Yesterday found us around the desk admiring a phony Mexican 50-peso gold coin.
A customer had offered to sell it, along with a fistful of pre-1964 US silver coins, which were genuine and which we did buy.
Mexican 50-peso golds, real or fake, are not rare, and we do not stop to admire them. But this fake was a beauty. It looked right. It felt right. It weighed the right amount. If it had been real, it would have been worth well over $1,000.
It would have fooled most people, which, of course, what somebody had designed it to do. But it did not fool the go/no go gauge, which is almost the court of last resort when it comes to checking coins. (The last resort is cutting into the coin for acid testing; which if the coin has — or is supposed to have — collector value you do not want to do.)
The run-of-the-mill fake gold coin is made by forming a mold from a genuine coin, then pouring in molten metal while the mold spins rapidly. This spreads the metal to the farthest reaches of the mold, but it also leaves a gradient that is obvious at a glance to a trained eye.
It will fool most of the people most of the time, which is good enough most of the time.
This fake, however, was struck on a die, the way genuine coins are made. It takes a pretty hefty die to make coins, so the spin mold method is easier for counterfeiters. This one had a perfect “boardwalk,” the flat area next to the milled edge, which tilts in a spun coin. Every detail was crisp as only a die-struck coin can be.
However, however the die was made, it was not exactly the right size. (Getting the weight exactly right is difficult, too, but not impossible.)
It is very common, when we are brought counterfeit coins, to have them come in along with genuine ones. It is unlikely that the customer made his high-class coin; or than anybody on Maui is striking such good fakes. We cannot tell, but when someone brings in a fake, it is usually most likely that they are victims, not con artists.
It is not a pleasant part of the pawnshop business to tell a customer that he has presented you a phony coin. The implication is either, “You are a crook” or “You are gullible.”
In the first instance, you don’t want his return business; but in the second, you do (at least if he brings in better goods next time). But who can tell?
The moral of this story is: Know who you are buying from. The fakes are getting better and better.
The next item of business yesterday was a “collection” of bottles, including some wine bottles that could have been brought the day before yesterday at the grocery store, with wine in them. Some of the older bottles were potentially collectible but chipped. The whole collection was valueless. At least to us.
The next item after that was in a way the exact opposite of the fake gold coin: a small jade necklace. It was real but also valueless. You can buy these trinkets from vendors at Waikiki for a dollar or two.
Sometimes it’s a relief when a customer brings in a fishing reel. Its gears may be worn out, and it may or may not be worth hundreds of dollars, but at least you don’t have to wonder if it’s “reel.”
The real McCoy