Non Genuine Coins, for Commercial Purposes

True counterfeits, those items made "of whole cloth" and meant to represent a coin (or currency) to be used in commerce, in other words to pass as money, are also about as old as the genuine article.  Originally, the object of counterfeiting was to pass off a lesser valuable metal as a higher value metallic coinage, and make a profit on the difference.  This would obviously include gold plating lead, copper, silver or other base metals to pass as a gold coin, but the same trick was used to represent silver, copper and even nickel coinage!

These older counterfeits were purely commercial in nature, but may have become a threat to collectors as they passed into the realm of collectibles.  Some of these counterfeits are quite scarce today, probably in as they were found out, they would have been discarded or destroyed officially.  Oddly enough, there are those people today who avidly collect these commercial counterfeits, as an adjunct to their regular collection of U.S. coinage.  Some of these coin types that are popularly collected as fakes are the Shield Nickel, Bust Half Dollar and U.S. Silver Dollar series'.  The images below show a few of these commercial fakes - most would not fool anyone today, but in a time of less education it was possible for these to pass as real.  The changing of U.S. coin designs added to this problem, as commonly many people were not intimately familiar with the new designs after they were released.

Die Struck Commercial Counterfeits:

These first two images show a die struck, fake 3 Cent Silver of 1860, struck from hand made dies. I presume that these passed due both to their small size, and perhaps the relative unfamiliarity of the odd denomination, however it is also possible that they were accepted in circulation, even though counterfeit, due to the coin shortages during the Civil War.

The next two images show a fake 1869 Shield Nickel, also die struck from hand carved dies.  Anyone familiar in the slightest with the real coin would spot this one, one would think, so these must have been passed in the hinterlands where coinage was short and people did not look too closely at what they were given!

Cast Copies:

Most of the counterfeits encountered in the first category above were made from hand engraved dies, using an original as a model.  A second, much cruder category would be CAST copies/counterfeits, usually made from a mold taken of a genuine coin.  As these were cast rather than struck, they were typically made of a softer, maleable metal such as a zinc alloy.  Some were presumably plated in order to pass in circulation, but others may have been made to fool earlier technology coin-operated machinery, which either did not have a counterfeit detector, or used only size/weight as the descrimination factors.


In a last group would have to be added the "slug".  This is traditionally a round coin-sized piece of metal, approximating the weight of a particular coin, but not necessarily having a design.  These came on the scene generally in the late 1800's-early 1900's with the growth of coin-operated machinery, which typically required a Five Cent coin, a blank copy of which would be easy enough to punch out.

Also in this group are "copies" of reeded edge coinage, where a blank slug had reeding hand or machine applied - these are generally scarcer.

Lastly are the oddballs, which were created for a particular criminal purpose.  The image below shows one of the more unusual that I have encountered.  This is a blank copy of standard one ounce .999 Silver bullion round, which came out of a lot of silver rounds sold originally in the bull market days of the Hunt Brothers.  At that point, a fake silver round might have been worth $30-40+ to the counterfeiter, certainly worth the effort.

Unfortunately, we may be returning to a period when that is again something to worry about.