Counterfeit Draped Bust Dollars



Counterfeits have been a part of coinage since the inception of coinage. Big-ticket items such as Draped Bust dollars are a favorite of counterfeiters for the obvious reason that fakes of them can bring in big money. Online auction houses such as eBay are an increasingly common outlet for these forgeries because of the relative anonymity they afford sellers.

On average several counterfeit Bust dollars are auctioned on eBay every week. Often they're sold openly as a counterfeit. Other times Bust dollar counterfeits are sold as a replica, a term that on eBay is a code name for counterfeit because eBay officially prohibits the sale of counterfeit coins even if identified as such. Sometimes the seller expresses uncertainty about whether or not the piece is authentic. Still other times the counterfeit is described as an authentic coin. When sellers describe a counterfeit as authentic or as having questionable authenticity and are informed that it's counterfeit, sometimes they stop the auction. Other times, they persist in trying to nab the unsuspecting.

Ironically, one of the few ways that eBay will shut down the auction of a counterfeit coin is if the seller honestly describes it as a counterfeit and someone complains, though typically eBay doesn't read the emails people send it, instead just sending back an automated response indicating the email has been received. Another way eBay will cancel an auction of a counterfeit is if it's contacted by the U.S. government agency responsible for policing counterfeits, the Secret Service, though the Secret Service's priority regarding counterfeits is stopping the manufacture and passing of counterfeit current paper money.

The issue of ownership of counterfeit collectible coins is a controversial one. The American Numismatic Association recommends that you turn in all counterfeit coins to it or the Secret Service. But hundreds if not thousands of auction houses, dealers, and collectors keep counterfeits of collectible coins on hand. The legalities regarding mere possession of these bogus coins aren't clear and have never been tested in court. According to one widely respected legal expert, possession itself isn't illegal. "The statutes do not criminalize the mere possession of counterfeit money," says Armen R. Vartian, a lawyer, numismatist, Coin World legal columnist, and author of the 1997 book A Legal Guide to Buying and Selling Art and Collectibles.

Vartian says it's illegal to own counterfeit coins if your intention is to defraud others with them (sell them as genuine), and it's illegal to refuse to surrender them if the government asks you to. According to Robert W. Hoge, former curator at the American Numismatic Association and current curator at the American Numismatic Society, those who elect to keep counterfeits should clearly identify them on the labels of their holders to help prevent them from someday inadvertently being sold as genuine coins.

I've had the opportunity to study in person many of the counterfeits pictured below, though none are currently in my possession. With the help of Dr. Thomas C. Pesacreta, Director of the Microscopy Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, I've identified below the metallic composition of the surfaces of these fakes. Using a scanning electron microscope, Dr. Pesacreta did a non-destructive x-ray elemental analysis of the coins.

Michael Fahey, Senior Numismatist for ANACS, was helpful in this study as well, examining many of these specific pieces in hand after I sent them to him, and offering his opinions.

A special thanks to the dealers and collectors who loaned me these Bust dollar forgeries from their "black cabinets" and shared with me their knowledge of these forgeries. One such dealer travels around to coin club meetings with his counterfeits, educating coin collectors in counterfeit detection. What follows is a similar effort.

The 21 types of counterfeit Bust dollars illustrated below include those most commonly seen (many of the same type exist in more than one date). Michael Fahey at ANACS says he has seen more than 50 different Bust dollar counterfeit types. There's no doubt that most of these bogus Bust dollar types are obvious counterfeits to those who've been around coins for any period of time, but even the blatant fakes regularly fool buyers. Though the counterfeits below differ in weight, they're all the correct diameter or very close to it.

Here are images of some other U.S. silver dollar counterfeits, from China, emailed to me by a businessman who travels there. Here are images of Barber fakery.
















This is a fairly deceptive fake, but it was offered on eBay by a seller from China with a low positive feedback rating in a private auction, meaning that others can't contact and warn bidders -- a favorite tactic among scammers (though not all private auction are scams). As R.W. Julian and Tom LeLorey pointed out in the Usenet discussion group rec.collecting.coins, the denticles around the rim of the coin give it away as a fake.

Draped Bust dollars were struck without a restraining collar, which wasn't introduced by the U.S. Mint until around 1830. (This accounts for the fact that diameters of coins before this date, including Bust dollars, can vary slightly.) With coins struck without a restraining collar, the denticles extend all the way to the edge of the coin. With the above forgery, the denticles end before the rim.













"Spaghetti Hair"



The most obvious give-away with this fake is that it's dated 1797 while featuring a Heraldic Eagle reverse, which wasn't introduced until 1798. I've seen this same type, however, dated 1799.

Other diagnostics for this type include more pronounced hair detail than on authentic coins (spaghetti hair), a date that's set on a straight line rather than on a curve that conforms to the rim of the coin, the absence of a motto despite other detail in the center of the reverse, and a reeded rather than a lettered edge.

I've seen in person the 1799 version of this coin, which weighs 26.7g. This is close to the correct weight of 27.0g but not close enough. The coin consists of zinc and nickel alloyed with a small amount of copper.













"Toolie 1"



I haven't seen this coin in person, but from its picture, it's obvious that it's an authentic 1798 Bust dollar that has been tooled, or reengraved, to mask the coin's wear and make the detail more pronounced. The hair on Liberty and the eye on the eagle are both unrealistic, more deeply engraved than on even an uncirculated Bust dollar. Tooling like this is considered a type of counterfeiting as it deceptively attempts to make a coin into something it's not.













"Toolie 2"



Here's another authentic 1798 Bust dollar that has been deceptively reengraved to mask wear, with Liberty's hair and eye being the most obvious give-aways. The seller, on eBay, described this coin as being in EF condition. It didn't sell anywhere near the prices of true EFs, but surprisingly despite its tooling it did sell for about the value of its true grade, Fine.













"Die Hard"



This is the most deceptive and most widely chronicled Bust dollar fake. It first surfaced in the late 1970s and has been documented in books including Scott Travers' 2006 book Coin Collector's Survival Manual, PCGS's 2004 book Coin Grading and Counterfeit Detection, J.P. Martin's 1996 book Detecting Counterfeit and Altered U.S. Coins, John W. Highfill's 1992 book The Comprehensive U.S. Silver Dollar Encyclopedia, and Virgil Hancock and Larry Spanbauer's 1979 book Standard Catalog of Counterfeit and Altered United States Coins and in periodicals including the ANA and IAPN's Counterfeit Coin Bulletin (June 2001) and twice in the ANA's The Numismatist (Dec. 1996 and June 1978).

It's a high-quality die-transfer fake that likely would fool a majority of collectors. At 26.96 grams, it's the exact weight of the original. Metallurgican testing indicated it's correctly made of silver alloyed with a small amount of copper. The most telling diagnostic for this particular forgery is the small cut in the "R" in "LIBERTY," which all forgeries of this type have. Also, the surfaces are a tad over-smooth, appearing as if the coin had been whizzed. The coin has a wire rim, when in fact collars used in the minting process creating wire rims weren't introduced until around 1830. The letters in the edge of the coin are more neatly engraved than in authentic specimens.

Unlike many of the other fakes on this page, this one is thought to have originated within the U.S., although the possibility exists that it originated in Lebanon, which like China and Bulgaria are centers of coin forgery. Michael Fahey says he has seen more than 100 specimens of this type submitted to ANACS for grading.

One specimen of this type recently sold on eBay, as a counterfeit, for more than $400. The seller had first put it up for auction as an authentic coin, then cancelled the auction and put it up as a "replica." I've also seen this counterfeit type offered for sale as a counterfeit at a major national coin show for $1,000. Most recently I saw it offered for sale as an authentic coin at a major national coin show for $4,300, graded EF-45 but not in the slab of a legitimate grading service.













"Big Tree"



This is one of the many thousands of counterfeits that have infiltrated the coin market from China in recent years. This particular forgery is a product of the Big Tree Coin Factory in Fujian, China. It's a fairly deceptive fake. It's purportedly made of .900 silver, very close to the .8924 fineness of authentic Draped Bust dollars. The coin rings like good silver when tapped with another coin. At 26.89g, the weight is also very close to the official weight of 26.96g. The details are sharp, not mushy as with lesser quality forgeries. The lettered edge of the coin is also realistic, as is the coloration of the surfaces. This piece was sent to me to examine by a collector who had bought it on eBay as a replica, where it was illustrated with a "COPY" countermark on the reverse. This piece as you can see has no "COPY" countermark. The Big Tree Coin Factory was exposed by Susan Headley in Coin World and at
















The above 1799 fake is the most frequently seen counterfeit Bust dollar on eBay and in the numismatic marketplace as a whole. It's so badly styled that you would think that nobody would be fooled, but people regularly are.

Liberty's face, rather than sporting a placid smile, is scowling. Her breast is grossly elongated. The reverse is totally lacking in central detail, including the motto. The coin has a reeded rather than lettered edge.

This type originated in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Large numbers were brought back to the U.S. by returning service personnel. More recently, the same type was produced in the Persian Gulf and brought back by service personnel returning from the Gulf War.

The coin consists of copper alloyed with small amounts of nickel and zinc. Unlike most of the counterfeits pictured here, this one is slightly overweight. One specimen I've seen from the Vietnam era weighs 30.3g, another slightly thicker one from the Gulf War era weighs 31.3g.
















Here's a coin that was sold openly on eBay as a counterfeit. The seller described it as "the best counterfeit I have ever seen." He said it has a lettered edge but doesn't consist of 90 percent silver. He didn't mention that the styling of the date is wildly unrealistic. Counterfeit Bust dollars when sold as counterfeits, on eBay or on the bourse floors of national and local coin shows, typically don't sell for more than $50, but this one sold for $110.













"Toolie 3"



Again, with this coin, an authentic 1799, the hair detail has been artificially enhanced, in this case very crudely.
















Here's a very lightweight counterfeit with nice enough styling but other diagnostic give-aways. "LIBERTY" and Lady Liberty are both too small, the space between the coin's design elements and the denticles around the rim is too large, the rim is too thick, the date is set on a straight line instead of along the curved rim of the coin, and the edge is reeded.

This fake originates from Hong Kong or China. It weighs just 18.6g and is plated. The surface consists of silver alloyed with small amounts of copper and nickel, while the core is likely copper. I've also seen this same type dated 1796 and 1797 (typically with the same Heraldic Eagle reverse, once with a Liberty Seated dollar reverse), 1798, 1799, 1801, 1803, and 1804. The weights range from about 18 to 21 grams. These fakes frequently appear on eBay as replicas, though recently a seller, against eBay rules, auctioned one of these, contending he didn't know if it was authentic or not. The fake sold for $110, about ten times more than what it typically sells for as a fake.
















This is another commonly seen fake, typically having the date 1803 but sometimes 1804. This type, which is thought to have originated in the Philippines, always appears heavily worn and with dirty toning, though the rim of the coin is not as worn and protrudes above the coin's surfaces. The edge is reeded.

Interestingly, the reverse of the above 1803 fake has the same reverse as that of an 1800 "AMERICAI" variety Bust dollar--the vertical line to the right of the last "A" in "AMERICA" looks a bit like an "I." The only authentic Bust dollars with the "AMERICAI" reverse are dated 1800. The 1804 fake of this same type that I've seen doesn't have the "AMERICAI" reverse.

This fake consists of silver alloyed with small amounts of copper and nickel. An 1803 I've seen weighs 25.9g, while an 1804 I've seen weighs 26.3g. One eBay seller recently auctioned this fake, claiming he didn't know if it was authentic or not (against eBay rules). His start price was $750, though he received no bids.


















Here's a heavily corroded but fairly deceptive cast counterfeit. It looks like in trying to artificially tone it, the counterfeiter burned spots in the surface of the obverse. Unlike most of the fakes on this page, this one has a lettered rather than a reeded edge. The styling is also realistic. This coin, however, has the "AMERICAI" reverse.

This fake is also lightweight, at 22.0g, and plated. The surface consists of silver alloyed with small amounts of copper and nickel, and the core is probably copper.


















This is crudely made cast counterfeit with a grainy texture and reeded edges. Like a number of Bust dollar fakes, this one also has the "AMERICAI" reverse.

















Here's a lightweight, cartoonishly styled Bust dollar fake, weighing 24.1g, with a reeded edge. Liberty has a pixy nose, large expressive eyes, and a tiny mouth.

The seller, on eBay, described it as being an 1803 Draped Bust dollar, Large 3 variety, Fine+ condition, with a value of "well over $750." It sure sounds like he knows coins. To his credit, though, he took the auction down when alerted that the coin was a forgery.













"Pretender King 1"





This is another fake from the Vietnam era, brought back by service personnel returning from Southeast Asia. It's a cast copy of the 1800 "AMERICAI" variety, with the last zero in the date having been reengraved into a 4--there's a cavity surrounding the 4 where metal was removed. The fields have a porous texture common with cast counterfeits. The coin has a realistic lettered edge.

The coin is lightweight, at 22.8g, and plated. The surface consists of silver alloyed with a moderate amount of copper, while the core is likely copper. This fake is documented in Virgil Hancock and Larry Spanbauer's 1979 book Standard Catalog of Counterfeit and Altered United States Coins and in John Devine's 1975 book Detecting Counterfeit Coins. The specimen examined by Devine weighed 23.4g.













"Pretender King 2"





The seller of this coin, on eBay, described it as a "guaranteed genuine 1800 silver dollar, which was modified to create an '1804' dollar." He said it's the correct weight, and that it was "probably altered in the 1890s by John Kennedy of Lowell, Mass."

He further explained: "The skillful alteration was carried out by removing the final 0, carving a replacement 4 of wax and plating it onto the coin through galvanic action. The 4 has NOT been created by pushing, tooling or working the silver, by gluing a 4 in place, or by drilling into the coin and embossing the 4 from the inside."













"Pretender King 3"



This image of a cast, tooled 1804 fake was emailed to me by a woman in the Philippines, saying the piece weighed 26.6g and had a lettered edge. She asked my opinion about its authenticity. Yet she also said she had "documents certifying that the coin has been examined by three professional authenticators who unanimously declared that the coin is genuine," and she emailed me the documents as well. I suspect she was just looking for a buyer. I responded that the coin was a fake and why.













"Boob Job 1"



I was emailed the photo of this obvious tourist fake by a non-coin person, who asked to remain anonymous, saying that a friend of his had acquired it from Southeast Asia. He said the friend wanted to know if it were authentic. He felt it was fake, and from looking at the photos of genuine Bust dollars at this site, he offered the following excellent diagnostics:

On the obverse, the 1 in the date has a pointed rather than flat top. The hair is somewhat like spaghetti, the hair ribbon is not clear, the curl closest to the number 1 is quite mangled, and there's a depression between the head and top curls. The breast has odd looking flat spots and depressions, and the lips are open. On the reverse, the stars immediately above the eagle's head are not clear even though the eagle's head and motto are quite distinct. The beak, rather then coming almost straight off level with the top of the head, is more curved/crooked, joining the head lower down.













"Boob Job 2"



This is another 1804 with grotesquely rendered breasts and poorly done overall. It appeared on eBay from a seller in India with zero feedback in a private auction. The seller said that the piece was "found in Southeast Asia, probably Thailand."













"Lead Bottom"





This is the most curious of the Bust dollar fakes on this page. Somebody was just having fun with this one. It's thick and very heavy, at 40.9g, consisting of lead alloyed with small amounts of antimony and silver.

The obverse styling is decent enough, but the reverse is sloppily done. There's virtually no motto or other central detail, and the area near the rim at 9 o'clock is a mess. After finishing the obverse, the counterfeiter must have lost patience with the reverse. Another possibility is that the coin is a replica and "COPY" was filed off the shield after the piece was produced. The coin has a flat rather than a lettered edge.













 "File Job"





The above is another curious work of numismatic deception, or attempted deception, a heavily filed Bust dollar "silver round." Silver rounds are typically undated replicas consisting of pure silver rather than the 90 percent silver of genuine U.S. silver coins. They're also engraved on the reverse with "ONE TROY OUNCE 999 FINE SILVER" where the inscription otherwise would be. With the above silver round, somebody filed off the "ONE TROY OUNCE..." lettering on the reverse as well as the area on the obverse under Liberty in an attempt to make it seem that the date had worn off. (See the next page of this Web site for a picture of an unadulterated Bust dollar silver round.)

You might think that no one could possibly be fooled or think that others could be fooled by such shenanigans, but somebody put this piece up on eBay, describing it this way: "This coin has seen better days as it has lost its true date and is quite roughed up on its outer quarter. Yet, because of what this coin is, we find it still holds a great value. I am going to start this coin as low as we can go." The seller's start price was $375. Silver rounds sell for under $10. To his credit, the seller took the auction down when alerted to the piece's true nature.

The most curious of all counterfeit Bust dollars is one I haven't seen in person but have read about in Don Taxay's 1966 book
Counterfeit, Mis-Struck, and Unofficial U.S. Coins and in an article by David Thompson in the October 29, 1991, Numismatic News. Taxay described and pictured a Bust dollar dated 1805, a "masterpiece of deception" made from an earlier authentic 1803 dollar in which the 3 in the date was tooled into a 5.

The coin first surfaced in 1939 at the British Museum and initially fooled even the noted early dollar expert M.H. Bolender and two testing labs, Academy Testing Laboratories of New York and Lucius Pitkin of New York, who all pronounced it genuine, although others, including Walter Breen and B.G. Johnson, recognized it as an altered coin. Bolender was fooled because the counterfeiter, along with expertly altering the date, had expertly tooled the stars, shaving metal from them and reworking the ends and sides in order to mask the fact that the fake was based on an 1803 Bolender 6 variety.

It wasn't until Eric P. Newman, author of the 1962 book The Fantastic 1804 Dollar, pronounced the coin as fake at a talk at the 1961 ANA convention, describing in detail the fakery employed, that the matter was put to rest. Apparently the rationale for the fake was the fact that genuine Bust dollars were indeed minted in 1805, reportedly 321 pieces, though all of those pieces are believed to have been dated 1803 or earlier. In the early 1960s this 1805 piece was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Alfred J. Ostheimer III, renowned silver dollar collectors.

Those copying coins aren't always bad guys. Some people like to collect replicas.




Draped Bust


Anne's Life

Anne's Death

1804 Dollar


Dollar Set






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More Info

Other glomworthy coins:

Oldest Coins

 Athenian Owls

Alexander the Great Coins

Medusa Coins

Thracian Tetradrachms

House of Constantine

Draped Bust Coins

Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles

Coin sites:
Coin Collecting: Consumer Protection Guide
Glomming: Coin Connoisseurship
Bogos: Counterfeit Coins

© 2014 Reid Goldsborough

Note: Any of the items illustrated on these pages that are in my possession are stored off site.