Fakes, Forgeries and Counterfeits - Sovereigns

Author: Lawrence Chard - Director and Expert Numismatist

Published: 20 Feb 2018

Last Updated: 2 Oct 2020

Synopsis

We illustrate on this page a number of counterfeit gold sovereigns. These are pictured to allow you to see if you could tell the differences, and also to bring to your attention the fact that forgeries do exist in sovereigns, as with almost all coins. We have chosen various qualities of forgery, all of which we find easy to detect in differing degrees, but all of which have at some time been bought as genuine.

1902 Edward VII sovereign bare head Fake

General Advice

Don't buy gold sovereigns from a stranger, in a foreign country, or if the price is too good to be true. Buy only from a reputable dealer. Don't assume that a high price guarantees authenticity, either. The very obvious fakes pictured on this page were bought in Bahrain in about April 1999, at more than our asking price for the genuine article!

Example Photographs of Forgeries for Discussion Below

Here are a selection of forgeries - can you tell the different at all? If you need help read on below. 

1902 Edward VII Fake Gold Sovereign

1902 Edward VII sovereign bare head Fake

1902 edward VII sovereign gold full st george and the dragon, benedetto pistrucci fake

It's difficult to explain to a novice why a coin is fake just from a photograph, but we can give it a go. Other than the overall quality, the first flaw that sticks out is that the rim of the coin is incredibly uneven. When looking at the differences between the 12 to 2 o'clock positions and the 6 to 9 o'clock positions. You could say this is just shadowing from a camera flash, but it becomes more apparent on the reverse of the coin, where it looks like a slight  mis-alignment.  

1894 Victoria Old Head Fake

1894 gold full sovereign st george and the dragon benedetto pistrucci fake

1894 gold sovereign coin queen victoria old head sir thomas brock fake

It would probably be easier to establish what is right about this coin than what is wrong with it. They have actually photographed quite well, but they are too shiny, the milled edges are quite sharp in places, this is visible on the photographs. The colour of the gold looks too brassy, and the surface when examined closely has a very grainy texture. This grainy texture is typical of casting. Most poor and medium quality fakes have been produced by casting, better fakes are struck from steel dies like the originals. This single difference is sufficient to help spot most fakes. An additional clue on this particular fake is the border which is too wide, particularly on the reverse, and the date and the exergue space is too large and clumsy. This example is a very poorly made, and obvious fake.

1918 Fake Reverse

1918 gold sovereign coin st george and the dragon design benedetto pistrucci fake

This 1918 sovereign (London Mint issue - as it has no mint mark), is pretty special. So special in fact, we even made a video about it. Click here to watch.

Fake 1927 sovereign showing off axis obverse

fake 1927 gold sovereign obverse

1927 gold full sovereign st george and the dragon benedetto pistrucci fake

The main giveaway for this coin is that the sides are misaligned, by roughly 25-30°. This is definitely something to watch out for!!

Obvious Fakes

The top pair, showing both sides of the same coin, we have labelled as being obvious forgeries because they are obvious to us. Strangely, we find that when we show one fake and one genuine coin to most people, they cannot tell the difference. We can tell from about 6 feet away! Now we aren't bragging when we say this, but most people when presented with a forgery start to examine the coin very closely, looking for individual differences. Although small differences obviously do exist, the sum of all the small differences adds up to a very noticeable effect. We often try to explain it as being like the difference between an oil painting and a photograph. The photograph is completely flat while the painting has depth.

Very Obvious Fakes

The next pair we have labelled as being very obvious forgeries. Strangely enough it came to us as part of a batch of 600 from another dealer. When we mentioned that there was a fake included, he apologised, explaining that he checks every coins, but must have been tired too miss this one, demonstrating that even an experienced eye can occasionally miss even an obvious forgery.

Excellent Fakes

In the 1970's, forgeries of a number of rare and very rare, valuable coins were produced. These were apparently made in the Lebanon by a Mr. Chaloub, and inspired or financed by an American called Harry Stock. The workmanship of this series of fakes was excellent. They were so good that a large number of highly priced coins found their way onto the market, having been bought by experienced dealers, and handled by famous auction houses. Some of the sovereign dates which appear in high quality fakes include 1822, 1827, 1832, 1887, 1916-C (Ottawa Mint, Canada), and 1917. These are all London mint coins (no mintmark), except where specified. Most of these dates are scarce or rare. The 1917 London, for example, catalogues at £2750 in EF condition, and the 1916-C at £7000.

So Obvious That A Blind Person Could Tell!

Actually, in many cases a blind person could tell better than a sighted person. Some obvious fakes have a slightly too smooth, slippery feel, and as mentioned above, sharp edges or irregular milling. A blind person would detect these by feel, whereas most sighted people forget to use all their senses. Another sense to use is that of sound. Many fakes sound wrong, either when clinked together or when "rung" by dropping or spinning onto a hard surface. Once again, most blind people could and would detect these fakes, but many sighted people would fail to listen to the evidence provided by their ears. The cause of the different sound may be because the alloy used is incorrect, often of lower carat gold, but also because many fakes are produce by casting, and this produces a coin of lower density which is also softer. When metal is cold-worked, for example by striking, it becomes hardened, and this would affect its sonic properties.

Are Some Dates Safe?

No, although there are dates which should cause greater alertness, there can never be any dates of any coin, which can be guaranteed not to have been forged. You may think that this is stating the obvious, but you would be amazed how frequently we get asked the obvious!

Non-Existent Dates or Mintmarks

Another type of forgery which should be easy to spot is a non-existent date or combination of date and mintmark. Take a look at the 1922 London Mint sovereign. The London Mint produced no sovereigns between 1918 and 1925, but it didn't stop counterfeiters producing them with no mintmark for these dates. 1917 is an extremely rare date of London mint sovereign, so we were delighted to be able to photograph the extremely crude and obvious fake shown.

The Genuine Article

For ease of comparison, we also show a pair of photographs of the genuine article, this time a 1916 London Mint sovereign, quite a scarce date, whose scarcity in our opinion, is under-rated in The Standard Catalogue of British Coins. Naturally, all the coins we sell are guaranteed genuine.

1916 edward VII gold full sovereign fake

1916 edward VII gold full sovereign st george and the dragon Benedetto Pistrucci fake

Platinum Forgeries

Between the 1860's and about 1881, platinum was used, in Spain, to counterfeit gold coins including sovereigns. These were apparently made to order for a North American, the coins being mainly destined for use in South America. Although platinum is denser than gold, by alloying it with an appropriate amount of copper, it can be brought to the correct density. It was then gold plated, and apparently made very effective counterfeits. The practice is believed to have stopped only because the price of platinum rose to an uneconomic level. It is likely that the fakes would be worth more now than the originals. Platinum fake sovereigns have been recorded of shield sovereigns dated between 1861 and 1872.

Restrikes

We often see fake sovereigns, and other coins, being offered for sale as "restrikes". A restrike is a retrospectively dated coins, officially produced or sanctioned or issued by the original mint or government, and as such is genuine if not absolutely original. The Austrian Mint have issued a number of restrike coins including the famous 1780 Maria Theresia thaler, and various gold coins, many dated 1915. One example of an official restrike is the 1925 London Mint sovereign. Until 1948, these were quite scarce, but in 1949 to 1951, the British Royal Mint issued sovereigns bearing the 1925 date, with a design identical to the original George V sovereigns. Because these are impossible to distinguish from the originals, they are not normally described as restrikes. Any "collector", dealer, or other vendor offering fakes described euphemistically as "restrikes" should be hung drawn and quartered!

More on this can be found on our Restrike Sovereigns Article and our Replica Sovereigns Article.

How to Spot a Fake Sovereign

We have an informative video for those interested in how to spot a fake sovereign, in this case a 1918 George V sovereign. See our YouTube channel for more great videos!

Buying Sovereigns on Ebay

Fakes abound on eBay, and we don't believe eBay care, as long as they get their selling fees. Read our full article here.

Further Reading

You may be interested in reading through our coin collecting guides.

To see some more examples of fake sovereigns, or our below bullion standard coins, click the links.

If you're interested in the real deal, have a look at our range of sovereigns.

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