Buyer beware! In recent months there has been a rise in fake coins being sold as genuine on eBay, often selling for hundreds of pounds! I have made this guide to help buyers spot fakes and not make an expensive mistake. This guide only refers to forgeries of British silver milled coins, although I believe this is a problem that extends to other coins that are not my area of expertise. Please note I plan to add to this guide in the future with images of forgeries to aid identification.
Coins to look out for
Below I have made a list of forgeries with details that are relevant to that particular coin. I must stress that this is not an exhaustive list, the variety of forgeries is so vast that for some eras it would be quicker to list the coins that are not forged! These are just the forgeries seem to crop up most regularly.
- A large variety of Early Milled Crowns, these have slightly differing designs and are without edge lettering.
- 1818 and 1822 Crowns (Both without edge lettering)
- Young Head Crowns (1839, 1844, 1845, 1847): Struck from a newly engraved die, overly detailed to the Queen’s hair perhaps more so than a genuine uncirculated coin. A number of these have sold on eBay described as genuine and have sold for large sums.
- 1847 Gothic Crown, typically a better quality cast copy, also exists as a high quality silver forgery.
- All other Victoria Crown dates (quite inaccurate designs).
- Wreath Crowns (1927-1936, all dates), Better quality cast copies, also exist as high quality silver forgeries (1928, 1933, 1934 in particular, typically with raised bubbles in the fields).
- George III Halfcrowns (1817-1820), varying quality. The 1818 exists as a higher quality silver forgery (unlike the original the forgery has a 180 degree die rotation).
- Victoria Young Head Halfcrowns: All dates 1840 thru 1887 including some dates in which the coins were not struck. Varying quality cast forgery, all dates have the lower relief 1880-1887 design, commonly described as genuine on eBay. The 1853 coin (which was only struck as a proof) has sold for large sums in the past.
- Later Victoria and Edward VII Halfcrowns (all dates), typically low quality inaccurate designs. 1905 exists as a high quality silver forgery (wonky I in QVI)
- 1849 Godless Florin, better quality silver forgery (typically out of synch die rotation, stones to the edge resemble teeth in places).
- 1864 Gothic Florin (die no. 64) exists in varying quality including as a high quality silver forgery.
- 1877 Gothic Florin (has been misdescribed as other dates including 1870). Struck from a newly engraved die but with a relatively accurate design.
- 1763 ‘Northumberland’ Shilling, Varying quality including Silver forgeries.
- Victoria Young Head Shillings, usually dated 1850-53, low-mid grade cast copy.
- 1893 Jubilee Head Sixpence, low grade cast copy.
Where do the Fake Coins Come From?
While forgeries have been around for a long time in more modest numbers, in around 2013 a huge variety of forgeries became available for purchase on a popular Chinese online marketplace. These coins were (and still are) available for purchase in wholesale numbers for often less than £1 each. In recent months I have been emailed numerous times by wholesale sellers in China advertising their fake coins.
Sellers of Fake Coins On eBay
While the majority of sellers of coins on eBay are trustworthy and only sell genuine coins, there are a number of sellers who sell these forgeries imported from China. Some of these sellers do clearly label these coins as forgeries and charge reasonable prices (although this still is against eBay policy, it doesn’t seem to be enforced). Others are less than clear about the authenticity and some describe fake coins as genuine, usually listing them in auction style listings to sell quickly. While I and I’m sure many other eBay members do report these listings, eBay does not always take them down before the listings end.
In some cases the seller may state that the coin is not genuine but be less than clear about it. For example they may bury this information in a long winded description or use misleading or poorly understood words such as ‘souvenir’ or ‘facsimile’. Also sometimes sellers may only make statements such as 'made after date' or 'silver plated' (for silver coins) without more clearly describing the coin as a forgery. Occasionally sellers will plead ignorance and make statements such as ‘might not be real'. In my experience when a seller states that a coin 'might' be a forgery it almost certainly is.
Listings where the seller is less than clear on the lack of authenticity in the title and description do tend to perform considerably better than those which are clearly marked as forgeries. Therefore it is probable that some buyers do not read the description carefully and may think a fake coin they are buying is genuine.
Spotting a Forgery From Listing Images
There are usually also ways of telling whether a coin is genuine from the images provided by the seller. Most lower quality ‘silver’ forgeries are struck from quite a dull metal, and therefore have a very dull appearance. However sometimes these coins are silver plated which usually gives the appearance a coin that has been dipped. British ‘silver’ base metal forgeries fall into two categories, cast forgeries (coins struck from a die copied from a genuine coin) and forgeries struck from a newly engraved die. Details on a cast forgery will be an accurate copy of a genuine coin which can make them hard to spot. However, this process can lead to the details on the coin appearing weak or fuzzy. In particular the beads or stones around the edges of the coin may appear worn away. Forgeries struck from a newly engraved die often have much stronger details, however it is impossible for an engraver to create a perfect representation of a coin so there are often slight differences in the design to look out for.
Not Sure If a Coin You Purchased Is A Forgery? Weigh it!
The most important thing in determining whether a coin is a forgery is to weigh it, ideally on accurate scales that measure to 1/100th of a gram. Even the best forgeries often tend to be slightly under or overweight and base metal forgeries tend to be significantly underweight. British milled coins were struck to very accurate weights, it is rare for uncirculated coins of the same era and denomination to vary in weight by any more than 0.1%. Obviously as a coin wears it does lose weight but even a coin in fine grade only typically loses 1-2% of it’s weight. Therefore I would suspect any higher grade coin that is more than 1% underweight or 0.2% overweight to be a forgery. It should be pointed out that a forgery can occasionally have a correct weight so while weighing a coin may identify the vast majority of forgeries, a correct weight is not proof that a coin is genuine. Obviously if buying on eBay you would have to wait to receive a coin to weigh it, but you can at least use eBay’s money back guarantee to claim a refund from the seller if you suspect the coin may be a forgery.
Thank you for reading my guide. If you have any questions about this guide please contact me through eBay.