VOL. XIV No. 1
Morgan Dollar “Magician Piece” Fakes
By Michael Fahey
Reprinted with permission of Coin World
The craft of piecing together two coin halves to created a two-headed or two-tailed “magicians coin” has been around for a long time. Usually these items have been restricted to novelty catalogs. Unfortunately, counterfeiters have seized this technique as yet another way to separate unwary collectors from their money.
The first two-headed coins were produced simply by cutting two coins in half, then matching up the obverses and reverses and gluing them together. This method produced a rather noticeable seam on the edge, so it was refined. The next step was to hollow out one side of a coin, leaving the edge and the rim intact. The second coin was then cut out to fit into the opening of the first piece, leaving the seam either outside or inside the rim denticles. By using a precision lathe, this operation can be as accurate as the operator wishes. A bit of superglue gives the two pieces an unbreakable bond.
ANACS has seen the following Morgan dollars counterfeited using this technique: 1879-O, 1883-S, 1887-O, 1899, 1903-S, and 1904-S. Undoubtedly there are many others that have been produced. Only one of these showed a seam on the edge of the coin – all the others had the seam hidden at the juncture of the rim and the rim denticles. This particular “craftsman” prefers to make the obverse the cup-shaped piece, so the seam is always on the reverse.
The profit motive involved here is obvious. The 1879-O alteration would grade approximately MS-63 PL, with a current value of around $180. The piece was made from the obverse of an 1879-S and the reverse of an 1883-O. Both of these coins can be purchased for $20 to $25 each, leaving a profit of $130 to $140 for the counterfeiter. If the counterfeiter takes the time to purchase coins that are only nice on one side, he can do even better.
Fortunately, there are several ways to spot these fakes. The easiest is by carefully inspecting the rims and edge of a suspected coin for a seam. You will need good lighting and a quality magnifier to accomplish this, as these pieces are getting better. Another detection method is by ringing the coin. To do this, you balance the coin on the tip of your finger, and then lightly tap the edge of the coin with a pencil. A genuine struck coin will produce a clear ring, whose pitch and length depends on the metallic content of the coin. To learn the differences, you should practice with low-grade pieces, until you can ring a coin without dropping or damaging it.
The best you will get out of one of these alterations is a dull thud. This is caused by the microscopic air spaces between the two halves, which deaden sound vibrations. Under certain circumstances a genuine coin will not produce a normal ring, but these pieces are very rare.
The third direction method is to weigh the coin. None of the coins we weighed were correct for a Morgan dollar. A genuine silver dollar weighs 26.73 grams. The alterations ranged between 24.04 grams and 28.27 grams, and none of them were within a half gram of the correct weight. Evidently the counterfeiter is not taking the time to weigh the two halves before he glues them together, or being more careful with the thickness of the two halves during the machining process. No doubt this defect will be corrected soon.
Any scarce to rare date silver dollar that can be produced using the obverse and reverse halves of common pieces should be carefully inspected. ANACS will be happy to lend our expertise in this area, either at a coin show or through our normal certification services.