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The 'Almost' Perfect Counterfeit

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Mike Sargent is the Head Verifier at PCGS and is a leading expert on counterfeit detection. "Sarge" maintains a comprehensive database of known counterfeits and unfortunately is frequently adding new ones.

Over the 30 plus years of working professionally with rare coins, I can seldom remember a more unusual group of counterfeit coins.

In the mid 1980s I remember being at a Long Beach Coin Expo while working for Harlan White from San Diego. Up to our table came another dealer who was very excited about a gem roll of 1934 quarters that he had just bought from a customer who had just mysteriously walked in off the street. This date is not a rare date by any means, but having a roll of 40 gems coins was unheard of, even in the 1980s before coin grading and encapsulation came to be what they are today.

I carefully opened up the roll and laid the coins across a velvet pad. The very first thing that went through my head was "How could every single coin be a gem?" With perfect strike, perfect luster and absolutely no bag marks.

To be honest, maybe that was the second thing that went through my head, as the first thing might have been $ signs from the profit I might reap if I could buy this perfect-looking roll of quarters! The dealer then told me he would be able to buy up to 10 more rolls looking just as nice. I told him that this deal looked too good to be true and I was very suspicious of the coins. He then took a letter out of his pocket that came from the Secret Service and it stated plain as day "The 1934 quarters have been examined by the Secret Service and have been determined to be a genuine Mint-made product."

At that time in my coin career I might have been young and naive, but I wasn't going to fall for this! I told him to leave the roll with me for a while and I would see what I could do. I quickly set off looking for more information about this unusual find of Gem coins that appeared straight out of nowhere.

After checking with several dealers I caught wind of more rolls changing hands around the coin show floor and decided it was time to pass on this wonderful roll of coins. I had noticed one thing on the coins that did bother me, but I did not know for sure if it was enough to deem these coins as not genuine.

On the reverse of the coin and at the top edge of eagle's wing were two small patches of tooling, but at this early stage in my career I was not exactly sure what this meant. It might have been an over-zealous mint worker who harshly worked a genuine die because of some small problem he had noticed. By the end of that coin show, hundreds of these coins had changed hands and it was now becoming evident that the coins were indeed fake.

These struck counterfeit coins were made from exceptionally well-prepared dies, and exhibited a nice satiny luster that is too good to be made at the Philadelphia Mint. The coins are never underweight; in fact they all appeared to be overweight. We ran multiple coins across the scale and found the weights to differ quite a bit for such a well-made product. We had weights that ranged from 6.30 grams to 6.39 grams, all well above the weight of a genuine coin which should weigh in at 6.25 grams.

The coins have edges that resemble a proof coin, far too sharp to be that of a regular mint state coin. There is tooling across the "R" of LIBERTY, and raised tooling lines that extend out from both sides of the "B" of LIBERTY. There are numerous lumps of excess metal throughout Washington's hair, but they blend in well with the curls of his hair.

The reverse also has a couple of faults that are easy to detect once you know what to look for. On the eagle's top left wing, you will find two patches of tooling, as well as two light depressions along the right side of coin at 3:00. There is a small raised pimple of metal on the eagle's left tail wing.

So the one thing to remember is: when things appear to be too good to be true – they are!