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Capped Bust Half Dollars: Genuine or Counterfeit

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by Frank M. Zapushek

There are two types of counterfeit coins. The first is made to deceive collectors. The other counterfeit coin is produced to be used in everyday commerce.

Let’s look at the Capped Bust half dollars. Why would someone counterfeit a half dollar in 1832? The mint produced 4,797,000 half dollars in 1832. What value could a counterfeit half dollar possibly have in the collector market?

In 1832, fifty cents was a lot of money. Most people worked all day for a salary of about fifty cents. If a counterfeiter passed one fifty cent piece a day for one year, they would place 356 counterfeit coins into circulation. In today’s money that would be an addition $3,752 for the year.

The degree of success the counterfeiters achieved was determined by the quality of the counterfeit coins. Some counterfeit coins are better that others. Some still pass for real coins today. The better the counterfeit, the more money the counterfeiters enjoyed.

Think about yourself, how much time do you spend examining your change. How much time is spent examining a coin when it was spent to buy groceries, a hair cut, lumber or paying a bill.

In the early 1800’s, the United States Mint had a serious problem producing enough coins to met the demand. Foreign money was more recognizable than our own U.S. coins. British tokens and pennies, Spanish mill dollars and Mexican reales (many were counterfeits) were used in everyday transactions.

Small denomination coins like the half dollar, quarter, dime, nickels and cents were in short supply. Half dollars were transferred by the bag between banks and businesses. This created a easy market for counterfeit half dollars.

While some counterfeit half dollars were cast, many were struck with dies. The cast coins were easier to detect than the die struck counterfeit coins. Some feel that the design elements of a few counterfeits are so good that they must have been struck with dies made from the original Mint hubs. But take a minute to examine the stars and letters around the rim. These are of poor quality.

To extend the life of the counterfeit dies, counterfeiters re-cut the dies. The result is that the letters begin to merge together.

Many counterfeit half dollars were not even made of silver. Many where made of “German Silver”, which contained no silver. These coins were made with a alloy made of 55% copper, 30% zinc and 15% nickel. The weight and color is about the same as circulated coins struck on silver. But almost all are underweight.

Counterfeit half dollars came from within the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe.

Lets look at this problem for the collectors today. Al C. Overton list 23 die marriages ( varieties) for the genuine 1832 fifty cent piece. This is made up of 15 obverse dies and 16 reverse dies. While on the counterfeit 1832 fifty cent pieces, there are 14 different varieties known today. That is right, over 14 different counterfeit coin varieties. No one knows how many pieces were made, but it does not make sense that a counterfeiter would go to all this trouble and make just one coin.

Some years with high numbers of different counterfeit coins: 1825 & 1826 - 7 different, 1828 - 10 different , 1829 - 9 different, 1830 - 13 different, 1831 - 11 different, 1832 - 14 different, 1833 - 23 different, 1834 - 12 different, 1835 & 1836 - 9 different, 1838 - 12 different varieties. And you think all your Bust half dollars are genuine?

Were you aware of the book on counterfeit Bust Halves. “Contemporary Counterfeit Capped Bust Half Dollars” by Keith R. Davison.” Yes, counterfeit coins. One hundred and fifty eight pages of “KNOWN” counterfeit Capped Bust Half Dollars. This book was used in this article.

It is the old wise tale that could save you money. “BUY THE BOOK BEFORE YOU BUY THE COIN”.

I highly recommend books that give die markers or systems to help identify authentic coins. The books I am listing are not for Repunched Mintmarks, or DoubleD Dies. They are just good reference books. Large Cent, The CENT Book by John D. Wright, Lincoln Cent, The Authoritative Reference On Lincoln Cents by John Wexler and Kevin Flynn, Half Dimes, Federal Half Dimes 1792 - 1837 by Russel J. Logan and John W. McCloskey, Liberty Seated Quarters, The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of United States Liberty Seated Quarters by Larry Briggs, Bust Half Dollars, The Ultimate Guide to Attributing Bust Half Dollars by Dr. Glen R. Peterson, Bust Half Dollars, Early Half Dollar Die Varieties 1794 - 1836 3rd Edition by Al C. Overton, and Silver Dollars, The United States Early Silver Dollars 1794 to 1803 by Jules Reiver.

If you have a die variety that is not listed in these books, it does not mean the coin is a counterfeit. It only means you have a 99.99% chance that it is a counterfeit coin.

Have a coin question? Let us know at a coin show or contact us. Frank M. Zapushek, PO Box 1993, Bloomington, IL 61702-1993 email:


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