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How to Spot a Counterfeit American Silver Eagle

Corey is an expert in US coins and currency minted after the Civil War; he authenticates and grades both raw and certified coins.

American Silver Eagle Observe

American Silver Eagle Observe

Ways to Identify Fake American Silver Eagle Coins

The American Silver Eagle is one of the most popular coins in the world. It's beautiful, affordable, and made out of precious metal. Unfortunately, people will do just about anything to make a quick buck.

I recently became aware they are now being counterfeited, and some of these counterfeits are really convincing. Given the lack of information available to help people tell a real Silver Eagle from a fake, I wanted to address this issue.

Here are a few tips to help you determine whether or not your piece is real or a knockoff.

What Is an American Silver Eagle?

Let's preface with a little information about the coin and its history. The US Mint stopped producing silver coins in 1964. In 1965 they moved to nonprecious metals for dimes and quarters and downgraded half dollars to 40% silver.

Half dollars were switched to a clad composition starting in 1970, ending the era of silver coinage in the US. After 1969 the only silver coins the mint produced were meant for collection and not circulation.

The American Eagle was first minted in 1986. There is a silver, gold, and platinum version with each having a different design. The Silver Eagle has a face value of $1, meaning it technically is currency (and making a replica and passing it off as real is counterfeiting and falls under the jurisdiction of the Secret Service).

Each Silver Eagle is one troy ounce of fine silver (.999% pure silver) weighing exactly 31.103 grams. They come in both Mint and Proof strikes. In recent years the Mint has also experimented with other strikes like the Reverse-Proof.

They are mainly sought after by coin collectors and bullion investors. For the coin collector, they retain value because of the rarity, condition, and beauty of the piece. For bullion hoarders, they are mainly after the silver content and realize the Numismatic properties can somewhat act as a hedge against the price of silver.

The Best Counterfeits Are Magnetic

The best counterfeit Silver Eagle I've seen looked absolutely perfect. I was convinced it was legitimate.

The strike was perfect, and so was the design. Everything about this coin was spot on. I've been a numismatist for almost 20 years, so normally, I wouldn't have looked at this piece twice.

I knew this particular Silver Eagle had a problem; I just couldn't figure out what it was. After a few minutes, my client told me to try the magnet. I raised my eyebrow a bit in confusion. Silver Eagles aren't magnetic, and everything about this coin looked authentic.

When I brought it close to the magnet, the magnet pulled it right out of my hand. I was in shock. EVERYTHING about this coin was spot on. It was by far the best counterfeit I've ever seen.

A real Silver Eagle is 99.9% pure silver, which is NOT magnetic. A real Silver Eagle will NEVER stick to a magnet.

Some dealers will tell you to look for a flaw here or a change there. This coin was literally perfect. There were no warning signs, no flaws.

It had to have been made with actual minting equipment. How they managed to duplicate the design so perfectly, I still haven't figured out, but they did it. Now that I know they exist, I always double-check with a magnet just to be absolutely sure because it's the ONLY way to tell the difference. They are that perfect in every other way.

Example of a High-Quality Fake Silver Eagle

High-quality fake Silver Eagle Observe

High-quality fake Silver Eagle Observe

Poor Quality With Incorrect Dates

Most counterfeit Silver Eagles are easy to spot. They are absolutely horrible looking. The overall design is pretty close but the details are smashed and the production quality is just horrible.

I've seen half a dozen like this in the past year. Even a non-professional would be able to easily tell that these are likely fakes. They really look that bad but the giveaway is in the date.

All of the low-quality fakes that I've seen were dated 1900. Since these coins were first minted in 1986 this is a big indication the coin is counterfeit.

The design on the Silver Eagle is the same design that was used on the Walking Liberty Half Dollar which wasn't created until 1916. Since it is impossible to travel back in time a coin can not exist with a design that was not yet created.

Between the poor production quality and clearly incorrect dates on these knock-offs, they are extremely easy to spot.

Low-Quality Fake With Incorrect Date

Example of a low-quality fake Silver Eagle Observe with incorrect date

Example of a low-quality fake Silver Eagle Observe with incorrect date

Weight Warning

A troy ounce is exactly 31.103 grams. You should never have bullion that weighs incorrectly. If you put a Silver Eagle on a scale and it weighs 33.9 grams, something is wrong.

A troy ounce is a very specific unit of measure. No mint, refinery, or bullion producer is accidentally going to give you more than 31.103 grams. It just doesn't happen.

If you see a Silver Eagle that weighs more (or less) than it should, and it is NOT magnetic, it is likely a steel core with a layer of silver over it. I've recently seen something similar with fake one-ounce gold bars. One troy ounce will ALWAYS be 31.103 grams. No more, no less.

American Silver Eagle Reverse

American Silver Eagle Reverse

DIY Method

If you are absolutely sure you want to go the DIY route invest a few dollars in proper gear. A good pocket scale and a strong magnet will be enough to help you stay protected.

Always double-check the coin's weight on the scale to be sure it's exactly 31.103 grams. Make sure your magnet is pretty strong, even if it's a bit smaller. The fake Silver Eagles are EXTREMELY magnetic, and a real piece is not magnetic at all.

When in doubt, you may be better off buying Silver Eagles that have been authenticated and certified by a trusted third-party grading company.

Buy Certified

For a long time, I never saw the point in buying Silver Eagles that were certified by PCGS or NGC. Now that I've seen a large number of counterfeits, that position has changed.

PCGS and NGC are the leaders in the coin grading and authentication field. If they certified the coin, you know it's authentic. Certified coins are also easier to display and are protected from chemicals, fingerprints, and the elements by their protective holders.

When a coin is certified, it's graded on a scale of 1–70, with 70 being literal perfection. Very few coins ever qualify as a Mint State 70 or Proof 70 Deep Cameo, which makes them highly sought after.

Luckily there are a large number of Silver Eagles that are graded each year. They are also minted specifically for collectors and not for circulation, so they tend to get higher grades more often.

If you want to be sure the Silver Eagles you buy are authentic, then it makes sense to purchase pieces that have already been certified. My recommendation is to find Silver Eagles that are graded Proof 70 Deep Cameo by PCGS.

They cost a little more because they are the best of the best, but they will also retain their value easier. You can't get better than perfect. Proofs also have more collector demand, where the mint state counterparts usually have more demand as bullion items.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2021 Corey Chappell

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