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How To Identify Fake Coins On Ebay

The vast majority of coin sellers on ebay are good people and the "coin community" is in general a good one. In my years of buying coins I have been treated honestly, courteously and cordially. There is an honor system that makes transactions a pleasure - as they should be.

However - there are some unscrupulous crooks selling fake coins - and getting away with it. Ebay is not very good at dealing with these and I have found that my efforts to notify ebay of the fake sellers are beset with obstacles. Their "contact us" system is a maze which appears to be deliberately designed (typical corporation) as an "endless loop" in order to deter people from all but the most herculean efforts to reach an actual human being. And then when you do, you get a cut and paste message that gives you a link that dumps you right back in the endless loop! Been there, done that.

The problem has been compounded by the fact that ebay permits "replica coins" (glorified name for a fake coin) so long as the coin is clearly labeled as such in the auction. To my mind, this doesn't help matters one bit. It provides a viable niche market to the fake coin manufacturers - meaning that more of these coins are being dumped into the marketplace; ultimately resulting in the fact that people are going to be fooled. Call them replicas if you want. I call them forgeries and the long-term effects of this scenario are going to be felt for many years to come. My personal opinion is that every single one of these replicas should be destroyed but that's probably not going to happen.

Don't buy these "gap fillers". They are almost worthless and you are adding to the problem.

Coin forgery is a dark art that has a very long history. Back in the old days, it was a crime that actually carried the most severe possible penalty - execution - and it's understandable why. Prior to banknotes and digital currency, coins were the principal form of money and the integrity of the coinage was vital to national security. This did not stop people from trying though - and the coinage faced an endless attack from every imaginable type of deceit. This too is somewhat understandable, given the abject poverty with no real possibility of escape. People really did have nothing to lose.

The principal "weapon" that the mint had against forgery was to be at the forefront of technology with regard to manufacturing methods. It was vital to the coin manufacturer to employ the best artists and most skilled makers - in order to create a coin that was exceedingly difficult to fake. Milled coinage required presses that utilized extraordinary pressure of a kind that was difficult to achieve with smaller equipment. The mint was also a high-security environment, with armed guard protecting not only the coin of the realm but the equipment and especially the dies used to make it.

Faking an old coin is in some ways more difficult than faking a new one; because artificially aging a coin is very difficult - especially a coin in UNC or proof state. A patina acquired through a mirror-finish proof coin sitting 150 years untouched in a coin cabinet is very hard to fake; so forgers have taken to faking older, more worn coins as the sharp detail has been worn away.

On the other hand, a new or uncirculated coin should also be the correct weight, thickness and diameter, which are all easily measurable.

Research: Learn about the most common fakes

There are numerous coins that have been known to be faked, and documented examples of these fakes that you can compare your coin to. The more of this research you do, the more easily you will recognize a fraudulent coin. Fakes generally have specific flaws that can easily by identified by someone who knows what they are looking for.

Look on Alibaba

This is crazy, but true. The people selling fake coins often buy them for cheap on Alibaba. Go look for the coins on Alibaba and you will see them openly on sale. You can recognize some of these exact coins on eBay!

Scientific tests

As technology evolves and manufacturing equipment becomes more and more obtainable, some of the fakes are getting better and better, looking more and more like the real thing. It's not going to be long before the forgers really are able to make a fake that is indistinguishable by photo from the real thing. Then, we will have a real problem on our hands and the collector's coin market on ebay will effectively be destroyed. Currently, it is still thriving but unless this problem is dealt with, we are headed straight towards a brick wall at full speed.

As it currently stands, many fakes can be identified from the photo alone by someone who knows what they are looking for.


Magnification is still one of your principal tools for identifying fakes.

Safest of all

Only buy coins that have been "slabbed" - authenticated by one of the coin grading societies. Personally, I don't like this. I want the coins to sit alongside the others in my coin case, I want to be able to look at the edge lettering - and view the coin without a layer of plastic in between my eye and my coin.

If in doubt, talk to an expert.

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