When you purchase gold coins online, you have to be especially vigilant, because even good photography cannot capture such fake details as:
1. Sunken letters or dates. These are mottoes or numbers that look as if someone deflated what should be a crisp, normal-looking font.
2. Tool marks. These are tiny, altered or raised surfaces of a coin that can be traced to work on a fake die.
3. Misshaped edges. These typically are uneven or poorly minted reeded edges strongly indicating a counterfeit.
You can read about other telltale signs of counterfeiting in the must-have numismatic book, United States Gold Counterfeit Detection Guide by Bill Fivaz, one of the country’s leading numismatists and also co-author of Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins.
Each week on the auction Internet site, Proxibid, I see the same buyers scooping up as many gold coins as possible on the digital block and paying retail prices (when buyer’s fees are added). These are speculators. As they have been buying at retail for more than one year, the spike in the gold price from $1000 to current levels should have returned a nifty profit. Eating into it are the several counterfeits that I suspect they must have received from online vendors.
In any online transaction, keen knowledge of grading is essential. You may not be able to do that based on photographic images on the Web. But you must do it when you receive the coin or else you may end up with a fake.
Gold can be particularly difficult to grade. Its allure biases even the most expert of graders. And counterfeiters, especially from China, are becoming ever more sophisticated. So attention to detail is essential.
Reading about counterfeit coins in an illustrated book like Fivaz’s will help train your grading eye when it comes to gold.
I don’t purchase gold often and the few pieces I do own are in my bank box, where I could have stored an 1878 $3 coin whose obverse appeared lustrous.
I won the coin for a good price and planned to slab and keep it or sell the coin to a client for a quick, modest profit.
When I received the coin, I wasn’t awestruck by its washed out appearance. I thought it had been cleaned and so brought it to my local coin dealer for his evaluation. Gold is naturally lustrous, of course, so cleaning can be difficult to detect. That’s why I sought a second opinion.
The dealer inspected the coin and said he didn’t think it was cleaned. That was the good news. The bad news, of course, was he thought the coin was a fake.
He pulled out Fivaz’s book, opened to page 105, and sure enough, found tool marks precisely where the author said they would be.
“Get your money back,” the dealer advised.
I contacted the auctioneer and Proxibid and both were extraordinarily helpful in ensuring that I received a prompt refund.
The auctioneer noted that sellers who consign with him are warned that they are responsible for any counterfeit coin.
We live in an age where fakes abound. But we also have at our disposal wonderful books, in print and online, that help us document counterfeits.
I have purchased four such coins in Proxibid auctions in the past two years, and in each case, the auctioneer was gracious, apologetic, and prompt in repayment.
That type of commitment is reassuring.
However, those auctioneers also know that I never inform them that a coin is counterfeit unless I have proper documentation. Sometimes that is a report from a grading company. Sometimes it is my dealer, who allows me to share his contact numbers with auctioneers and sellers if they have any question about his determination.
Sometimes all you need is an authoritative book with enlightening photographs that document your worst suspicions but that also help you recoup your losses.