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Too Good to be True

By Len Ratzman – The California Numismatist – CoinLink Content Partner

The high only lasted a couple of hours.

Counterfeit 1795 DollarIt took only that long to find out that my friend’s 1795 Flowing Hair 3-leaf dollar in MS-55 (my estimate) that had been left to her by her greatgrandfather was, sadly, only a good counterfeit.

When Sarah called me from work that day, she didn’t even say hello. Her fi rst, excited words were, “Len, what do you know about old dollars?” I told her my thirty-plus years in numismatics coveting only buffalo nickels didn’t include silver dollars of any age. But, since she knew nothing about coins, she knew from 20 years of friendship that I could research the coin for her.

When she told me over the phone that the dollar was dated 1795, it didn’t take a specialist in the hobby to know instantly what potential value laid waiting to be realized.

I jumped into the car and made it to the restaurant where she worked in 11 minutes—normally a 20 minute drive. With my loupe already in hand, I said, “Hi,” and with indescribable anticipation asked her to show me the coin.

Although my grading skills only covered buffaloes from 30 years of studying them, I could still tell from the fi ne detail that, if genuine, the grading companies would probably register the dollar as an MS-55 or better. Cha-ching!

The next two hours were a blur of researching the Internet, visiting coinrelated Web sites, phone calls to local dealers and opening that latest Red Book to a section I hadn’t ever paid attention to.

But wait! A $30,000 coin just popping up out of nowhere? If it’s too good to be true, it usually isn’t. So, before I started making plans to send in the coin to be registered, I dug a little deeper and learned from a prominent expert on dollars that countless counterfeits from a foreign country had reached the states and there were two ways to tell a fake from the real thing:

1. The craftsmanship of the details were too rough and amateurish to be genuine.

2. When subjected to a magnet, a genuine coin wouldn’t be attracted to it.

Guess what happened when I nervously held one of my refrigerator magnets over the coin when I got it home? The coin leaped from the dining room table at least an inch into the air before it clanked onto the magnet, crushing my delusions of grandeur in an instant.

Genuine 1795 DollarNot knowing anything about the coin or its imitators, I called the dollar expert back and asked him the fi rst question that popped into my mind when I realized I held a worthless souvenir in my hand. “Why would a counterfeiter expend the time, energy and expense of creating such a beautiful imitation and then choose to use a metal that would obviously expose it so readily as a counterfeit when held to a magnet”?

I was educated a little more that day when the expert told me that the coin was made as a souvenir and evidently not created to try to fool anyone. Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks?

Morale of the story—learn as much as you can about a coin before you invest wasted time, energy and expense toward its sale or purchase. Assume it’s a counterfeit to begin with and then prove yourself wrong with exhaustive research.

One fantasy all numismatists have is coming across a coin in a yard sale, buried treasure, or miraculous fi nd, that reveals a coveted coin or collection of genuine coins. Just don’t hold your breath ‘til it happens to you. Anybody want to buy a 1795 dollar for a dollar?

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