They're Nice, But They're Counterfeit

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, April 22, 2006

any years ago, the late Maurice M. Gould, onetime co-owner of Copley Coin Co. in Boston, showed me some high-grade large cents and colonial coppers. He had bought several old collections in the 1940s, and these particular pieces could not be easily attributed. Using the few authoritative references at the time, such as William Sheldon's "Early American Coppers," the coins did not match the known varieties at the time.
    It was unlikely he had come onto a large number of new varieties. Later it was discovered that other old collections featured similar unattributed varieties of early American coppers. By the 1960s, it was fairly evident that these pieces were the notorious "Smith counterfeits."
    They were real coins. However, a crafty engraver only known as Smith had carefully and skillfully engraved features that had either been worn down or actually, in some cases, he created new features such as extra facial lines, hair details and even rim details not known to exist on genuine coins of the era.
    Whether he was a contract engraver working to enhance coins in the collections of well-connected numismatists or perhaps working as a self-employed "upgrader" to buy lower-grade coins and upgrade them by engraving new details and reselling them at higher prices is not known.
    Since many of the coins were otherwise fairly common, chances are he was an enterprising engraver who could enhance the appearance of older copper coins. (He was not known to have worked on silver or gold coins.) Since many of the upgraded coins were in private collections well before the Civil War, "Smith" no doubt was working in the period from 1800 to 1850. Many of the works he produced were expertly aged to cover the details of his handiwork.
    No doubt, some — or many — such altered coppers reside in collections today as presumed "genuine" varieties of large cents and colonial coppers.
    Thus, as an added consumer protection, one should buy only those early copper (and other) coins that have been certified (encapsulated, especially the more expensive pieces (over $500).
    The Smith counterfeits would not likely pass the rigorous inspection of the experts working for the certification services.
    The few pieces I examined at the time would certainly have passed my casual examination. (I am not an expert on early American coppers or colonial coppers.) In the era well before certification services, starting in 1976 with ANACS, many collectors no doubt fell for the upgraded coins, since they looked nicer than the usual Very Fine or Extra Fine coins of the same era.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.