Hoskins Knew How to Spot a Counterfeit
By F. Michael Fazzari
This month as a
tribute to the memory of Charles Hoskins, my
former boss and mentor, I'll share with you what
I remember about my first authentication lesson
at ANACS in 1972.
Hoskins was the first director of the American
Numismatic Association Certification Service. In
the beginning, ANACS was a two-person operation
on an upper floor of an old office building
overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington,
D.C. If you have ever seen an old movie from the
1940s or 1950s with a detective's office, you'll
understand the setting.
The halls upstairs were narrow, just wide enough
for two people. The floor and lower wall was
made of marble so footfalls and speech caused a
loud echo. Each office had a wooden door with a
frosted glass window. The door frames were
massive. Room numbers and company names were
hand painted in black and gold on the glass. For
security, the ANACS doors were only numbered. At
night, our coins were kept in the vault of a
bank located on the ground floor.
Charlie and one secretary ran ANACS. When the
business grew, the staff was expanded by two. At
first I shared the job of opening the registered
packages, checking the coins, and logging
submissions into a ledger by hand. Then I
weighed each coin to three decimal places and
photographed both sides so we would have a
After a few weeks, Charlie set me up at the lab
table with one of the Nikon stereo zoom
microscopes and asked if I knew how to use one
of these things. Charlie was a joker as he had
already seen my resume. I played along while
adjusting the oculars on the scope for my eye
spacing and vision. We had a good laugh. This
was to be the first time I had examined a coin
using anything other than a hand lens.
Next, he turned on the fluorescent jeweler's
bench lamp that was used for lighting. He had
cut a crescent shape in the middle of the
leading edge of its long rectangular shade so
that the barrel of the scope could be inserted
closer to the center of the lamp. This decreased
the angle of the light in relation to the coin.
Charlie learned that trick from the U.S.
Treasury Department authenticators who had
taught him much of what he knew about
The Treasury authenticators used fluorescent
lighting for their examinations as it
illuminated the coin's surface with a "flat,"
even, light that eliminated the glare associated
with incandescent bulbs. With the fluorescent
light and a stereoscope, any characteristics or
imperfections on a coin became readily apparent.
Once the light and scope were adjusted, Charlie
placed two $3 gold coins in flips on the table -
one on each side of the scope base. He pointed
out that as long as I held one coin in my left
hand and the other in my right (and did not
cross my arms), it would be impossible to mix
them up or switch coins. He had me take the coin
on the left out of its flip and place it under
the scope reverse side up. I did that and placed
it on a black rubber stopper already on the
The rubber stopper was another tool used at the
Treasury lab. With it, you can lay the coin flat
and rotate it easily by turning the stopper with
your fingers. The surface of the coin can be
tilted slightly to change the effect of the
light by placing a toothpick under one edge of
the stopper's base. Additionally, a vertical cut
down the center of the stopper could be used to
view the coin's edge while a diagonal cut in the
stopper's side will hold the coin at an angle to
check for an added mintmark.
Now, with the coin reverse side up on the
stopper and the scope at low power
(approximately 7X) Charlie had me describe the
shape of the berries at the end of the top part
of the wreath. They were small, rough, irregular
and slightly ovoid in shape. Then he had me
place the other coin under the scope and repeat
the exercise. On this coin, the berries were
perfectly round and smooth, resembling tiny
tennis balls. The first coin was genuine; the
Charlie opined that the counterfeiters imitated
the berry design by punching round holes into
their die because they didn't know better. Their
work improved quickly as you can see by the
micrograph. The berries on the counterfeit in
the accompanying photo are much better executed
than the coin in my first lesson. Nevertheless,
this fake is considered crude. Many of the
berries on the right are still basically round.
As transfer methods improved, the berries on
fakes became more irregular; closer to those
found on genuine coins.
Next, he had me look below the bow at 6 o'clock.
There was a small "T" or "J" struck shallowly
into the field. He explained that I was looking
at a small defect found on that counterfeit die.
It differed from scratch damage because it had
the same "original" surface color and texture as
the rest of the coin indicating that it was
there when the coin was made. In many cases a
mark such as this can be found on genuine coins
that were struck successively through foreign
material on the die; yet this mark and other
repeating defects are found on this particular
After this, he had me pick up both coins with
each hand and quickly switch them back and
fourth under the scope while I concentrated on
one particular part of the coin at a time. This
was one way to make a comparison between two
identical coins. It's like a juggling act. Since
the image of one coin is still fresh in your
mind, even minute differences between the
designs of two pieces can be detected as the
other coin is moved into position under the
scope. While doing this with the genuine and
counterfeit coins I noted several other
One thing that I could not avoid seeing was the
difference in the letters and numerals of the
two coins. On the fake, they were "fatty,"
rounded and not as sharp as those on the
genuine. This remained a consistent
characteristic seen on fakes for many years.
Additionally, I noticed there were some small
marks in the denticals that went out into the
field. I learned that these tiny "spike-like"
marks were called "tooling marks" and usually
occurred when the counterfeiter "touched-up" his
dies. Charlie said that my "eye for detail"
would serve me well in the future.
As my first lesson was concluding, Chuck had me
examine both coins in the fluorescent light
without magnification. I saw a color difference
between the two coins and possibly even a
difference in reflectivity from their surface.
At that time, counterfeiters were using a
substandard alloy of gold for their coins giving
the fakes an orange or rose tint when compared
to the color of a genuine example. Because of
this, an experienced dealer or collector could
get a good indication about a coin's
authenticity just by its color alone!
Several weeks later, while logging in a complete
set of $2.50 Indian gold coins in a black
Capitol holder, I put this to the test. While
looking at the set, it became obvious that the
"key date" 1911-D was the one coin that didn't
match the color of the other coins. Sure enough,
it turned out to be a counterfeit.