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HomeUS CoinsFrom the PCGS Grading Room: Contemporary Imitations, Numismatic Restrikes, & Fantasies

From the PCGS Grading Room: Contemporary Imitations, Numismatic Restrikes, & Fantasies

By Kyle Clifford Knapp for PCGS ……

Much of the work of a professional authenticator involves verifying that the coin, token, or medal being examined is genuine. In most cases, “genuine” means roughly that a piece was struck at or originated from the sovereign mint or private entity whose name it bears. However, there are some important exceptions to this guideline, the three most prevalent being contemporary imitations, restrikes, and numismatic fantasies.

Contemporary Imitations

Contemporary imitations are private, unofficial issues imitating a then-current design and made with the intent of passing into circulation at face value (note the distinction between this and “counterfeits” made at a later date to be sold for their collectible or numismatic value). This was often done to alleviate a shortage of transactional small change due to insufficient official production; the British “evasion” coppers of the late 18th century are a well-known example.

In colonial America, a private mint in New York established by Thomas Machin 1787 famously struck many varieties of imitation British halfpence (a widely circulating coin in the days before the establishment of the United States Mint) and even some replicas of the various state copper coinages that had just come into being. Though not sanctioned by any official government at the time, these “Machin’s Mills” pieces are highly collectible as part of the U.S. colonial series today.

The "Jefferson Head" Cent was not struck at the Philadelphia Mint.
The “Jefferson Head” Cent was not struck at the Philadelphia Mint. Image: PCGS CoinFacts.

Contemporary imitations continued into the era of federal United States coinage. In 1795, Philadelphia-based saw maker John Harper–whose shop, incidentally, is thought to be where 1792 half dismes were struck–sought to offer guidance on ways the nascent mint could improve its manufacturing process. Finding himself rebuffed, Harper made his own dies and presses, coining the “Jefferson Head” cents as evidence of his mechanical prowess. Despite their unofficial status, the resulting pieces are extremely rare and highly prized today with a PCGS G4 realizing $21,000 USD in November 2022.

1823 Restrike Cent.
1823 Restrike Cent. Image: PCGS CoinFacts.


A second category of irregular yet fascinating pieces comprises numismatic restrikes made with genuine dies that had fallen into private possession.

Two of the most dramatic of these are the 1804 and 1823 private restrike cents, the latter of which is illustrated above. Muling a discarded Newcomb-2 obverse die from 1823 (heavily cracked and with a crumbling rim) with a reverse die from 1813, these pieces — struck in both silver and bronze — likely date from the 1860s, around the time the numismatic scene was coming into full force in the United States.

1787 "New Haven" Fugio Restrike.
1787 “New Haven” Fugio Restrike. Image: PCGS CoinFacts.

Also dating from the mid-19th century and following a similar template, the “New Haven” restrikes of Fugio cents were privately struck in pure copper, brass alloy, silver, and gold. But the dies, while very close to the original design, were newly made for the purpose. Current scholarship credits the Scovill Manufacturing Company of Waterbury, Connecticut, with their manufacture.

Good Samaritan Shilling Fantasy Piece. Image: PCGS CoinFacts.
Good Samaritan Shilling Fantasy Piece. Image: PCGS CoinFacts.

Numismatic Fantasies

Taking the Victorian-era mania for early American rarities to its apogee, early enterprising numismatists not only made replicas of colonial delicacies like the Higley, George Clinton, and New York Excelsior coppers but they also invented some of their own. In the example imaged here, Edward Bishop mules two Thomas Wyatt replica dies from the 1850s: those of the Oak Tree and “Good Samaritan” shillings (the latter a depiction of the New Testament story previously used by a philanthropic group in Britain), thus creating a 19th-century rendition of an 18th-century coin that never existed in any century!

While progressively further removed from the “authenticity” of officially sanctioned productions, these pieces and others like them offer just as much art, history, and rarity as the originals they embody – often at a far more attainable price. PCGS recognizes and encapsulates all the items discussed here, as well as many other Bolen, Wyatt, Dickeson, and Elder numismatic restrikes and fantasies.

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For more information from PCGS, click on the image below.


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