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1839 Small Letters Bust Half - Possible Counterfeit?

brianc1959brianc1959 Posts: 341 ✭✭✭✭✭

Last night I was fortunate (I think!) to win an 1839 Small Letters bust half at the Heritage Long Beach Auction. But I seem to be involved in a bit of a mystery. I was aware of what I'm about to describe before making a bid, and my instincts were simultaneously screaming "don't touch that thing with a 10-foot pole" and "get that coin even if you can't afford to buy anything else for five years".

At first, I thought my coin, which I'll call it the 6304 coin for the last four digits in the Cert #, was the same as a coin sold at a Heritage Auction on June 4 2015, which I'll call the 3994 coin for its Cert #. The identifying marks on the 6304 coin match those on the 3994 coin, in particular the dig in the left obverse field midway between Liberty's chin and Star #2. Many other marks also match precisely.

However, the overall appearance and toning of the coins is very different, and this matches the 2015 and 2022 auction descriptions. In 2015 the 3994 coin was described as having a "bright silver-gray color", and in 2022 the 6304 coin was described as having a "deep gunmetal-gray patina".

Here are photos from the HA auction pages arranged for a comparison. I just did crop/copy/paste and minor re-sizing, but made no attempt to change contrast, brightness, or color:

It's hard for me to believe that the two coins are the same item, despite the precise matching of small defects. Which leads me to believe that one of the coins is fake. To deepen the mystery, if you look up the Cert numbers (25606304 and 28533994, respectively, for the 2022 and 2015 coins) the 3994 coin gives a "we're sorry, that Cert. number was not found" message.

Any thoughts?

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    ElmerFusterpuckElmerFusterpuck Posts: 4,627 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Those two coins are definitely different, not the same at all. The wear pattern looks different and the bottom coin looks to have less wear. I'll let the experts chime in on authenticity.

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    Project NumismaticsProject Numismatics Posts: 1,333 ✭✭✭✭✭

    My inexpert opinion is that the top 3994 coin is fake. 3994 looks like it was struck from a die made using 6304 based on the fact that the marks are all the same and the 3994 details are mushy. The 3994 cert being invalid seems to be confirmation.

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    lilolmelilolme Posts: 2,456 ✭✭✭✭✭
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    lilolmelilolme Posts: 2,456 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I am also one that is not experienced enough for this. But after looking at the photos I will put in a 3rd different opinion. It is the same coin. It was re-toned/re-colored. This based on the similarities from marks, dentils, rim and the wear. While wear is different, it is also different sometimes between the two photos of the same coin - this due to photos can make some wear/details look different. Also the new color appears to be that kind of smokey to darker color.

    As far as the cert number being inactive. Could be if cracked out the cert tag was sent in and this would deactivate it. Also possible with so few that pcgs noticed the previous coin and deactivated it. Of course a regrade would deactivate but that does not get me to the re-colored/re-toned.

    https://youtube.com/watch?v=2YNufnS_kf4 - Mama I'm coming home ...................................................................................................................................................................... RLJ 1958 - 2023

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    LanceNewmanOCCLanceNewmanOCC Posts: 19,999 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited October 7, 2022 11:54AM

    @TomB said:
    These are absolutely the same example. No question. My opinion is that the someone worked the 3994 coin after removing it from the holder so that it would appear far darker and more attractive to most folks. Essentially, they artificially toned it by making it appear darker. It was then re-certified by PCGS and the insert was returned to PCGS, which led to PCGS deactivating the cert number.

    .
    this.

    it would be my estimation that one is not a die-transfer counterfeit of the other. the dings and bangs match up w/o any detail loss imo.

    same coin went to the monkey coin doktor factory.

    OR

    depending on the dates of which came first, the dark coin could have been unwisely dipped.

    <--- look what's behind the mask! - cool link 1/NO ~ 2/NNP ~ 3/NNC ~ 4/CF ~ 5/PG ~ 6/Cert ~ 7/NGC 7a/NGC pop~ 8/NGCF ~ 9/HA archives ~ 10/PM ~ 11/NM ~ 12/ANACS cert ~ 13/ANACS pop - report fakes 1/ACEF ~ report fakes/thefts 1/NCIS - Numi-Classes SS ~ Bass ~ Transcribed Docs NNP - clashed coins - error training - V V mm styles -

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    vplite99vplite99 Posts: 1,181 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Same coin IMHO, but I don't know what happened.

    Vplite99
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    brianc1959brianc1959 Posts: 341 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @TomB said:
    These are absolutely the same example. No question. My opinion is that the someone worked the 3994 coin after removing it from the holder so that it would appear far darker and more attractive to most folks. Essentially, they artificially toned it by making it appear darker. It was then re-certified by PCGS and the insert was returned to PCGS, which led to PCGS deactivating the cert number.

    That possibility did occur to me, although the Heritage photographs appear to indicate that the 3994 coin has a more granular surface texture than the 6304 coin. That could just be the lighting, of course. If PCGS did deactivate the cert # then they should have a detailed record of it, so perhaps its possible to get more information about this. Also, if true I wonder why PCGS wouldn't have picked up on an artificial toning, since the marks are essentially identical in both 3994 and 6304. In any event, I would hope to have a details-graded genuine coin, and not a counterfeit.

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    BustHalfBrianBustHalfBrian Posts: 4,124 ✭✭✭
    edited October 7, 2022 2:21PM

    It's the same coin, and it's not counterfeit. It looks like someone used Deller's Darkener, plus a bit of heat, to tone the coin. Or a similar type of experiment with sulfur and heat. Deller's is really just sulfur and Vaseline.

    I did the same thing to a Seated half not too long ago. It looks better now, IMHO. No one wants a dipped white VF.

    Lurking and learning since 2010. Full-time professional numismatist.
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    jesbrokenjesbroken Posts: 9,270 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Definitely not the same coins. Notice the star points and denticles are not the same as the ding does not match up either.
    Jim


    When a man who is honestly mistaken hears the truth, he will either quit being mistaken or cease to be honest....Abraham Lincoln

    Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.....Mark Twain
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    lilolmelilolme Posts: 2,456 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @brianc1959 said:

    @TomB said:
    These are absolutely the same example. No question. My opinion is that the someone worked the 3994 coin after removing it from the holder so that it would appear far darker and more attractive to most folks. Essentially, they artificially toned it by making it appear darker. It was then re-certified by PCGS and the insert was returned to PCGS, which led to PCGS deactivating the cert number.

    That possibility did occur to me, although the Heritage photographs appear to indicate that the 3994 coin has a more granular surface texture than the 6304 coin. That could just be the lighting, of course. If PCGS did deactivate the cert # then they should have a detailed record of it, so perhaps its possible to get more information about this. Also, if true I wonder why PCGS wouldn't have picked up on an artificial toning, since the marks are essentially identical in both 3994 and 6304. In any event, I would hope to have a details-graded genuine coin, and not a counterfeit.

    Yes, the lighting and photo can enhance, keep the same or de-emphasize 'lines and stuff' on the coin. Check the Heritage photo above that I posted of the white coin. It appears less granular in that photo.

    PCGS would have the information of the deactivated cert number that is on the Heritage photo with the holder. Maybe a little more but I would not expect it.

    To me it seems the TPG will often pick one of the items that will cause a details grade and use that. I do remember some with a couple items listed but usually just one. So here the filed rims is used to denote the details grade. Also just because a coin is re-toned/re-colored does not necessarily mean it will not be market acceptable. There are many coins that have re-toned that are market acceptable and get a straight grade. I do not know about the OP coin and where it would stand. Additionally the coin could have been determined to be cleaned but again the market acceptable.

    If you have concern about counterfeit then you could send it back to pcgs or show it to a pcgs 'expert' or others at a show. But I believe it has been graded at least twice now as a genuine details.

    https://youtube.com/watch?v=2YNufnS_kf4 - Mama I'm coming home ...................................................................................................................................................................... RLJ 1958 - 2023

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    ThreeCentSilverFLThreeCentSilverFL Posts: 1,659 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Certainly looks like it was cracked out, toned, and sucessfully resubmitted.

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    TomBTomB Posts: 20,727 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @brianc1959 said:

    @TomB said:
    These are absolutely the same example. No question. My opinion is that the someone worked the 3994 coin after removing it from the holder so that it would appear far darker and more attractive to most folks. Essentially, they artificially toned it by making it appear darker. It was then re-certified by PCGS and the insert was returned to PCGS, which led to PCGS deactivating the cert number.

    That possibility did occur to me, although the Heritage photographs appear to indicate that the 3994 coin has a more granular surface texture than the 6304 coin. That could just be the lighting, of course. If PCGS did deactivate the cert # then they should have a detailed record of it, so perhaps its possible to get more information about this. Also, if true I wonder why PCGS wouldn't have picked up on an artificial toning, since the marks are essentially identical in both 3994 and 6304. In any event, I would hope to have a details-graded genuine coin, and not a counterfeit.

    It doesn't matter if the Heritage photos make the 3994 piece appear to be more granular as the piece was worked on heavily after it was cracked out of the PCGS holder and there is nothing that states the surfaces could not have been ever so slightly smoothed during the process. I would imagine this was not an overnight project with an inexperienced surgeon. This likely took time. However, even if the surfaces weren't intentionally made finer, the lighting is different enough (given the depth of change in color) that we can't make that many statements about the surfaces. So, it could just be lighting.

    As for PCGS, there is no real incentive for the party who later submitted this coin to submit the old cert with it. They just want the coin in a holder and the old cert could be submitted before, during or after the submission with the coin. The reason for submitting the old cert might simply be so that the population of the coin did not increase so as to protect the investment potential of this coin upon re-sale.

    The piece is genuine and you have the artificially darkened version of the coin instead of the previously certified artificially lightened version.

    Thomas Bush Numismatics & Numismatic Photography

    In honor of the memory of Cpl. Michael E. Thompson

    image
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    brianc1959brianc1959 Posts: 341 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @jesbroken said:
    Definitely not the same coins. Notice the star points and denticles are not the same as the ding does not match up either.
    Jim

    I don't quite see what you're describing - to my eye the small details match up well, but I'll try to look into this more closely. My have to up my Photoshop game a bit.

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    brianc1959brianc1959 Posts: 341 ✭✭✭✭✭

    To All: I really appreciate the thoughtful responses you've provided here, and I'm just about convinced that my original impression was wrong. Although I wish the coin had never been messed with in the first place, it might have been unobtainable otherwise. And now I can actually complete that 1839 set I've been working on!

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    GoBustGoBust Posts: 586 ✭✭✭✭✭

    It's really an astoundingly rare variety. Just about as rare as the 1817/4 key to the 1807 to 1839-O capped half dollar series. Congratulations of your purchase. I struggled with the best 1839 small letters i could find for 10 or 12 years was a VF20 with surface damage that was very dark until the Pogue piece came along.

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    lkeigwinlkeigwin Posts: 16,887 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @TomB said:

    @brianc1959 said:

    @TomB said:
    These are absolutely the same example. No question. My opinion is that the someone worked the 3994 coin after removing it from the holder so that it would appear far darker and more attractive to most folks. Essentially, they artificially toned it by making it appear darker. It was then re-certified by PCGS and the insert was returned to PCGS, which led to PCGS deactivating the cert number.

    As for PCGS, there is no real incentive for the party who later submitted this coin to submit the old cert with it. They just want the coin in a holder and the old cert could be submitted before, during or after the submission with the coin. The reason for submitting the old cert might simply be so that the population of the coin did not increase so as to protect the investment potential of this coin upon re-sale.

    Completely agree. I am surprised anyone cannot see these two are the same coin.

    Perhaps the reason for submitting the old cert was a feeble attempt to delete its past.

    It's sad such a remarkable rarity suffers from such deceit.
    Lance.

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    brianc1959brianc1959 Posts: 341 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @GoBust said:
    It's really an astoundingly rare variety. Just about as rare as the 1817/4 key to the 1807 to 1839-O capped half dollar series. Congratulations of your purchase. I struggled with the best 1839 small letters i could find for 10 or 12 years was a VF20 with surface damage that was very dark until the Pogue piece came along.

    Thanks. I may now have one of the less desirable of the Small Letters 1839 halves, but as in real estate it can be a good thing to have the cheapest property in a nice neighborhood. BTW - I now remember that about a year ago when I was whining about losing an unwinnable auction for one of these you predicted that others might soon come on the market. So congratulations on being correct!

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    TomBTomB Posts: 20,727 ✭✭✭✭✭

    If it makes you feel any better, I believe it has better eye appeal to a broader swatch of legitimate potential owners the way it looks now than the way it looked before. Either way, it wasn't original, so pick your poison.

    As for me, I think the "after" images make the coin more attractive.

    Thomas Bush Numismatics & Numismatic Photography

    In honor of the memory of Cpl. Michael E. Thompson

    image
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    brianc1959brianc1959 Posts: 341 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @lkeigwin said:
    Completely agree. I am surprised anyone cannot see these two are the same coin.

    Lance.

    Like P.T. Barnum said, "there's a sucker born every minute" - oh, wait, I'm the sucker - damn! If it helps, I am feeling at least slightly educated by this whole thing.

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