Morgan Silver Dollars – How to Avoid Buying Fakes
A faithful reader of our blog posts recently brought to our attention that fake Morgan silver dollars have made their way to online auction sites. Oftentimes the fake coins aren’t detected until after the buyer protection policy rights have lapsed, which means you could potentially end up with a near worthless coin on which you spent hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
Before we delve into our conversation, we thought it would be helpful to provide you some basic background and historical information on Morgan silver dollars. Morgan dollars were designed by chief engraver George T Morgan and include an image of Lady Liberty on the obverse and a heraldic eagle on the reverse with defined breast and tail feathers on the reverse. The coins include the phrase “e pluribus unum,” which means one out of many and are among the most popular collectible coins in the market today.
In addition to the weight, the diameter and thickness of the Morgan silver dollar can be measured to ensure it’s authenticity. The diameter and thickness of an uncirculated silver dollar should be 38.1 mm and 2.4mm, respectively.
Because of their popularity, Morgan dollars are frequently counterfeited. We’ve prepared some helpful guidelines in an attempt to prevent you from purchasing fake Morgan silver dollars. This information can be used for your existing silver dollar collection, when purchasing coins in person and online.
Please note that the following guidelines also apply to the highly popular Peace dollar.
A few years ago, owner of Atlanta Gold and Coin Buyers made the local news after helping assist Atlanta Police with identifying fake Silver Dollars circulating the Atlanta area. You can check out that video HERE.
Years Morgan Silver Dollars Were Produced
Morgan dollars were minted consecutively from 1878 to 1904 and again in 1921 by the United States Mint. If your Morgan silver dollar was produced in any other year, other than the recently pr oduced 2021 commemorative Morgan silver dollar, then it is likely a counterfeit.
Over the years, we’ve seen replica Morgans minted with dates that are outside of the acceptable range. Furthermore, we’ve seen mint marks on certain years of Morgan silver dollars that didn’t exist. We’ll discuss in further detail below some of the most commonly replicated Morgan dollars, by mint.
Recently the US mint produced the 100 year Anniversary Morgan and Peace Silver Dollar coins which were a highly sought after coin upon release.
Weight of Morgan Dollars
To begin with, the weight of counterfeit Morgan silver dollars differs from the standard specifications. The weight of an uncirculated Morgan silver dollar is 26.73 grams. Most replica coins weigh substantially less. We commonly see replica coins that weigh in the 18 to 22 gram range.
Please note that authentic Morgans may weigh slightly less than the standard specs if they have been in circulation and have some wear, but the largest discrepancy you’re likely to see is half of a gram, and this would be for a fairly worn coin.
While it’s possible to have a fake Morgan silver dollar that weighs out correctly, the other specifications, such as the diameter and thickness, will likely be wider and thicker than an authentic silver dollar.
Diameter & Thickness of Morgan Silver Dollars
Not all rulers or tape measures allow you to measure in millimeters. Considering that accuracy is important when measuring Morgan silver dollars, we recommend that you invest in a high-quality caliper. Calipers can be purchased online or at most home improvement stores. Please note that slight variances in the specifications are typically within the margin of error for these coins, but any substantial differences should be reason for concern.
Metal Composition of Morgan Silver Dollars
Another factor to consider is that the metal content of most fake Morgans differs from the 90% silver and 10% copper composition of authentic Morgan dollars. An easy way to detect if your coins is fake is to check to see if it’s magnetic. Precious metals, such as gold, silver, platinum and palladium aren’t magnetic, so if your coin is attracted to a strong magnet, such as an earth magnet, then you can be sure that it’s fake.
Please note that not all fake Morgan silver dollars are magnetic. In fact, many of the counterfeit silver dollars that we’ve seen over the years are composed of aluminum, which isn’t magnetic.
Additionally, the sound of silver differs from coins composed of other metals. The sound of silver has a distinct high pitched ring that tends to linger; whereas, coins composed of other metals, such as a combination of copper and nickel have more of a thud-like sound that doesn’t resonate. Coins composed of other metals, such as aluminum, don’t have a rich or enduring sound like silver.
Some tools have been developed in recent years that allow you to listen for an enduring ring sound without damaging the coin. We recommend that you consider one of these tools; especially in lieu of dropping the coin on a hard surface in an attempt to listen for the distinct sound of silver.
Mintmarks of Morgan Silver Dollars
Highly skilled counterfeiters have also been known to add a “mint mark” to a coin or remove a mint mark in an attempt to increase the value of the coin. The mint mark indicates where the coin was minted.
The five mints that produced Morgan silver dollars from 1878 – 1921 are the Denver (D) mint, the San Francisco (S) mint, the New Orleans (O) mint, the Carson City (CC) mint and the Philadelphia mint. Coins minted by the Philadelphia mint are the only coins that don’t contain a mint mark, and are some of the most commonly minted coins, so it’s common for most Morgan dollars to not contain mint marks.
Commonly Counterfeited Morgan Silver Dollars
The most commonly counterfeited coins are those issued by the San Francisco and Carson City mints. While some of the replicas are fairly high quality, a 10x triple magnifier will help to identify nuances between counterfeit stamped mint marks and authentic mint marks.
It’s also possible, on occasion, to determine if the silver dollar is a counterfeit based on the year of the coin; besides the known years that Morgan silver dollars were produced. For example, Carson City silver dollars were only produced from 1878 – 1885 and then again in 1889, 1891, 1892 & 1893. Many fakes that we see are from other years, such as 1894 and 1895. Another commonly counterfeited Morgan silver dollar is the 1893-s dollar.
Font Style & Size of Mintmarks
The font of the mintmarks also helps to identify authentic versus counterfeit coins. Authentic mintmarks are in a “serif-style” font, which differs from most fake Morgan silver dollars, which are less detailed and more plain in appearance.
Authentic mintmarks are also well-struck compared to fake silver dollars, which are typically weakly struck. On occasion, fake Morgan dollars have “tool marks.” Tool marks are marks on authentic Morgan dollars and are considered depressions on counterfeit coins.
For example, a counterfeiter may begin with an authentic Morgan silver dollar, such as an 1894-s coin, and attempt to remove the “S” mintmark on the coin to make it a key date coin.
Location of Mintmarks
The location of the mintmark on the reverse side of the Morgan silver dollar will help you to identify if your coin is authentic. The mintmark, if present, should be located above the letters “D” and “O” in the word “dollar” and below the wreath.
The mintmark on fake silver dollars isn’t always located in the correct location. Additionally, on occasion, the mintmark is somewhat crooked and is also larger or smaller than an authentic mintmark, as we addressed above.
Toning of Morgan Silver Dollars
Many fake silver dollars have evidence of artificial toning in an attempt to make a recently produced “coin” old. A common practice is applying a dye or stain to the coin and brushing or removing the stain in the field areas of the coin. This practice gives the high points of the coin an artificial toning appearance, which contrasts with the minimal toning of the surrounding areas. Any evidence of inconsistent toning on the coin is a red flag and is something that should be scrutinized.
Presentation of Morgan Silver Dollars
A telltale sign of counterfeit silver dollars is how they’re presented or displayed when they’re brought into our store. A common practice of counterfeiters is to place the silver dollars in 20 coin plastic sheets that are four coins wide by five coins long.
These coins are frequently taped or sealed shut making it difficult to remove and individually inspect the coins. Typically, merely running the coins on our electronic precious metals verifier is a dead giveaway, but if Morgan dollars are ever presented to you in this fashion, know that there’s a high likelihood that they’re counterfeit.
At the very least, you’ll want to remove them from their plastic sleeves to thoroughly inspect them before moving forward with your purchase.
We hope that you found this post on how to identify fake Morgan silver dollars helpful, and welcome you to contact us if we can be of further assistance. In summary, the best way to avoid mistakenly purchasing a counterfeit Morgan silver dollar is to do your due diligence to identify a highly knowledgeable and reputable coin dealer. This may be a local or online coin dealer, so don’t rule out either option.
Not only is Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers an expert on Morgan silver dollars, but we also deal in many other types of silver coins and bullion. Contact us today to receive competitive pricing for your silver dollar and industry leading concierge service.