By Dennis Tucker
Gold is in the mainstream news headlines these days as the precious metal takes a wild ride up and down the market. The United States Mint is doing land-office business in gold coin production, investors are looking at gold as a way to diversify their portfolios, and collector demand is robust for rare older gold coins as well as modern American Gold Eagles and other bullion coins. With all of this attention, it’s no surprise that “the bad guys”—counterfeiters—are on the prowl looking for ways to separate innocent gold buyers from their hard-earned money.
I recently spoke with professional numismatist Randy Campbell, senior grader and authenticator at ICG (Independent Coin Graders) of Tampa, Florida. Over the past 30-plus years Campbell has examined and graded millions of coins. “Almost every day as a grader I see quantities of counterfeit and altered U.S. gold coins,” he said. He observed that 2020 brought bad news and pitfalls for buyers: “Most coin shows in the United States were canceled. Coin-club meetings became almost nonexistent. Coin shops have shortened their hours of operation.” Campbell notes that these complications can dramatically limit a collector’s hands-on access to impartial expertise. “The numismatic bad guys know this, and they’ve flooded the market with even more bogus gold coins,” he said. He estimates that as of late 2020 and early 2021, the quantity of counterfeit gold coins being sold is approaching an all-time high.
Campbell’s advice to all numismatists, collectors, and investors is: “Fight back. Seek out the knowledge you need to combat the counterfeiters.” And don’t let your guard down once coin shows open back up. “I attended my first coin show in 1960,” he says. “Since then, I’ve been to hundreds of local, regional, and national conventions, and I’ve seen counterfeit gold coins at every single show I’ve attended.”
Two Whitman Publishing books give the kind of knowledge Campbell recommends—and for less than $20 apiece.
The latest edition of Beth Deisher’s Cash In Your Coins: Selling the Rare Coins You’ve Inherited features a new illustrated chapter on the increasingly deceptive counterfeits coming from China. This is an area of expertise for Deisher. After retiring as editor of Coin World she served as director of anti-counterfeiting for the Anti-Counterfeiting Educational Foundation. The advice she shares is valuable for anyone new to gold coins—and even for longtime hobbyists. The eye-opening chapter also helps collectors’ heirs identify risks and avoid mistakes.
A book devoted entirely to the subject is the United States Gold Counterfeit Detection Guide, by Bill Fivaz, a full-color, 224-page reference for identifying fake gold coins from dollars to double eagles, plus commemoratives and California fractionals. Campbell endorses the book, calling it “easy to read and easy to understand,” and “an absolute must for anyone who buys or is thinking of buying United States gold coins.”
Collectors have reason to be afraid, says Campbell. But healthy fear should provoke action. “We need these books now more than ever before,” he says. Knowledge is power—and it can take the advantage away from counterfeiters and give it back to collectors.