If you collect coins, you know the importance of determining the authenticity of your prized possessions. Learning about coin fraud is an essential tool in your arsenal, especially if you want to eventually flip the coins for cash.
To help you understand this space best, we reached out to coin expert Sebastian Wieschowski of Hannover, Germany, who wrote the book Fake Coin Bible: How to Protect Yourself Against Counterfeiters.
Below is our Q&A with the numismatic guru on what to look for:
Muzeum: What got you involved in coins and fraudulent coins? Why did you get into this field?
Wieschowski: I have been a coin collector since childhood and learned very early how painful coin fakes can be. At 15, I bought a box of coins on eBay with two very interesting silver coins being placed right in the center of the auction image. When they arrived, I instantly found out that they were not made of silver, but of steel. Wasting my monthly pocket money was an experience that I never forgot.
And when I realized in 2017 that the German online auction and classified platforms were flooded with low quality counterfeit coins, I wanted to do something and give people a tool to learn about counterfeit detection. That's when I started my work on the "Fake Coin Bible.
Muzeum: What are some things people can look for if they have a coin collection? How do they know if they have authentic valuable coins?
Wieschowski: Most contemporary counterfeit coins are, in fact, quite easy to detect. If people know the weight of an original coin from your coin catalogue, just put the coin on a regular kitchen weight scale. Even if the scale is not very precise, it will show a big difference to the catalogue weight of the coin.
They should also have a magnifying glass at hand, because most counterfeiters don't pay much attention to the details of a coin. The edge of a counterfeit coin is usually plain because the reeding or edge inscriptions are hard to copy. If you know how the edge should look like, you can easily sort out most of the common fakes.
And you should be suspicious when it comes to any sort of rough structures on a coin design. Modern coins are pieces of art that contain stunning details with very detailed structures and most counterfeiters can't use state-of-the-art minting machines, so they only manage to reproduce a fraction of the coin quality.
Muzeum: How widespread and common is coin fraud?
Wieschowski: The topic of coin fraud is not new; it is basically as old as the coinage itself. But counterfeit coins have become a lot more common on the European market with the advent of Asian online sales platforms, where you can order fake coins for as low as two dollars a piece.
I was stunned to see how professional the counterfeit dealers work: When I ordered several coins for my "Fake Coin Bible", shipping was always free and the coins arrived within one week in a registered letter - that's a service that you won't find at every regular German coin dealer.
So there are more and more folks out there who think that they can make a fast buck by ordering fake stuff from Asia and reselling them in Germany. And there is a very special problem in Germany which makes it easy for people to stay on the legal side even if they sell fake stuff: They place a small disclaimer in the auction description, stating that the coins are not checked and the dealer cannot guarantee if the coin is genuine. Well, in reality, those dealers know for sure if the coin is genuine or not.
This is, however, a very ugly development which threatens numismatics - as I have learned myself, you never forget the pain of being the victim of a fraud. And some people never buy coins again in the future.
Muzeum: What makes a coin valuable in your opinion? What about in Canada?
Wieschowski: As mints around the world try to catch our attention with low mintages and special effects, I myself have decided to go back to basics and explore the world of German coins from previous eras such as the German Empire or the Weimar Republic. Those coins are hard to spot in a good quality and a pure joy to any numismatic eye. And as prices are going down right now, I have the opportunity to obtain some of my numismatic childhood dreams.
To be honest, third-party grading is very important to me. There is a strong debate going on in Germany if the services of NGC, PCGS and others are suitable for German collectors. Most people back here prefer to touch the raw coin. But being a part of the new generation of collectors, I pay a lot of attention to the professional review and verdict of third-party graders.
With my special focus on silver bullion coins, there are also a lot of Canadian coins that come to my mind which are very popular in Germany. The Royal Canadian Mint has a high reputation in Germany and a lot of folks are collecting the bullion coins with altering designs, such as the Canadian Wildlife, Birds of Prey and others. And even the simplicity of a common "Maple Leaf" coin is very appealing to many collectors in Germany, as Canada is one of the dream destinations especially for younger collectors.
Muzeum: What advice would you give someone who wants to get into coin collecting but doesn't know where to start?
Wieschowski: I think that modern silver coins could actually serve as a very healthy entry point. With silver prices still being quite low, there is not much that you can lose when you obtain some silver bullion coins from Canada or Australia. Most of the young collectors in Germany get into the hobby by looking out for previous editions of the Koala, Kookaburra or Lunar coins from Australia, the Panda from China or various Canadian stuff.
If you want to invest some more money, I would suggest looking out for a coin that has any connection to your own biography. It could be a coin from your birth year or 100 years before your birth year, a historical commemorative coin from your birth region or something like that.
There are a lot of commemorative coins that are sold at silver spot, so there is definitely a lot to explore in the world of coins, especially nowadays.