By Mike Marshall
Counterfeit coins have been around as long as coins have. For a very long time I have attempted to thwart the efforts of those who attempt to profit from them. While some major victories have been won, the proliferation of this bane to our hobby continues at an alarming rate. All we can do is educate ourselves as well as others and be constantly vigilant in our numismatic transactions. This is where we as numismatists have become our own worst enemy.
Amid the competition to acquire new material, snatch up a “real deal” or “cherry pick” an item from say Kijiji or eBay, caution and common sense may sometimes be forgotten. The naive or inexperienced are most vulnerable at this time. That is not the group at which I am aiming this column. I hope that the inexperienced save this article and use the examples given and markers presented to assist them in identifying counterfeit coins coming from China. What I am really hoping is that the more experienced collectors and dealers realize their reactions to counterfeit material may well harm the hobby as much as the fake coins themselves.
I will bet that every person reading this has told a friend of an amazing purchase or heard one from a fellow collector. Now the real question: How many have told the story of being duped by a fake or have had that story told to them?
I will bet that only the most intimate of friends share these stories. Otherwise, they are among the few like me who believe that sharing such scenarios gone bad educates all who are informed and may well prevent future crimes.
Too many times I have had people tell me “it is the price of doing business,” or “I chalked it up to a learning experience.”
Almost every dealer and pawn shop owner I have ever spoken to has “education pieces” through which they’ve been duped. But did the duped individuals notify the police? In some cases, yes. It was nice to see the recent article in Canadian Coin News about the fake bullion and the arrests. But this is the exception, not the norm. Collectors’ and dealers’ reasoning for not wanting to divulge when they’ve acquired counterfeit coins is complex. Let’s look at the motives:
• Embarrassment. Absorbing the loss seems more beneficial than the loss of face in the eyes of another collector or dealer.
• Recompense. If I involve the police I will be unable to recoup my losses either from the seller or by flipping it and claiming ignorance (this one falls more on the opportunist and not dealer/collector base).
• Ethics. This one I always shake my head at. “Well I only offered peanuts for a multiple-thousand-dollar coin if real.” As if the circumstance that the coin was fake negates the fact that the buyer attempted to acquire a very valuable coin for a minuscule amount. I do not feel sorry for this individual as they are no better than the fraudster by attempting to take advantage of someone while they themselves were duped by greed.
Each of these motives can harm the hobby. The lack of dissemination of information, whether locally via clubs, the press and police or nationally on coin chat groups or again in the press (such as CCN) hurts each and every one of us. Education is paramount. You are doing no one any good by being silent. Another may get duped by the same seller or scenario. If a duped individual leaves the hobby, we all suffer. The only ones benefiting from silence are the fraudsters.
If a fraudster does it once, shame on him. If he or she does it twice, it is our own fault, so shame on us.
Here is a scenario that transpired right here in my home town of Trenton, Ont., within the last two weeks. It involves everything mentioned and will demonstrate that acceptance of fraud and silence only breeds more of the same.
I was contacted by an individual – the opportunist – to authenticate a few 25-cent coins, 1875H and 1889. From the images provided there was no doubt to me that they were made in China. I met the individual to inform in person that the pieces were indeed fakes. It turns out there were two of each date. I was then asked to look at images of an 1858 large cent this individual purchased previously from the same original seller, but had subsequently sold at a profit, apparently sometime in the past. It was counterfeit as well. The individual who purchased the now flipped counterfeit 1858 simply chalked it up as a learning experience and the price of doing business. Sound familiar? If the secondary buyer of the 1858 had gone public, would it have made a difference? I believe so. The opportunist would never have purchased the 25-cent coins after unknowingly buying a fake 1858. The original fraudster would not have continued selling fake coins, which my investigation has learned includes 1948 dollars as well.
The scenario was allowed to play out for all the wrong reasons.
Are you part of the problem?
As part of the education aspect of this series of articles I will point out the identifying markers for counterfeit coins manufactured in China, including non-circulating legal tender. To start we will show the coins involved in the above scenario: the 1858/59 Canadian large cents and the Victorian Canadian 25 cents. Remember that the same obverse die is used for all dates bearing the same effigy for that denomination by manufacturer.