Investing hard earned money in coins can be an extremely rewarding and satisfying experience. But when a coin turns out to be nothing more than a cheap imitation or fake this can somewhat take the edge off the fun. The shear number of fakes out there have the potential to sabotage even the most well-thought out investment portfolio and also are a cruel way for unscrupulous dealers to take advantage of the enthusiasm that many people have for numismatics.
This is a nagging concern when buying Panda coins, particularly for the beginner collector who is unlikely to be able to spot a fake because of their inexperience, or who may not have built up enough of a collection to have a genuine piece with which to do a side-by-side comparison. Certain Panda coins are vulnerable to counterfeiting – particularly the early years of the series struck during the 1980s, as the designs tend to be rather simplistic and easy to copy (the featured pictures are basic and there is no frosting technique used on these earlier issues, for example). The simple design is often what is appealing to collectors about these coins, but a degree of care is required when buying these types. While the early Pandas are more susceptible to counterfeiting, caution should be exercised in the purchase of any Panda coin as there are numerous attempted fakes out there throughout the series!
Perhaps the best way of identifying a fake Panda coin is to do such a comparison with a known genuine article. This is sometimes the only method to wheedle out the highest quality fakes on the market.
Sometimes though, forgers and counterfeiters make obvious, careless, and sloppy errors either through lack of their own knowledge, or through a lack of “quality control” in their production process. Some of the more blatant mistakes include erroneous denominations for the advertised coin weight; mis-matched reverse and obverse faces (often from different years); and coins where the design is simply incorrectly copied. These are all errors which can be detected when buying online. There are many extremely useful posts in forums among the numismatic community highlighting counterfeit coins and providing pictures of side-by-side comparisons.
If you are fortunate enough to be in a position to handle a suspected counterfeit coin before you hand over your money, then simply taking an accurate measurement of the coin’s weight, diameter and thickness may be enough to detect a fake provided you know what the figures the coin should measure up to. Accurate means taking a measurement to two decimal places, so a quality electronic scale and digital callipers will be required for this method. Many fakes are struck in alloyed metals which have the outward appearance of gold or silver, but are much cheaper to produce. Visually convincing fakes are often made using a cheap base metal and then silver or gold plated to get the right appearance. Taking these measurements will allow you to verify the metallic content of the piece. However, this is no guarantee of spotting a fake, as skilled counterfeiters producing particularly rare coins may well use the genuine metal, but will use their false dies when striking.
However, many collectors and investors may not have the time, inclination, or confidence in their own experience to be able to reliably and consistently identify counterfeit coins. If you simply want hassle-free peace of mind when buying Panda coins then your best bet is to buy from a registered and trusted dealer. Failing that, if you are don’t have confidence in the seller, then be sure to buy only slabbed coins graded by well-established and internationally recognised grading services, like PCGS and NGC. For extra reassurance, buy graded coins from a trusted dealer. Some collectors like having their coins in original mint packaging (OMP) rather than in graded holders. This is purely personal preference, but is an added risk when buying un-slabbed coins. So buy from reputable and trusted dealers, and if a price looks too good to be true then it probably is.