There are close to ten million coin collectors in the United States, and most of them view their collections as investments. In fact, collecting coins purely for the sake of owning precious metals is a popular specialty within the hobby, and this has contributed to a trading boom in gold and silver. However, with this rise in legitimate buying and selling, there has also been a corresponding rise in counterfeiting. Silver coins are a popular choice for novice collectors due to their accessible prices, and that has attracted counterfeiters seeking easy prey. That is why it is critical to know how to evaluate a coin for its purity of metal content. Below are several methods for testing a silver coin for authenticity:
Neodymium magnet test
Neodymium magnets are an easy way to test for coin authenticity. These extremely strong magnets will adhere to any coin that contains iron, but they will not attract silver coins. Unfortunately, there are other nonmagnetic metals that phony coins are made of, such as copper and zinc, and this test won't alert you in that case. You can find neodymium magnets from online retailers in electronics and scientific equipment. Be sure you also search for 'rare-earth magnets', as this alternate name is often seen instead.
Silver coins make a distinctive, clear ringing sound when struck. To test by sound, balance the coin in question on a small object such as the flat head of a pencil eraser. After that, sharply tap the coin with a known silver coin. The clear sound is easy to identify as non-silver, or silver-plated coins will not ring in the same manner. However, keep in mind that savvy counterfeiters are able to duplicate the sound with various combinations of metal, so use this test in conjunction with others.
Certain chemicals will react strongly to silver, and this can be an effective way to test for silver purity. Household bleach will turn silver black within a short time, and various kinds of acid will also produce a discoloration. Remember that fake coins with silver plated surfaces will also "pass" the chemical test; in those cases, scratch the coin first to remove any plating before testing with chemicals. Obviously, chemical testing damages coins, so be sure that you don't use it with potentially-rare or collectible coins.
Another excellent method for testing a silver coin is to directly compare it with a known silver coin of the same type. You will need to use a magnifying glass to discern tiny details, and make sure the overhead lighting is strong. Here are some visible details that can help you tell the difference between a counterfeited coin and an authentic one:
- Typeface – counterfeiters often fail to match the lettering with that found on authentic coins. One overlooked detail includes making contemporary-appearing numbers and letters instead of using the distinctive touches often found on real coins.
- Level of detail – counterfeiters often fail to adequately detail their fake coins. For example, they may omit fine lines such as the veins on a leaf, wrinkles in clothing, or hair strands.
- Finishing – counterfeit coins are often minted with much less precision than their real counterparts. The rims may be misshapen or wider, and the reeded edges may be erratic or missing altogether in crude forgeries.
- Patina – the "look" of silver coins is different than that seen in counterfeit coins. Silver is not particularly shiny, unless polished, and it has a distinctive discoloration when it begins tarnishing.
The dealer test
Ultimately, the best way to know that you are purchasing authentic silver coins is by doing business with a reputable coin dealer. The Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) holds its dealer members to high standards of professional conduct, and membership is a reliable indicator of ethical dealing and business practices. Look for PNG dealers whenever possible, or at the least, contact a local coin club for recommendations on coin dealers. Be cautious when buying silver coins from unknown dealers, particularly those that operate out of a "bare bones" strip mall location or in other transient circumstances. You can also go to websites of local dealers to learn more about them.