Certain Surface Characteristics
By F. Michael Fazzari
asks you to name some of the defects commonly
found on counterfeit coins what would you say?
What would you look for on a coin that you
suspected to be counterfeit?
Did you say weight? One authenticator that I
have worked with routinely weighed any coin he
suspected might not be genuine. I cannot argue
with his thoroughness, yet there were many times
I had to suppress a smile or comment.
You see, most of the coins that were out of
tolerance were not very good fakes to begin
with. Besides, long ago, the people making
deceptive fakes became more careful about the
weight of their products.
Did you say color? As I have discussed here
before, color gives us an important clue about
the alloy composition of a particular coin.
What about its surface texture?
Let’s examine a group of recently made
counterfeit coins from various countries to see
what they have in common. Before looking at the
illustrations, I’ll give a short description of
what each looks like to the naked eye.
The coin in Figure 1 is a Danish 5 ore, KM#794.1
made of bronze. It grades MS-68 red. There are
no marks on it and its surface is fully lustrous
and spot free. And why not? It was probably just
made to order a few weeks ago.
Figure 2 is a 30X view of a 1936 French 20
francs, KM#879. This coin would also grade very
high, perhaps MS-66 because of a few dings. Its
reeded edge feels very sharp to the touch and
the fields of this fake are almost semi-prooflike.
This would be an awesome coin if it were
Both of these coins fall into the category of
“too-good to-be-true” and that alone should make
one suspicious of their authenticity. The
counterfeiters are not stupid. They have learned
that it is easier to pass a dark, slightly
circulated coin off as a genuine specimen.
The counterfeit Russian ruble, KM#19.2, in
Figure 3 is an example of a coin that might have
a better chance of passing undetected because it
appears to have circulated. This coin is gray
with dark accents around its relief.
Its “details” grade is XF/AU. However, there is
virtually no actual friction wear on the coin.
There are many “fresh” contact marks on its
surface and there are also many depressed marks
that were transferred from the original coin
used to make the fake dies. These depressions
have the same surface as the rest of the coin
and will carry over to similar coins having a
Figure 4 shows part of the reverse on a
circulated Bust dime that is counterfeit.
Now let’s take a look at the micrographs to see
what these coins have in common. All have small
pimples on their relief. The Russian coin also
has many in the field.
When two dealers get together to discuss a
suspect coin you’ll often hear them mention a
rough, granular surface or pimples. These
characteristics are commonly found on fakes made
by casting. More recently, they are seen on
fakes struck using dies made by a spark erosion
process. Many of the new Chinese counterfeit
coins have these defects and they cannot be
polished off without affecting the coin’s
design. Do you see the tiny pimples in each of
One note of caution is in order. I have found
that sooner or later, every defect seen on a
counterfeit will turn up on a genuine coin and
the reverse is also true. For instance,
environmental damage can give a genuine coin a
rough granular appearance and a few stray
pimples on a coin does not prove it’s a
counterfeit. In fact, one variety of 1883-CC
Morgan dollar is covered with little pimples on
Should you wish to appreciate the severity of
the Chinese assault on numismatics, log on to
eBay and check out what’s available under copies
and replicas. For the moment, most of these
coins will fool many collectors but they are
easily detected by major dealers and
Nevertheless, I have already alerted you to the
fact that at least one Chinese outfit, possibly
with help from the highest authorities, is
producing much more dangerous fakes that the
ones I illustrate here.
As always, buy from reputable dealers. If you
don’t feel comfortable about your authentication
skills, purchase slabs and have any suspicious
coins checked by a major grading service.