1839 Small Letters Bust Half - Possible Counterfeit?
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.