Helping collectors find the real silver coins and the real 'I like Ike' buttons
PITTSBURGH — The one coin that collectors are typically missing from the complete 95-coin set of Morgan Silver Dollars is the one minted in 1895 and now valued at more than $20,000.
More often than not, anyone with a collection of those coins has probably filled the 1895 slot with a copy.
"There are copies of 1895 Morgan Silver Dollars and other rare date coins, and I would be happy to search for them for a customer who is interested in filling that difficult slot in their collections," said Blaine Shiff, co-owner of Cybercoins.net, based outside Pittsburgh.
He's well aware of the need to be careful in finding such items.
The Federal Trade Commission earlier this month issued final rules regarding coins and political items — rules intended to protect consumers who buy copies of valuable collectors items. The standards under the FTC's Hobby Protection Act detail how imitation coins and political items must be clearly marked as copies.
There is demand for copies because when collectors have an album of specific coin types and sequential dates, they don't like to see holes or gaps in their album pages. Replicas, however, are a novelty market. Many legitimate coin dealers do not stock or sell them unless by specific request.
"When it comes to items like coins or even political buttons, such as a Teddy Roosevelt item or an 'I like Ike' button, it all depends on the scarcity of the item and the demand," Shiff said. "If they made a gazillion and a half of something, it won't have as much value as an item they made only five or that is in great demand."
The hobby protection rules regulate sellers of imitation numismatic items, such as replica coins and paper money. The recently updated rules also bar anyone from giving substantial aid and support to manufacturers, importers and sellers of imitation items who they know or should have known are violating the marking requirements.
"The Hobby Protection Act requires items be marked plainly and permanently with the calendar year they were manufactured," said Josh Millard, an attorney with the FTC in Washington, D.C. "That way if you buy a campaign button marked 'Hoover' on it, you can flip it over or look at it and see if it's a replica from 2016 or not.
"The act also requires manufacturers and importers of imitation numismatic items to mark those items plainly and permanently with the word 'copy'," he said. "If you buy something that appears to be a rare coin, you can look at it to see if it's been marked as a copy."
Millard said the objective of the Hobby Protection Act is to target counterfeiting of popular collectible items not covered by the counterfeiting statutes. Those statues apply to fake government currency that is immediately usable for cash purchases.
The original Hobby Protection Act was signed in 1973 by President Richard Nixon. President Barack Obama signed an amended act in 2014, which strengthened the rules by addressing not only the distribution and manufacture of replica coins and other collectible items, but also the sale and commerce of those items. The new rules can punish anyone connected with bringing unlawful replica coins to the marketplace that are not clearly marked as copies.
For his part, Shiff in Dormont said he would help a customer looking to find a particular copy of a coin, but any copies of rare coins would need to be clearly marked. "We are obviously not going to supply anything that is counterfeit," he said.
His business typically handles genuine rare coins. "In general, we do not deal in copies of any coins," he said.
Shiff said the real danger to consumers right now is replica coins coming from China that are not marked as copies. The more popular bogus coins coming into the country are Morgan and Peace silver dollars and any of the U.S. gold coins. He said some replica coins look convincing and the quality of counterfeiting appears to be getting better.
"Those are not copies," he said. "They are counterfeit. They are not indicated as copies and some people will try to sell them as the real thing and they are not.
"You have to be careful where you buy any kind of coins, especially when you buy online."
Millard said the FTC has brought suit against businesses that have violated the rules. However, he said the act also provides grounds for private individuals to file federal civil lawsuits for relief and damages.