how do you spot fake Trade Dollars, anyway?

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by ksparrow, Aug 1, 2009.

  1. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder Supporter

    Since people are often asking if a particular coin is genuine or not, I will share a few pointers. People familiar with the series may find my comments somewhat basic. That's fine. I also welcome additions, since my knowledge/experience is also changing. I have been collecting the series for about 3 years, and confine myself to the circulation strikes, made from 1873 through 1878. all of my coins are circulated, some are cleaned, some are chopmarked. I think they are all fascinating. Although my comments in this thread are aimed primarily at the purchaser of raw Trade Dollars, I would discourage you from doing so, as there are many pitfalls. I have been fooled several times myself. In particular, avoid CC mint Trade Dollars raw on eBay, I would guess that at least 95% of them are fake. Some of the fakes are very clever, as the Chinese have been turning them out for over 100 years. Now they are turning them out in fake PCGS holders, to boot! I will assume that in buying coins on the internet that you diligently check out the seller, fb at toolhaus, ask appropriate questions about the coin,return policy,and are alert to the common scams. Please note, I do not accept any responsibility for purchases made by readers of this thread that turn out to be fake, or otherwise "not as described." You are on your own. If you want a nice Trade Dollar for a type set, buy only a properly certified example from a reputable seller, and be done with it.

    Study the seller's photos carefully. If they are too small, you cannot tell anything about the coin. If the photos are less than 3x the size of the coin, it well be very difficult to detect markers of forgery on the coin. You will, however, often by able to spot if the coin has the correct obverse and reverse combination for the date. From 1873-75, all trade dollars shared a common obverse design. The ribbon with "LIBERTY" on it has its tips pointing to the left. Also, the hand holding the branch has 3 fingers visible, a small detail often impossible to see in photos. example:
    From 1873 until 1874, a common reverse was used(and continued to be used on some coins through 1876) there is an oval berry under the right side claw of the eagle, above the first 0 of 900:
    Note that the tip of the lowest arrowhead ends between the 2 and 0 of 420.

    Beginning in 1875, a new reverse was introduced, the type-2 or T-II reverse, which eliminated the berry and moved the arrow head slightly to the left, so it ends over the 2:

    Both type 1 and type 2 reverses were in use for 1875 and 1876, and only type 2 from 1877 onward.

    Beginning in 1876, another obverse was introduced, fittingly called type 2 or T-II, in which the ribbon tips pointed downward, and the hand with the branch has 4 fingers visible.

    In summary, from 1873-1874, everything is type 1/1 (obv/rev); in 1875 we have type 1/1 or 1/2; In 1876 we have 1/1;1/2; and 2/2 (NOTE: NO 2/1 combination) and from 1877 onward only type 2/2. This comes in handy spotting fakes, because forgers mix up their dies and don't often pay attention to the obv/rev pairings. Thus, many of the fake 1878-cc Trade dollars for sale raw have a type 1 reverse. It's also common to see a type-2 reverse on fake 1873 and 1874 coins. Next: the basics of dentistry (dentil analysis)
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  3. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder Supporter

    Best Answer
    Trade dollars were made in a very precise manner, partly because they were mass-produced, and partly, I believe, to discourage counterfeiting, rampant in the FAr East where they were intended to go. Forgers often fail to reproduce the precision of the real thing, especially in the rims and dentils.

    In general, the rim of a Trade dollar is fairly flat and of a uniform width- generally no wider than a dentil is long (measured along the radius of the coin.) Coins with fat or puffy looking rims are suspect. The dentils are very uniform and evenly spaced, about the only variability they have is that sometimes they will appear to be lightly struck on a small area of the coin. A coin where the dentils are of variable length, appear fused in spots, pitted, or where larger areas have absent or faint dentils is likely to be a forgery. Be aware that sometimes lighting, camera position, or dirt can cause the dentils to look triangular or like 'candy corn.'
    some genuine dentils:

    Next, look at the lettering on the coin, the date, the stars. They should all look crisp, rising sharply out of the fields. Letters or numbers that look malformed, or fat/rounded (except on a well circulated coin) should make you suspicious.

    The stars on Trade dollars are generally well formed, although sometimes weakly struck. Fakes may have stars with weirdly curving rays, or sometimes look like 6 grains of rice stuck toghether.

    Fakes often have pimples, or small bumps on the fields, that are a dead giveaway. These are simply not seen on genuine examples. Forgers will often polish or abrasively clean these coins to remove the pimples. Some will be left on the devices, however, where they are hard to spot until you have the coin in hand (and the seller has your money!). So, a harshly cleaned TD is not necessarily a fake, but it should raise your index of suspicion.
    Fakes also do not have normal luster, where present it has a weird foggy/hazy look, under magnification it looks more like a chemical treatment, and is not due to metal flow. On fakes designed to look circulated (or that actually did circulate) the remaining luster within the devices looks too coarse, almost like fine sand. You would have to have the coin in hand to spot this, naturally.

    Central devices: because the forgers spend the most time getting these right, the figures of Liberty and the Eagle often look "natural" and are the last place I look. Be aware of a disparity in wear between obverse and reverse (so you have to know how to grade these) because the forgers will pair dies made from different coins in different states of wear. Look for engraving that seems too deep or out of place, since forgers often try to touch up the flat areas on their dies (Liberty's gown and the eagle's breast are often affected).
    Lack of detail in the bale, wheat sheaf, and Liberty's foot are often seen on fakes. Frequently forgers have trouble getting the eagle's eye just right- it pays to study some genuine examples here. That reminds me of 1 more difference between a type 1 and type 2 reverse: the feathers on the back of the eagle's head. On type 1, the tips are above the eagle's "shoulder": [​IMG]
    On type 2, they flow smoothly onto the base of the wing:

    The closeup images I obtained using photos from the Heritage Auction Galleries Archives. All collectors should be appreciative of Heritage making this priceless resource available, free of charge, to the community. Thanks, Heritage!
  4. jloring

    jloring Senior Citizen

    Great info, and worthy of a nomination for TOTW... thanks for posting!
  5. desertgem

    desertgem MODERATOR Senior Errer Collecktor Moderator Supporter

    Thank you very much for the posting! excellent photography and explanations. I am printing it off to add to my reference area. So often trade dollars show up with the question~ "Is it real " or "how much is it worth" to be told generally " It doesn't look right ", and I want to ask "why?" Your article will explain a lot to all, who are not experts in this area, including many old timers. This is the type of article I like to see in CT.

  6. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder Supporter

    Thanks for the kind words, guys (and nomination!) I'm trying to share some of the knowledge I've acquired the last several years, in the spirit of Cointalk.

    With regard to edge reeding, this is another area where forgers often come up short. It just isn't a side of the coin that people pay much attention to, it usually isn't a feature of auction photos, and most slabs hide it (except the much-maligned NGC Edgeview). Below is a photo of the edges of 3 trade dollars together. A fake on each side, and a genuine one in the center. On the left hand fake, as you can see, the 'lands' are extremely variable, some almost paper thin, leading to a lot of variation in the 'grooves.' On the right hand fake, they look fairly regular, but don't quite seem to reach all the way to the rims. Look hard at the lower right corner, and you will see some granularity and pitting which is much more obvious in hand. It has to be the result of either casting, or a poorly made transfer die.
    Some trade dollar fakes have an applied rim- they struck the coin 'disc' first and then placed the heated reeded ring on and plated the whole thing. One would expect all sorts of rim issues with those (brings to mind that chopmarked coin on the other thread

    You will note that I haven't mentioned weight. Of course, you should always weigh a raw Trade dollar, but the better fakes have the correct weight. It is often helpful to ask the seller what the weight is, in grams. If they immediately pop back with, "27.22 grams," the 'official' weight, that makes me a little queasy, since most of the genuine ones are off just a tad. If it's an honest person who has a coin they know nothing about, you may get an answer like "23.4 grams" which should lead to an exchange of useful information! Those who don't reply at all, or who reply with a smart remark, are best avoided.

    OK, so which of these do you think are fakes, and which are real? It's ok to give a 'probabilistic' reply, such as " I'm 90% sure it's a fake," because you can NEVER be certain from a photo (unless it has the wrong reverse for the date!). Some of these may be cleaned, chopped, or have damage, not relevant to authenticity. Try shrinking the images down to typical eBay auction photo size for a real challenge!

    Exhibit A: 1876-cc wt. not available

    Exhibit B: 1877-cc wt: 27.10 g, damage to rim and dentils.

    Exhibit C: 1875-cc, wt. not available,

    Exhibit D: 1874-cc, wt. 27.21g
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  7. majorbigtime

    majorbigtime New Member

    Look for spots of soy sauce.
  8. clembo

    clembo A closed mind is no mind

    Excellent thread Ksparrow.

    We get the occasional Trade Dollar at work. The FIRST thing I do is weigh it then give it to the boss. It's his money that will buy it after all.

    Had a guy come in last week with an "old dollar" he bought at a garage sale. He was just looking for information. Handed me the coin and I told him it was fake.
    Really hadn't looked at it rather than to see it "was" a Trade Dollar.
    How did I know? It was WAY light.

    Weighed it for the heck of it and was over 5 grams short.
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  9. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder Supporter

    Weight is the best 'quick screen' there is for a walk in. Don't even have to get out a glass!
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  10. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder Supporter

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  11. green18

    green18 Unknown member Sweet on Commemorative Coins Supporter

    Facinating series. I'll echo Jim in saying that I'll keep this thread tucked away in a safe place to refer to in the future...

    I've always admired this series and have since yet to purchase an example.
  12. Half Dollar*

    Half Dollar* Numismaniac

    Amazing thread ksparrow! :thumb:
  13. GoldCoinLover

    GoldCoinLover Senior Member

    The (first one) 1876 CC looks fake, 90%. Spike from dentical on reverse at K9, uneven denticals. The others, not sure. maybe, but the first one there looks fake! Am I right? :D

    What causes this "vanishing denticals" syndrome., and what is it?
    I looked at the ebay link, and yeah the denticals seem to disappear. Never seen this before
  14. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder Supporter

    Hi, I think the 'spike' referred to is actually a scratch on the coin. It is not unusual to see a small area where the denticles are somewhat weak, I think from the dies being slightly out of alignment ( just a guess). However, on fakes, where the die quality isn't so good, or the dentils well cut, or the pressure variable, they often just 'aren't there.' To reproduce these coins accurately requires the expenditure of a lot of time, or some very high quality machinery. Fortunately, it seems, the forgers seem to lack both.
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  15. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder Supporter

    I hope more folks will offer opinions on these coins, none of them is slabbed at present, so in a sense some doubt as to their authenticity must remain.
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  16. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder Supporter

    OK, so here is the story on these four coins.
    Exhibit A: in my opinion, a genuine 1876-cc DDR. Purchased (cherrypicked!) from a well known eBay seller who has a lot of trade dollars, usually "blast white." I have examined it minutely; the only thing a little questionable is the lightly struck dentils in a couple of spots, but even those are the right length. Interestingly,forgers got their hands on an 1876-DDR and made a transfer die from it some time ago, so a fair number of these that turn up raw are, in fact, fakes! The fakes almost always have a series of 3 depressions behind the eagle's head (mine does not). Fakes are also usually missing the doubled row of feathers in the center of the eagle's right wing.I also have seen a fake with a forger's mark: 2 impressions into the O of OF. Another marker of the DDR is the broken tops of the E's and the F on the upper legend. Other diagnostics are the 'whisker' under the eagle's jaw, the doubled branch at bottom right, and the doubled wingtip (eagle's left). While these are not rare, they are the strongest doubled variety in the series.
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  17. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder Supporter

    Exhibit B: 1877-CC, weight in acceptable range, but fake. I bought this coin in an ANACS holder, which turned out to be fake, too:


    This is a fairly well executed forgery. The supposedly damaged dentils, are in fact malformed. many of them contain tiny pits.Many have that 'candy corn' shape. The reeding does not extend fully from rim to rim. Liberty's body has a somewhat 'pimply' look, the fields have been abrasively cleaned, probably to remove small bumps.The eagle's eye is not formed correctly. Where there should be luster in protected areas on a higher grade coin like this, there is none.

    I sent it to ANACS, they kept the holder and sent me back the coin. The seller, I believe, was duped as well.

    Exhibit C: a genuine 1875-cc, scarce with a type 2 reverse (comprising 5-10% of the issue)

    Exhibit D: another fake, but the correct weight. Note the pitting in the dentils, and the rims look a bit wide too. This is the coin on the left in the edge reeding comparison photo.The chops are strange, too, I've never seen one shaped like a peace pipe! The lettering on this one looks sort of rounded, like pillows. compare to the squared off, flat-topped lettering on the 2 (in my opinion) genuine examples.
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  18. kaparthy

    kaparthy Supporter! Supporter

    Live and Learn

    Allow me to add my thanks, also. I clicked for Nomination, as well.

    The first coins I ever condemned as fake on my own were Trade Dollars. I later saw the same set for sale at an MSNS Convention.

    When I spoke at the ANA in Pittsburgh on Fakes, for my demonstration, I cut fake Trade Dollars.
  19. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder Supporter

    Thanks. I welcome others to post any fake TD's they might own, here for discussion- especially the more convincing ones. I'm still on the fence about one of mine, I may post images later for discussion. Things are just getting worse with respect to the fakes, imo. Here is one in a fake PCGS slab:

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  20. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder Supporter

    Here's another raw one, opinions as to condition, authenticity, etc.? wt. 27.23g

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  21. ksparrow

    ksparrow Coin Hoarder Supporter

    Thanks, those of you who nominated this for TOTW. I'm honored. I hope it has been a useful thread, and that people will continue to add to it.
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