"Beware of Chinese man bearing old vintage silver coins"
Especially when that Chinese man happens to be selling them at your local flea market! Read the following story donated by one of our very good customers and learn how to steer clear of a certain type of rip off artist.
One day I was visiting my local flea market in search of a tube of crazy glue. I knew that if I went to one of the Chinese vendors with all the inexpensive one and two dollar items, you know the guys, they're the ones with the rows of banana boxes loaded with cheap crap, that I would find what I was looking for. Only on THIS day, I found something that took me by surprise. When I looked down low and behold was a box that contained 2 x 2 coin holder pages filled with US Eagle dollar sized coins. Coins that upon closer inspection looked to be old and rare from China. I flipped one in the air while smacking it against another one to hear the sound it made and man, when I tell you that this thing rang like a miniature school bell, I'm not kidding! I thought to myself, "WOW, SILVER!" They looked REALLY good too! There were 15 pages of 8 coins each. Some were worn nearly smooth while others looked very nice, AU even. The consistency of the color was true as well whether the coins were worn or not. No sign of a base metal under plating. Some of the designs of the coins had what looked to be important Chinese figure heads while others had carvings of Chinese dragons. All the coins had Chinese emblems on front and back and writing and designs along the edges. Many of them had the words "One Tael" at the bottom and names of various provinces at the top such as "Yun-Nan" and others. VERY convincing in every respect! You can view one of these beauties just below.
I thought to myself, "how could such an incredible group of items be in a place like this?" Then realizing that this was a cheap oriental stand, my next thought was that the price has to be reasonable. I mean these guys don't sell ANYTHING at these type stands for more than a few bucks. Thinking I had a terrific find, I grabbed them all and asked the vendor for his price. "$3 for each page" he replied. Knowing that the total would then be $45 for the 15 pages, I realized that I did not have enough to cover the deal. I remembered that I had some bucks in the car and because this find took me by complete surprise, like an idiot, I placed the coins back on the ground and ran to get the dollars to cover it. Well, needless to add, when I returned only moments later, they were gone! Talk about being left with your mouth open! That was an incident that I couldn't live down for weeks! It ate at me day after day as I continually thought to myself how stupid I was for not at least asking the vendor to hold them for me while I went for the cash. Even if the coins were worth $6 each, that was a total value that could have exceeded $600.00! And with the silver market at the time being around $8 an ounce, that would not have been out of the realm, not to mention the numismatic value. Who knows what they could have been worth! Possibly thousands! After a few weeks I resolved to the thought of "Oh well, C'est La Vie!" But this story was only just beginning...
Nearly one and a half months later, I am visiting the SAME market at a different location. I walk up to a different Chinese vendor and what do you think he has sitting on his table in front of me? That's right! But this time, only six lone pieces. I'm thinking to myself, is it possible that lightning could strike twice in less than as many months?! Unbelievable! Needless to add, I snatched all six up immediately at the vendors seemingly unbeatable price of only $15.00. That came to two and a half bucks a piece. Couldn't get the money out of my wallet fast enough, right? After paying him for the six coins, I quickly asked if there were any more of these available. He replied "How many do you want?" Hmmmm, I thought, "How many do you have?" I asked doubtingly. "I can get you a thousand pieces" he replied. "A THOUSAND?! Wow, OK!" I said. "I brought these over from China myself" he continued. All the while he was insisting that they were silver and authentic. But at this point I'm beginning to get a bit suspicious. So I asked for his phone number and told him I would be in touch. I had to invest the $15 here though. If for no other reason but to put my now over-inflated curiosity to rest with all I had already been through with these things.
OK, now I had what I needed to start my research. I dug everywhere! In foreign coin books, on the Internet, local dealers and the further I dug the more discouraging the results. For instance, Yun-Nan did not even make One Tael pieces. I was told by another reputable Chinese coin dealer that though he didn't have proof, his feeling was that these were souvenirs made in China for tourists and only worth a couple of bucks each. But with all the digging I did, not one source or person could answer the basic question which was "ARE THESE THINGS REALLY SILVER?" At first I did not want to destroy any of the coins by cutting into one and doing an acid test thinking that I might be destroying something of great value. So I came up with a very interesting and easy test without damaging them. I knew from experience that silver is NOT magnetic. It wouldn't tell me for sure if these coins weren't silver but it would rule them out as being a common base metal like Tin, Iron and Steel since they are magnetic. That simple test proved to be extremely revealing. Of the 6 coins, one was magnetic. This told me that at least one of these coins was NOT silver for sure. And then of course my discouragement level increased at that point now knowing that at least one of these coins probably did not have great value which in turn lead me to believe that they were all bogus. BUT, I still hadn't ruled out the possibility that the other 5 coins were silver. My thought was that if they were made of Zinc, they would be silver in color all the way through but doing an acid test would tell for sure. So I decided to cut into one to see. And as it turns out, all I really ever needed to put this thing to bed was a simple carpenter's file. Just below that beautiful and convincing silver color tone was a bright and shiny BRASS color. Obviously at this point I knew that both Silver and Zinc were now out of the question as both metals even though not magnetic, were not brass in color.
So now the final question is, are the Chinese vendors selling these coins creating a deliberate act of deception and ripping people off? While there is no confirmed and proven answer to that question, my opinion is ABSOLUTELY! And I'll tell you why. Consider the facts... I found TWO vendors in less than as many months at the SAME location pawning these puppies. That's a very important fact. What are the odds? Corroborate that with the fact that there other stories on the Internet that are similar although not as complete in detail and you've got thousands of what are supposed to be rare silver coins out there flooding the Chinese Flea Markets. Now given, the vendors are selling them cheaply, but that doesn't get them off the hook because they are also insisting that they are authentic Silver coins. And they are bringing them over from China themselves. The second dealer I dealt with even told me that. And he says he has thousands of them! Do you really believe that he does NOT know what he is selling? Please!
The first dealer's lot of coins had pieces that were worn smooth with the same Silver consistency of a coin that had little wear making you believe that they were all Silver. But yet, they are made of Brass or and Copper, two metals that are not only Nonmagnetic like Silver, but not even Silver in color! If a coin is worn smooth, how could it not be showing the base metal color?! This is an EXTREMELY good point to raise and tells that this operation could even be the doings of professional counterfeiters in China! They seem to be using the same metals that percussion instrument manufacturers use to make they're instruments such as Cymbals and bells, metals that make beautiful and long lasting ringing tones when struck. Then they wear the coins to make them look authentic and ancient and coat them with what could be either zinc, or maybe even silver for that final convincing touch.
While all the stories and experiences Ive had have shown the vendors selling these items for cheap prices, I have to believe that there are some vendors trying to get much more. In hindsight, although I now feel a bit stupid for having been taken by the manner of these extremely convincing coins, I feel much better knowing that I could have been out $45 instead of only $15 and my guilty feelings of stupidity on my part are suddenly turned into a lucky stroke of genious for not having made the original purchase when I first saw these items. None the less, It is my opinion that these coins are originating from China with the intent to deceive for profit. Buyer beware! Oh, and one more thing... those Chinese ripoff vendors that are selling these coins?? They're not always Chinese. ;)
Thanks to our very good friend for submitting that story. Here at 123 Studio Toybox Collectibles, we want you to know that stories like the one above are running rampant and are not only limited to Chinese coins. These Chinese counterfeits are being made by the thousands in many types of US coinage including Seated, Morgan and Peace dollar pieces as well as Barber type coinage and others. The craftmanship is very convincing with the coins showing aged wear to give the impression of authenticity. So please be VERY careful when you see such pieces out there in the marketplace or being offered on the Internet and only buy from reputable coin dealers before laying down your hard earned do re me!
Happy Collecting from the Studio Toybox!
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