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Fake Half Dollar Looks Good at First
By F. Michael Fazzari, Numismatic News
June 24, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The history of counterfeiting goes back as long as the first objects were used as a medium of exchange; however, this column will deal with coins not skins, beads or seal shells. Collectors of today must not only be watchful of counterfeits and alterations made since the beginning of coinage but also deal with the newly made fakes that are being produced somewhere – even as I write this column.

I’ve written before that counterfeits are found in various degrees of quality that can be plotted on a linear scale from crude and not deceptive at all to undetectable, state-of-the-art fakes that fool experts – at least for a while. The left end of this scale is pretty well fixed. The crude replicas, casts, and non-artistic, underweight “junk” will reside there forever. That’s because the fakers are doing their best to make a better, more deceptive product that will pass scrutiny. As their tools, dies, materials, and methods have improved, so have the fakes. Therefore, the newer, better-made fakes and alterations have moved further toward the right side of our scale. Additionally, the right end of the line is constantly expanding. The fakes at this end continue to improve and are the most challenging for even the best authenticators.

Now that you understand how our imaginary scale of counterfeits is laid out from poor quality to very deceptive; there is another aspect of authentication we must consider. The scale is different for each individual collector, dealer, specialist, or professional authenticator. While a specialist or professional authenticator may consider many fakes that fall way over toward the right side of our scale to be not very deceptive, a coin accumulator or unsophisticated collector may be fooled by a piece at the far left end with “COPY” stamped into both sides.

There are some deceptive fakes on our scale that were produced in the 18th and 19th century as contemporary forgeries and evasion tokens that may still give numismatists a challenge. Contemporary forgeries are fakes that were made for circulation concurrent with genuine pieces. They are often underweight and struck with hand cut dies. Some of these pieces have actually been accepted into numismatics as genuine. As time goes by, most have been removed from modern reference books, but they can still be seen in early editions.

There are other “coppers” (which I won’t mention here so as not to offend specialists) that have no similarity to the design of the genuine issue; yet they are still considered genuine and are highly sought after. Another group of coins called Evasion tokens were produced to look similar to the genuine coins of the time but they were not exact copies.

In order to foil the laws against counterfeiting, many had a fictitious design or different legend so they were considered to be tokens rather than coins. Most were made in 18th century England. One of these tokens with a spurious legend is shown in Figure 4.

Many of these circulated as genuine coins, especially when they reached the colonies in America. Since the most important rule of authentication is to know what the genuine coin should look like, these pieces may be deceptive because they are not commonly encountered by the average collector.

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The coin in Figure 1 is what makes my job challenging and keeps me on my toes. This is the kind of counterfeit that has fooled both dealers and professional authenticators who were not attentive. At first glance, it is a well-worn genuine 1921 Walking Liberty half dollar. At second glance, the coin has an unusual wear pattern which is probably due to its slightly cupped surface. Still genuine. The date seems OK, but some of the letters in the legend are not as artistic as they should be. “Red Flag Warning?” Closer examination needed? A side-by-side comparison with other well-worn 1921 50-cent coins proved that this specimen is a counterfeit. There are many minute design differences. Perhaps the easiest to see are the number of rays from the sun to the left of Liberty’s skirt. The counterfeit has only six while the correct number is seven (Fig. 2 & 3).

Is this fake something made to circulate in the 20th century, or is it a 21st century fake that was worn down to simulate circulation? I’ve never encountered or heard of one of these pieces before. That might indicate an old contemporary issue; however, if more start to turn up, it will point to a more modern manufacture.

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