[The following excerpt is published courtesy of DLRC Press and its author, John Feigenbaum. This information was originally published in 1994 in The Complete Guide to Washington Quarters.]
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By J.P. Martin, ANA Numismatist
The Washington quarter series is plagued by an alarmingly high number of counterfeits, some with a sophistication not seen in other series of United States coins. If there is any question as to the authenticity of a 1932-D, 1932-S, 1934-D or 1936-D the reader is urged to send the coin to the American Numismatic Association Authentication Bureau (ANAAB) for a professional opinion. (Certification by one of the major services – PCGS, NGC, ANACS – also guarantees authenticity.)
The Washington quarter series is plagued by two deceptive struck counterfeits and several “added mintmark” alterations.
The most common added mintmarks are found on the 1932-D, 1932-S, 1934-D and 1936-D quarters. The 1932’s are altered far more commonly than the others. They began showing up in quantity in the 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s. They are, in all likelihood, being produced today, but with more sophistication and in smaller quantities than we have seen in the past.
Since a fairly large quantity of dies were used for the production of these coins, we do not use die polish, mintmark position or other die markers in authentication. [Editor’s note: ANAAB and other authenticators will often look for key diagnostic features on a coin to determine authenticity. For example, a genuine example of a three-legged buffalo nickel will show a distinct raised ridge between the legs of the bison. While the Washington quarters offer a few such references, none are considered conclusive evidence – which makes them very difficult to authenticate.]
Genuine coins tend to display a crisp, high relief mintmark with distinct serifs that often sit within a slight depression. The mintmark’s sharp edges and high relief tend to contrast with the gently rising design features, such as the stems and lettering around it. This led one of my mentors, John Hunter of 1970’s ANACS (American Numismatic Association Certification Service) fame, to state, “If it looks good, it’s probably bad. And if it looks bad, it’s probably good!”
Also due to the high relief of the mintmarks, they often display machine doubling, whereas the design features seldom show any. I have never seen an added mintmark which displayed machine doubling or double punching. Often mintmarks are filled, with no inner openings. This is more characteristic of genuine coins than alterations.
As with any added mintmark, look for evidence of a seam, or tooling and smoothing. Often when adhesive is a solder, you will notice a heat-induced discoloration of the mintmark. After time, solder will oxidize and discolor differently than the surrounding silver. Look for green or white discolorations surrounding the mintmark.
- If the adhesive is a glue, if can often be dissolved with a solvent, such as Dissolve™ or acetone.
- After some experience, you will develop a “feel” for the “look” of genuine mintmarks.
- The accompanying photographs illustrate several examples of genuine and added mintmarks for reference.
For further information, contact:
American Numismatic Association Authentication Bureau
818 North Cascade Avenue
Colorado Springs, CO 80903-3279
Surprisingly, even some Philadelphia-mint quarters have been counterfeited in quantity. The 1932-P and 1934-P quarters initially seem unlikely targets for a counterfeiter, as they are fairly common. However, when they were discovered in 1984, rolls of these coins were trading at over $2,000 each. They were produced in large quantities, with minimal bag marks and displayed proof-like fields. The look was so foreign to 1930’s quarters that one dealer remarked, “They are 1930’s coins from 1980’s dies.”
These two dates are probably from the same shop that produced many of the counterfeit 1917 Type 1 quarters. These three coins have the distinction of being the only deceptively struck, counterfeit quarters dated in the twentieth century.
The photos below show diagnostic features of these struck counterfeits.
The following two coins are examples of crude counterfeit Washington quarters. They are dated 1935 and 1973. Clearly these and others examined were produced for day-to-day use on the street. These counterfeits are easy to detect as the details are often inexact and the surfaces rough. The 1935 specimen is of relatively high quality yet upon examination you will find die lumps and other inconsistencies not found on the genuine article.