Reader Arun sent me pictures of the Kwang-Tung dollar below, seeking confirmation of its authenticity. While I could see the coin was fake at a glance, I also thought it could make a good case study.

A fake Kwang-Tung dollar, courtesy of reader Arun

A fake Kwang-Tung dollar, courtesy of reader Arun

When beginner or casual collectors attempt to detect forgeries, they will usually try to determine if the coin they have in hand looks similar enough to a known “good coin”, usually from an illustrated coin catalogue. The problem with this method is the pictures included in printed catalogues are mostly meant to help identify a coin type and therefore rather small; they do not expose enough details for this comparison process to be meaningful.

The Kwang-Tung dollar is especially ill-fitted for this approach. A lot of them suffer from weak strike, and it can be easy for the unaverted eye to mistakenly match the overall coarseness of a fake coin with the fading details of a genuine coin struck with worn dies.

A genuine Kwang-Tung dollar

A genuine Kwang-Tung dollar

Even using the high resolution picture above, an inexperienced Chinese coins collector may think both coins are identical. This is because most casual collectors will “read” the coin: instead of seeing that the shape of the lettering is different (much bolder on the fake coin), they will see the text on both coins is the same. More subtle details like the coin denticles are likely to be ignored, as a boring frame for the devices of the coin: the attention of the beginner will be focused instead on the dragon, which is badly struck on both coins and thus actually rather similar.

It is however entirely possible to see that this coin is fake without even examining its devices. The “grainy” aspect of the surface of our reader’s coin, and the many “bumps” I circled in red are clear indication that this coin was struck with low quality cast dies. Such dies suffer from a common defect, called gas porosity voids, which results of the expansion of gas entrapped during the metal handling or in the injection process. A coin struck using such dies will exhibit the lusterless, pimply surfaces typical of a low grade forgery.

"Pimples" caused by a cast die defects

“Pimples” caused by a cast die defects (click to enlarge)

If you ever find such a poor replica coin in a shop, it is a safe bet that you will not be able to find a genuine coin there…

11 Responses to “Fake Kwang-Tung dollar: a basic case study”

  1. Honoredallies says:

    I really appreciated the level of detail and the well though out straight forward way you have presented all information about these forgeries.
    After searching for 3 days to make sure that the coins purchased were not counterfeit, I came across your site and I can now rest easy. The weight should be 26.7 grams. Also do you know anything about the genuine silver content variation and what fineness they minted down to? Also could you possibly do a piece about the 1875-1877 Japanese Yen 420 grain .900 Fine Trade Dollar as I believe that these are currently being counterfeited also and are for sale on Feebay as well as other coin sites. Thanks HonoredAllies Coin Shop aka Charles

  2. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello Charles, I am glad my writing was useful to you. I have already written a piece about the 1870 Yen here:
    I will consider writing about the Japanese trade dollars later, there is indeed a lot of forgeries for this type since it is one of the most expensive Japanese machine struck coins on the market.

  3. Chris says:

    I have a wide variety crown size metal coins such as dragon, auto, fantasy etc. They all are attracted to a magnet. Could they be worth anything if they were produced long ago, not being modern counterfeits but contemporary counterfeit but also containing metal that is attracted to a magnet? I read some coins could be silver alloy. Could that be a case for a coin attracted to magnet?

  4. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hi Chris, I’m sorry but genuine Chinese coins never stick to a magnet. The kind of replica sold as souvenir in China does…

  5. Anne Nowak says:

    Fantastic site ! It’s never too late to learn. Thank you for all the pertinent information.

    Anne Nowak

  6. Sinsy says:

    I found this kwang. TUng coin i wonder if its real i cant believe i found it.

  7. I am having a blast here on your site! I just started collecting chinese coins yesterday and have acquired 31 of the silver dollars. 19 of the Yuan Shi Kai half dollars, 4 were Giorgi, 4 were 8 characters on the front and two were fake! The others look like originals of the same. I also picked up a couple of the provinces coins, one being the Kwang Tung province as mentioned and the other one is Kiang Nan province, My Kwang Tung was fake and the other I believe isn’t, because I took a magnet to all of them and it wasn’t attracted. But I did end up all together getting 6 coins fake coins doing this. Many which are listed for 200 to 500 each. Luckily, I live in Beijing and found a corner Antiques store with thousands of coins for sale, plus boxes of paper money of every type. I don’t think he knows what he has. I only pay him 10rmb each, which is about $1.50 each. Nice to learn the Magnet trick! I think my magnet and I will be going back to his shop as soon as I figure out if it would really be feasible for me to buy all of them. I’ve also amassed a very large collection of Sycee’s. Yesterday bought a 1850 gram Sycee for about 20 bucks. All of them past the magnet test. What a instant relief! haha

  8. Also I might add, the fake coins are really tinny looking and feel much lighter and are much more thinner looking than the others.

  9. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello, I’m happy that my little blog was useful to you! However, please be cautious when buying older coins and antiques in Beijing. At this point in time, it has become very unlikely, even in remote villages in China, to find a seller who “does not know what he has”. The magnet test is not the be-all, end-all of fake detection and is only efficient at rejecting the cruder kind of fakes. Very beautiful, silver made replica coins can be bought for about 300 yuan at the Bao Guo Si market. The 10 rmb sticker price is the common price for copper/nickel/zinc fakes, which are only magnetic if their nickel content is too high. Since you live in Beijing, you should try going to the Madian market if you are interested in buying genuine coins. A decent looking Chihli dollar or 1911 imperial dollar costs about 1500 to 2000 rmb, and a common type of Yuan Shih Kai dollar between 600 and 800 rmb. Anything cheaper is very likely to be fake.

  10. 007 panda says:

    I have noticed that different 1 yuan dragons have different weights as well. Was there also variance in the diameter as well? I know republic China coins are listed as 39mm, but I can’t find documented specs for the empire dragon coins. In particular I am asking about a 1908 chingkiang dollar y14.diameter is 39,5mm and thickness is 2.5mm. I am a bit suspicious of this and was looking for a second opinion.

  11. Dragon Dollar says:

    Hello, the Y14 1908 Imperial was made at the Tientsin mint which had the most exacting standards of all China at the time. The coins were made without any variety and the diameter was always 39mm. Your coin is most likely a fake with a slightly larger diameter to have the proper weight despite a lower silver content (or different alloy altogether).

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