How To Identify Fake Coins On Ebay

(image “fair use” for educational purposes only) – Two 1847 “Gothic Crowns” Listed on eBay (this coin type is one of the most forged of all time). One is priced £19.95 (fake / replica) and the other priced £5,750.00 (genuine). But do you know which one is which? Answer at the foot of the article.

The vast majority of coin sellers on eBay are good people and the “coin community” is in general a good one. In my years of buying coins I have been treated honestly, courteously and cordially. There is an honor system that makes transactions a pleasure – as they should be.

However – there are some unscrupulous crooks selling fake coins – and getting away with it. eBay appears to be not very good at dealing with these as there continually seems to be a number of counterfeit items on the market at any given time.

The forgers are getting better at their craft: As it currently stands, many fakes can still be identified from the photo alone by someone who knows what they are looking for. However as technology evolves and manufacturing equipment becomes more and more obtainable, some of the fakes are getting better and better, looking more and more like the real thing. We now have sellers of fake coins proudly stating that their replica is the correct weight. As though that is something to be proud of? Technology advances – for both good and evil – and it’s not going to be long before the forgers really are able to make a fake that is indistinguishable from the real thing without laboratory analysis. Then, we will have a real problem on our hands and the collector’s coin market on eBay and elsewhere will effectively be destroyed. Currently, it is still thriving but unless this problem is dealt with, we are headed straight towards a brick wall at full speed.

Replica “Gap Filler” Coins (Avoid!)

The problem has been greatly compounded by the fact that eBay (for some crazy reason I cannot fathom) permits “replica coins” (glorified name for a fake coin) to be listed – so long as the coin is clearly labeled as such in the listing. To my mind, this doesn’t help matters one bit: It provides a viable niche market to the fake coin manufacturers – meaning that more of these coins are being dumped into the marketplace; and there is nothing on the coin itself marking that the coin is a fake – which means that once the coin changes hands, these coins will all end up “in the wild” and will ultimately result in the fact that people are going to be fooled! Call them replicas if you want. I call them forgeries and the long-term effects of this mismanaged scenario are going to be felt for many years to come. My personal opinion is that every single one of these replicas should be destroyed as they are wrecking the marketplace – but that’s probably not going to happen.

Please don’t EVER buy these “gap fillers”. They are essentially worthless and you are adding to the problem by helping the forgers to stay in business!

How To Spot Fake Coins

The key to identifying forgeries is to use as many of the tools you have at your disposal as possible and approach the problem from multiple angles. Your tools and techniques include scientific and test equipment – for analyzing and measuring the coin; references – examples of genuine coins for comparison – and a knowledge of how the forgeries are made, together with plentiful observation of actual fakes as compared to the real thing.

Coin forgery is a dark art that has a very long history. Back in the old days, it was a crime that actually carried the most severe possible penalty – execution – and it’s understandable why. Prior to banknotes and digital currency, coins were the principal form of money and the integrity of the coinage was vital to national security. This did not stop people from trying though – and the coinage faced an endless attack from every imaginable type of deceit. This too is somewhat understandable, given the abject poverty with no real possibility of escape. People really did have nothing to lose.

The principal “weapon” that the mint had against forgery was to be at the forefront of technology with regard to manufacturing methods. It was vital to the coin manufacturer to employ the best artists and most skilled makers – in order to create a coin that was exceedingly difficult to fake. Milled coinage required presses that utilized extraordinary pressure of a kind that was difficult to achieve with smaller equipment. The mint was also a high-security environment, with armed guard protecting not only the coin of the realm but the equipment and especially the dies used to make it.

Research And Learn The Most Commonly Faked Varieties

There are numerous coins that are well-known to be commonly faked, (for example 1822 and 1847 UK crowns) and there are numerous documented examples of these fakes that you can compare your coin to. The more of this research you do, the more easily you will recognize a fraudulent coin. Fakes generally have specific flaws that can easily by identified by someone who already knows what to look out for.

1: Look on eBay

Type in “replica coin” into an eBay search and you will see loads of examples of the most common fakes. You can compare these to genuine listings to improve your skills.

2: Look on Aliexpress!

This is crazy, but true. The people selling fake coins often buy them for cheap on Aliexpress. So, go look for coins on Aliexpress and you will see them openly on sale. You can recognize some of these exact coins on eBay – sometimes even using the exact same photo!

Curiously, some of the most ultra-expensive, extremely rare coins in flawless condition are less often faked than “somewhat rare” coins in lower grades of condition. This makes sense when you think about it: Faking an old coin is in some ways more difficult than faking a new one; because artificially aging a coin in a manner that correctly mimics the manner in which natural wear occurs, is very difficult – especially a coin in UNC or proof state. A patina acquired through a mirror-finish proof coin sitting 150 years untouched in a coin cabinet is very hard to fake; so forgers have taken to faking older, more worn coins as the sharp detail has been worn away and there are less identifying features and details. They tend to use some sort of brown muck to give an artificial appearance of age to the coin – getting this into the depths and then wiping the surface clean. In general, this boot polish or whatever it is, is simply the wrong colour. Real silver oxide is typically darker and more blue-black than what I have seen the fakers use.


The physical location of the coin is important. If it’s a UK coin and coming from China or Russia – the likelihood that it is fake is quite high. Most of the fakes seem to be created in China, where there seems to be very little in the way of prevention of the creation of counterfeit goods. The Chinese coin makers get their hands on whatever minting equipment they can and likely are making their own. I have a feeling that the fake coins coming from Russia are obtaining the coins from China, however I am not sure about this.


Look at the seller’s feedback and be highly cautious of a coin seller with less than 99% positive feedback. If there is ANYONE in their feedback saying they received a fake coin – this is a huge red flag. But just because you didn’t see that, doesn’t automatically prove anything. Watch out also for coin sellers who have very few feedbacks – it is a new account. Genuine coin dealers will have a long history on eBay and a track record of happy customers. Sellers of counterfeit goods often create new accounts and start up shop all over again, owing to either an account ban or being “outed” by negative feedback.


If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. This is not a definitive test but if something is cheaper than it should be, there is usually a reason for that.

Coin Size and Weight

A new or uncirculated coin should also be the correct weight, thickness and diameter, which are all easily measurable. Incorrect sizes and weights will instantly reveal some fakes of coins manufactured on modern equipment, which tend to have very precise physical characteristics. A micrometer can be used to measure diameter and thickness – and there are now scales that weigh in thousandths of a gram, available quite cheaply: Here is a 50g x 0.001g scale (weighs up to 50 grams at precision of 0.001 gram) that can be obtained on Amazon for under $20 – I bought one of these and found it to be very accurate. It comes with a 50-gram weight so that its precision can be tested prior to use. It is advisable to obtain a very accurate set of precision weights so that these can be used to calibrate scales regularly.

Note that as coins are circulated, they gradually wear, becoming lighter. Old Victorian silver coins are a good example as being silver, they were more prone to wear than modern cupro-nickel coins. A good way to evaluate this is once again to have examples of the genuine article in various states of wear, so that the “correct” amount of loss of weight can be ascertained by comparison. Anything outside of the expected range is very likely fake as coin weights ought to be very consistent.

Metal Purity

This is a challenge for coins. The topic of verifying the composition of metals is complex and advanced. There are some test kits available to the general public, however it should be noted that these methods are often somewhat damaging to the coin and so are not advised or even possible in some cases. Coin weight will typically weed out coins made from incorrect metals. Still, for the record – a streak plate (Amazon link) can rapidly discriminate between several metals. This is simply an unglazed piece of white porcelain tile, perhaps a tile’s back surface that is not shiny. Gold will give a golden streak on the plate, pyrite a black streak. Note that using a streak plate on a coin will of course give a small amount of wear.

Use Magnification

Magnification is still one of your principal tools for identifying fakes – especially if you have an example of the genuine coin alongside the one in question. Coins that have been forged by making a mould from an existing coin, will have a corresponding loss of detail and a different surface appearance to coins that were minted on genuine equipment using the original dies. Coins that were forged by attempting to replicate the design, will very often appear different in many ways, as making a perfect replica by hand is extremely difficult.

Professionally Authenticated Coins

Safest of all is to only buy coins that have been “slabbed” – authenticated by one of the coin grading societies and sealed in tamper-proof plastic. These give a high assurance and provenance that the coin is genuine. It’s a great shame however because seeing a coin “slabbed” in a perspex blob is aesthetically unappealing. I also enjoy putting cotton gloves on and picking up the coins to examine them. I want the coins to sit alongside the others in my coin case, I want to be able to look at the edge lettering – and view the coin without a layer of plastic in between my eye and my coin.

If in doubt, talk to an expert.

Real vs. Fake Gothic Crown: Did you get it? The first one (on the left) is the fake. Look at the hair above the ear and above the crown – very lacking in detail despite this being a supposedly unworn coin (wear appears on the highest surfaces first); look at the “lower” surface details and if those are lacking detail but the highest points are detailed – an instant giveaway.

Lettering: The fakes of these typically have slightly “bulbous” lettering that looks a bit like molten solder. On the real 1847 crown the lettering is super crisp and perfectly flat across the top. This is one of the most instantly obvious giveaways once you get the hang of it. Here’s a close-up example from a different pair of coins. Real coin on the right:

Note how much more “perfect” the real coin’s lettering is – together with other details. The fakers are getting better in this regard though.

Now look closely at various other details of the coin. The more closely you look, the more things you can see wrong. But you need to have a genuine coin as a reference. On the fake, the portrait is just slightly wrong. It doesn’t have the perfection of proportion of the real coin and lacks the subtle variations in depth and dimension; making the queen appear less attractive and less “real”. William Wyon, the engraver of the original portrait. was a true master artist, one of the greatest of his era. It’s unlikely that any forger will approach his level of craft. The eye on the fake is more ‘sunken’. The curve of the upper lip is wrong, the neck two-dimensional. In many of the fakes of this coin type, Victoria has been awarded something of a ‘double chin’. One would not have been amused! The flowers on the bodice are also incorrect on the left one. The “dots” above the crown are slightly wobbly, instead of making a perfect curve as on the right. The hair bun crosses the line of dots in the wrong place. The “F” of “F.D.” (Fidei Defensor) is missing a cross-line on the left. And on it goes.

Again – it’s difficult to catch these details if you are inexperienced; but the more time you spend comparing known real and fake examples, the easier it gets.