A prominent area of discoloration around the mintmark is a sign that this Morgan Dollar is a counterfeit.
Morgan Dollar Counterfeit by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation ……
The vast majority of the more than 1.2 million Morgan dollars struck at the San Francisco Mint in 1903 entered circulation, either immediately or as they were trickled out from the Mint until the 1950s.
By the late 1960s, when the Treasury Department looked to disperse its hoard of unreleased silver dollars, no bags of 1903-S Morgan dollars remained. As a result, the 1903-S Morgan dollar is rare in all but low circulated grades. This is evidenced by the NGC Census, which shows that the average grade for a 1903-S Morgan dollar is approximately VF 30.
Due to its rarity in high grades, virtually any About Uncirculated or Mint State 1903-S Morgan dollar is worth well over $1,000 USD. On the other hand, Philadelphia 1903 Morgan dollars are much more obtainable with a mintage four times that of their S-Mint counterparts. The large value difference between these two issues has led counterfeiters to alter some Philadelphia pieces to show the “S” mintmark of the San Francisco Mint. One example is the coin below.
Counterfeit 1903-S Morgan Dollar with Added Mintmark
As you can see in the images above, the coin clearly has high AU details at the very least. There is, however, a prominent area of discoloration around the mintmark that is visible even without magnification. Upon closer examination, this mintmark looks even more unusual.
Detail Added “S” Mintmark on the “1903-S” Morgan Dollar
The discoloration around the mintmark area is due a reaction between the adhesive that was used to affix the mintmark and the coin’s surface. It is likely that the surface looked normal, or nearly normal, at first and then became discolored over time. If one were to apply acetone to this area, the adhesive would almost certainly dissolve and the mintmark would literally fall off the coin.
It is essential to always examine the mintmark (as well as the date) on any key date coin. If a slight alteration to a common issue can make it appear to be a rare coin, it is ripe for targeting by a counterfeiter. If you want to be safe, buy a coin that is certified by NGC–these coins are guaranteed to be authentic.