VOL. XX, NO. 3
From China with Love: Part 1
By Randy Campbell, NLG, Director of F.U.N. Education
Asian coin conventions are a primary supply source of U.S. Trade Dollars. As most collectors know, these dollars were struck specifically for use in the Orient by American merchants during the 1870’s. Their larger size (420 grains vs. 412-1/2 grains for the Seated Dollars) allowed them to compete successfully against the large Spanish empire silver coins as a medium of exchange.
What some collectors may not know is the fact that these same Asian coin shows also are a primary source of COUNTERFEIT Trade Dollars. Florida dealer Dennis O’Neill once told me that “I’ve seen plenty of counterfeit Japanese, Chinese and American coins on business trips to the Far East. You’ve got to be very careful,” he warned.
Hong Kong 2002
Last year, a U.S. coin dealer attended a major coin convention in Hong Kong. During the course of that show he purchased a hoard of over 160 U.S. Trade Dollars. Virtually all of them were circulated. There was a nice mix of several different dates and grades.
Many coins in the hoard had been cleaned (a typical characteristic of circulated Trade Dollars). A large number of them displayed evidence of pitting or corrosion (another typical trait of the series). Bagmarks and surface abrasions on most of these coins were about what you would expect on the typical Trade Dollar.
Several coins in this hoard showed signs of light tooling and minor repairs. Tooling sometimes is performed on Trade Dollars in an effort to remove minor corrosion. And repairs sometimes are performed on those coins with major abrasions or chopmarks.
Indeed, one of the dangerous assumptions made by some numismatists is the old cliché, “If it’s repaired, it’s probably genuine.”
The buyer of this hoard was aware of the fact that the Trade Dollar series is plagued by a high number of counterfeits. Also, he knew that Pacific rim coin shows, in particular, are the place where bogus Trade Dollars enter (or re-enter) the marketplace.
Given the specific characteristics of the coins in the hoard, the buyer was confident that most, if not all of them, were genuine. Just to be on the safe side, he decided to submit them to ANACS for certification.
In the ANACS Grading Room
ANACS authenticator/grader Tim Hargis is aware of my strong interest in the Trade Dollar series. That’s why he told me, “Hey, Randy, the next few boxes of coins are loaded with nothing but Trade Dollars. You ought to really enjoy them.” Enjoy them? Yes, it’s true. I REALLY enjoy examining large quantities of classic U.S. coins. But I could not recall the last time I had examined a Trade Dollar hoard of this magnitude.
Something told me that, perhaps, this was “too good to be true.” Something told me that, perhaps, the Asian counterfeiters had struck again.
The night before, I had watched the James Bond film, “From Russia with Love.” I wondered to myself, Will this hoard turn out to be “From China with Love”?
Tim Hargis was the first grader to examine the coins in the grading room. After checking a few of them, Tim noticed something odd.
“Here’s a couple of coins with bagmarks and depressions in exactly the same location,” said Tim. Carefully, he checked several more coins in the box.
A pattern was developing. Coins with different dates and mintmarks displayed signs of tooling and repairs in exactly the same location.
Further examinations of the coins by the rest of the ANACS grading staff confirmed Tim’s observations. There was only one possible explanation. Most of the coins were counterfeit.
Most counterfeit Trade Dollars seen by ANACS have had obvious deficiencies. Many of the cast counterfeits have soft, weak fuzzy, or weak fatty details that lack the crispness of a genuine coin. Some of them will exhibit a telltale casting line on the outer edge.
Still others will be vastly under or over the genuine weight of 420 grains (about 27.22 grams).
Many bogus Trade Dollars will have a specific gravity that is well below 10.0 – nowhere near the genuine S.G. of 10.3
However, for the most part, the counterfeits in the “From China with Love” hoard displayed few of the diagnostics one looks for in bogus Trade Dollars. As a group, they were the most deceptive Trade Dollar counterfeits I have ever seen!
The 1873-CC has long been one of the glamour dates in the series. Why? First, there’s this date’s tiny mintage (only slightly higher than the fabled 1893-S Morgan). Then there is the fact that nearly the entire mintage was shipped to China where they were defaced or destroyed. Throw in the great silver melts both at home and abroad and you come to the conclusion that the survival of any unchopmarked example was simply a matter of luck. Demand for pleasing 1873-CC dollars always has exceeded the supply.
Counterfeiters are aware of this date’s rarity. That’s why they have produced such a large volume of bogus 1873-CC Trade Dollars.
The counterfeit 1873-CC in this hoard was very deceptive. Both the weight and the specific gravity were within tolerance. There were no casting lines on the outer edge.
However, the suspect 1873-CC displayed a long depression from the tip of Liberty’s jaw down to appoint just above the crock of her elbow. A shorter line extended from her lips horizontally out into the field, ending in three short dot-like segments.
Another depression line was seen just below the word “IN” extending toward the end of the ribbon.
Also, the lower part of “R” in LIBERTY was weak and the right crossbar of “T” was missing.
On the reverse, there was a depressed line above the eagle’s beak just below the fist three letters of UNUM. Another suspicious line extended from the second “C” in the mintmark to just under the “9” of 900.
As a group, these defects convinced the ANACS staff that this 1873-CC was not genuine. See Figure 1.
The counterfeit characteristics of the bogus 1873-S Trade Dollars from this hoard included a long, deep line from just above the fourth star on the left inward to appoint near Liberty’s lowest finger.
Three depressed dots were seen just above the water line to the right of the first star.
Two curved depressed lines were seen on the date! One extended from the left side of the 8 through the bottom of the 1. The other extended from the lower right portion of the 3 into the adjacent field.
The reverse of the bogus 1873-S featured a long, deep line from the top arrowhead to a point near the “N” of UNITED.
Tooling was evident below the “4” of 420. And another depressed line was noted above and to the right of the last “0” in 900. See Figure 2.
Obverse #1 of the counterfeit 1874-CC dollars in this hoard featured a depressed line between stars 1 and 2 plus a small depression at one of the inner star points of star 1.
Another depressed line was observed just under start 3. Also, the right crossbar of the “T” of LIBERTY was weak or missing on each 1874-CC struck by the obverse.
The second counterfeit obverse used on the 1874-CC dollars in this hoard featured a depressed line extending from the sprig downward inside of star 4 to a point near star 3. Also, a vertical line was seen in the field just in front of Liberty’s right knee.
These two counterfeit obverses shared one counterfeit reverse. On this reverse a deep horizontal depression could be seen at the top of the “D” in DOLLAR (possibly this was a hub defect). Extensive tooling was observed at the last three letters of AMERICA and in the area of the leaves above the word FINE. Also, many areas in the reverse fields appeared to have been tooled.
Finally, there was a depressed line above the “E” of UNITED plus another line in front of the “D” over the edge of the ribbon. See Figure 3 and 4.
Amazingly, the “From China with Love” hoard contained a third obverse 1874-CC counterfeit die! This one featured an area of tooling just below the second star, plus a larger area of tolling in front of Liberty’s face below star #6. A smaller area of tooling was observed between stars 7 and 8. Also, a suspicious depressed line was seen running horizontally from the upper part of her right arm through the elbow to the lower part of her right arm.
On the counterfeit reverse that was paired with this obverse a depression line was extended from the “A” of STATES over to the second T. Also, there was an angular depression line on the upper part of the second “L” of DOLLAR. See Figure 5.
Conclusion to Part One
Unfortunately, the size and breadth of the “From China with Love” hoard of counterfeit Trade Dollars has forced me to split this article into two parts.
Part Two will feature the counterfeit diagnostics for the following Trade Dollar issues from the hoard; 1874-S (multiple counterfeit dies), 1875-CC (multiple counterfeit dies), 1875-S (multiple counterfeit dies), 1876-CC, 1877-CC, and 1877-S.
In the meantime, if you have any Trade Dollars in your collection that are not certified, consider the option of showing them to a Trade Dollar expert.
If you believe that certification is in your best interests, then consider submitting your Trade Dollars to a leading service that guarantees its encapsulated coins.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call one of the ANACS graders at 1-800-888-1861. We’ll be glad to help you.
See you next time for Part Two of “From China with Love.”