A few weeks ago, JM Bullion shared information with our customers and followers regarding the flood of American Silver Eagle counterfeit coins. The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) recently reported a new Morgan Silver Dollar fake, which is concerning for two reasons. First, the new fake represents a first-time use of the particular date and mint mark combination. Second, and of greater concern, it marks yet another fake Morgan Silver Dollar discovery in a two-year period.
2014 Morgan Silver Dollar Fake
Let’s go back in time two years before we look at the latest counterfeit Morgan Silver Dollar. The NGC spotted a very well-designed counterfeit Morgan Silver Dollar in a collection of the coins submitted for grading. Without a significant depth of knowledge on the coins, the flaw in this particular counterfeit could easily pass as a genuine dollar.
The NGC identified the 1893-O Morgan Silver Dollar, struck at the New Orleans Mint, as a well-made die that was struck with precision, save one flaw. The wrong reverse hub type was used on this particular coin. Morgan Silver Dollars made between 1879 and 1899 with a hub that left a narrow gap between the eagle’s neck on the reverse and its right-facing wing. The 1893-O Morgan Silver Dollar counterfeit had a wide gap.
Recent Morgan Silver Dollar Fake
The troubling part of this latest discovery by the NGC is the fact that it represents a previously unreported contemporary counterfeit of the Morgan Silver Dollar, the 1894-O. This particular 1894-O Morgan Silver Dollar had the same reverse hub flaw as the 2014 discovery, with both featuring a hub type that wasn’t in use at the New Orleans Mint until 1901.
This new counterfeit also featured a reverse die flaw used previously on the 1893-O counterfeit, and the 1896-O and 1900-O Morgan Silver Dollar counterfeits. In this case, there is also an obverse marker that gives this Morgan Silver Dollar away as a counterfeit. A flaw was spotted next to the fifth star on the left of the date mark. Aside from that, the coin had a granular texture and lacked sharpness despite its well-circulated appearance.
Analysis of the metal content showed the coin had a .918 silver fineness, above the US Mint standards for a silver circulation coin of the age. With Morgan Silver Dollars as popular as ever, counterfeiters are trying to cash in with advanced forgeries. So, how can you spot a fake Morgan Silver Dollar?
Step 1: Read Up on Known Forgeries
The NGC and others maintain a list of known Morgan Silver Dollar forgeries that have come along. New Orleans Mint Morgan Silver Dollar coins from the 1890s are semi-key date pieces, meaning they are relatively hard to come by in the greater series of Morgan Silver Dollars. So, as a starting point, if you’re noticing a wide variety of Morgans in this date range with the New Orleans Mint “O” mint mark, that should be your first clue that a forgery could be for sale.
The NGC cites the VAM reference as a good starting point to read up on known forgeries. The following coins are included in the VAM reference:
Step 2: Check for Common Flaws
There are numerous signs of a fake Morgan Silver Dollar. Among the most commonly spotted are the following:
- Poorly struck numbers in the date. Often the result of different fonts between the original coins and counterfeit coins.
- Poorly aligned mint marks. The NGC and others have spotted fake Morgans with mint marks, such as the “O” of the New Orleans Mint, that are crooked or struck on a slant.
- Poorly struck letters on the reverse. One of the most common are the misshapen letters “RIB” in the phrase “E Pluribus Unum.”
Step 3: Know Your Morgan Silver Dollar Minting History
The Carson City Mint and the Denver Mint are often given credit by counterfeiters for Morgan Silver Dollars they never struck in the first place. Morgans have surfaced on the web in recent years that feature a “D” mint mark. While this isn’t an immediate sign of a counterfeit, it is if that “D” mint mark is on a coin whose date of issue is any year other than 1921. That final, limited striking of the Morgan Silver Dollar in 1921 marked the only time the “D” mint mark appeared on the coins as the Denver Mint opened in 1906, two years after the original production cycle (1878-1904).
Another commonly used incorrect mint mark by forgers is the Carson City “CC” mark. For example, 1895-CC coins are common counterfeits, and easily identified as such because there were no Morgans struck in Carson City that year. Other incorrect mint mark and date combinations include the 1887-CC, 1888-CC, 1902-CC, and the 1878-O (Morgans not at New Orleans yet).
Step 4: Check the Specs
All Morgan Silver Dollar coins were originally struck by the United States Mint with .900 silver content and .10 copper. The pieces measure 38.1 millimeters in diameter and weighed 26.73 grams. Previous counterfeit Morgan Silver Dollars have been identified with improper weights. In many cases, they less than half the weight of a true Morgan Silver Dollar. If you already have a Morgan Silver Dollar and believe it may be fake, throw it on a scale. Remember, it should weigh 412.5 grains, or 26.73 grams.
Step 5: Sometimes Too Good to be True is Just That
If you’ve seen any Morgan Silver Dollars available in online auctions with a price that is too good to be true, the odds are high that is precisely the case. Counterfeiters, hoping to avoid detection, will sell Morgans at low prices online and then disappear as a seller, often deleting the account used for the transaction.
Why is the Morgan Silver Dollar So Popular?
As with so many other historic coins from the United States Mint, the Morgan Silver Dollar is popular both for its age and beauty, but also its rarity. Like America’s gold coins during the Great Depression, the Morgan Silver Dollar was part of a roundup by the Treasury Department.
As Govmint.com notes, the 1918 Pittman Act required the government to replenish its silver bullion stores by melting down all Morgan Silver Dollars stored in Treasury vaults. At this point in American history, all silver dollar coins had largely been replaced by paper money, with a few exceptions existing in the American West where people still preferred silver coins. The government melted down some 270 million Morgan Silver Dollars, a figure that was roughly half the entire mintage from 1878 to 1904.
Today, the Morgan Silver Dollar remains highly sought after. As long as that continues, counterfeiters will be working hard to make a buck.