state-of-the-art” fakes. At the same time, less sophisticated “factories” are making less deceptive coins of various qualities.

Consider this: Let’s call the worst counterfeits “A” quality, better fakes “B,” and very deceptive fakes “C” quality. Professional authenticators at the major services would detect all of these. Over time, the professionals may even discover a “state-of-the-art” fake of “D” quality that had previously defied detection! Many dealers and informed collectors would consider the “B” grade very deceptive and need to send most “B” grade and all “C” grade coins to a grading service to be authenticated.

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I need you to consider another important variable in order to better understand this column. That’s the expertise and experience of the person viewing the coin. While an expert authenticator at the Chinese Mint may know his country’s coins inside and out, a coin this country’s experts might consider “D” quality may only rate a “B” in his eyes. In summary, fakes come in various degrees of quality and there is a wide range of expertise among numismatists. For this reason, it can be comical to read many of the opinions and comments dealing with authenticating specific coins by photographic scans on the Internet. Many of these folks remind me of an old girlfriend who attempted to bite an 18K bracelet I gave her to see if it was real gold!

Nevertheless, there are several good sources on the Internet for diagnostics of Chinese counterfeits. You may wish to start out at Panda America and go from there.

It is apparent to me that new technologies have been harnessed to make counterfeit dies. In the past, articles have been written to explain casting, spark erosion, and CDN machines. Now, I should like to see a tool and die maker/numismatist explain how fakes can be made using the three dimensional and newer four dimensional replicators I have heard about. Perhaps the best counterfeits of today are produced without using dies at all! This is not science fiction.

With all this in view, during the last few years I have been bombarded with warnings about how deceptive the counterfeit Chinese Panda coins are. Up until last week, I may not have encountered one. It’s not because I haven’t looked. I have closely examined, weighed, and tested hundreds of Pandas and spent many hours using a microscope to discover any characteristics that might identify one of these coins as a fake. I’ve had no success. I think I may have discovered the reason for this. Based on one group of Pandas recently sent into ICG for authentication, all the coins I have seen so far have been genuine! I don’t consider that I wasted time as I now know what the surface of a genuine Panda coin looks like at 40X – 80X; however, the counterfeits I show you here can be detected without magnification. Now, I’m wondering if these crude “A” quality counterfeits are the type of coins that caused such dire warnings on the Internet from numismatists who considered them to be very deceptive “C” quality fakes! Here are some things you can look for on coins dating from 2003 – 2005 in this group:

The edge reeding is perpendicular. It should be slanted.

The coins are under weight. That is because they are struck in copper and silver plated. If you don’t have a scale, close inspection with a magnifier may catch this defect.

The frosting on the counterfeit Pandas is weak and uneven. Figure 1 is “fake frost” as opposed to the deep, sharp frost seen on genuine coins.

The numerals and Chinese characters on the fakes do not sink sharply into the surface. Their sides appear to be rounded producing a “closed off” appearance.

In spite of the low quality of these fakes, I don’t intend to become complacent. Better counterfeits of these coins must exist, so you must learn what the genuine coins look like.


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