How to tell if a silver dollar is real? Silver dollars hold intrigue for coin collectors and history buffs alike. Their classic designs and ties to important eras make them prized additions to any collection. But how can you be sure that the silver dollar you have your eye on is the real deal?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: examine the coin’s weight, ping sound, dimensions, lettering quality, rim design, and wear patterns to authenticate silver dollars.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to confidently determine if a silver dollar is real or counterfeit.

Examine the Weight and Ping Sound

Check that the coin weighs 26.73 grams

An authentic silver dollar should weigh precisely 26.73 grams. This was the official weight set by the Coinage Act of 1965 for all silver dollar coins minted from 1921-1935. To check, use a small digital scale that can measure down to the hundredth of a gram for accuracy.

Place the coin flat on the center of the scale’s platform. If the weight reading matches 26.73 grams, then you’re off to a good start in assessing its legitimacy. Any significant deviation from this weight means it’s likely a fake or counterfeit coin.

Listen for a high-pitched ‘ring’ when pinged

An easy way to test silver content is to drop the coin on a hard surface and listen closely to the pinging sound it makes. A sharp, sustained, high-pitched ‘ring’ indicates the coin is real silver. The silver metal produces this pure tone.

Conversely, a dull thud points to a coin made of base metals like copper, nickel, or zinc. Counterfeiters often use these cheaper metals to imitate the look of silver without its distinctive acoustic properties.

You can also compare the ping test sound side-by-side with a confirmed real silver coin. The ring should match very closely if the coin is genuine silver. Any muffled or deadened vibration suggests a fake.

Inspect the Dimensions

The diameter should measure 38.1mm

When examining a silver dollar to determine if it is real, one of the key factors is checking that the diameter measures 38.1mm. This has been the official diameter of U.S. silver dollars minted since 1836. Using a caliper, gauge the width of the coin across its face.

An authentic silver dollar will give a reading very close to 38.1mm.

Counterfeit versions may try to mimic the size but often have slightly off diameters. For example, some counterfeits measure just 37mm or 39mm across. Even a 1mm difference is enough to indicate that something is amiss. So take careful measurements and compare to the 38.1mm standard.

The thickness should be 2.5mm

In tandem with verifying diameter, you’ll also want to measure thickness to check if a silver dollar is genuine. Authentic silver dollars have a thickness of 2.5mm. This uniform dimension has been used for silver dollars struck at the U.S. Mint since 1873.

Using calipers, clamp down on the edge of the coin and take a width reading, which should be extremely close to 2.5mm. Fakes may have noticeable variances above or below this mark. For instance, some counterfeits are thinner around 2.3mm, or thicker at 2.7mm.

So accurate thickness is a clear sign you’re looking at the real McCoy. Just a minor deviation can indicate something fishy with a coin. When paired with diameter, the thickness makes for a good quick check when trying to spot bogus duplicates.

Look Closely at the Lettering Quality

Authentic lettering is crisp with uniform gaps

Examining the lettering on a silver dollar closely is one of the easiest ways to determine if it is a real coin or a counterfeit. Authentic silver dollars produced by the U.S. Mint will have crisp, clear lettering with uniform spacing between letters and words.

The dies used to stamp legitimate coinage are engraved very precisely, allowing for clean imprints on each coin.

Under a magnifying glass, you should see consistent gaps between letter strokes with no blurring or bleeding together of lines. The edges of the letters will be sharp and distinct. Spacing between words should also be uniform, with the same size gaps throughout the coin’s inscription.

This crispness of letters indicates that the coin is authentic and was struck with force by a minting press. Fakes often have subpar equipment and weak stamping pressure, resulting in fuzzy lettering.

Fakes often have uneven, blurred, or inconsistently spaced letters

Counterfeit silver dollars tend to have many imperfections in their lettering compared to real coins. The words and numbers may be unevenly spaced or of different sizes. Under magnification, you may notice blurred edges on the letters or inconsistent line widths.

These are signs that the fake coin was not struck with enough force or stamped precisely into a properly prepared coin blank. The dies used may also be of inferior quality compared to official U.S. Mint engravers. Red flags to look for include:

  • Letters and words that are unevenly spaced
  • Inconsistently sized letters
  • Blurry, bleeding, or doubled die lines
  • Unclear edges around letter outlines

The table below compares traits of authentic vs. counterfeit silver dollar lettering:

Authentic Lettering Counterfeit Lettering
Crisp, distinct letters Blurry, uneven letters
Sharp, uniform edges Indistinct, ragged edges
Consistent line widths Inconsistent, variable line widths
Precisely spaced gaps Irregular, uneven spacing

Taking a few minutes to closely analyze the coin lettering with a magnifier can help you avoid being fooled. Resources like the coin authentication guide at NGC have detailed images of real silver dollars for comparison.

Examine the Rim Design

Rims should have uniform reeding (fine ridges)

Genuine silver dollars have finely reeded (ridged) edges around the rim. This helps prevent counterfeiting and wearing down of the coins. The ridges should be uniform in depth and spacing all the way around the rim. Uneven reeding could indicate a fake coin made from base metals.

According to the website of the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), authentic silver dollars from the early 20th century went through a machine press that imprinted precisely spaced reeding marks. Fakers would have difficulty replicating this without proper equipment.

Artificial wear shouldn’t be present on high points

Some counterfeiters try to make fake coins look circulated by manually rubbing the surface. This tends to place unnatural wear patterns on the highest design points. On genuine circulated coins, the highest points exhibit less friction than protected areas.

The website Gainesville Coins provides examples of artificially worn fakes focusing wear on the cheek, crown, and other high points of Lady Liberty. By comparison, authentic worn coins show more consistent wear across the coin’s surface.

So be suspicious if a coin shows heavy wear isolated to high points. Odd wear patterns could reveal manual abrasion to mimic circulation. Consider examining the depths and spacing of the reeding as well to determine if a coin is real. Consistency is key when assessing silver dollars.

Inspect Patterns of Wear

Even, smooth wear indicates circulation

Genuine silver dollars that have been in circulation exhibit wear patterns that are smooth and consistent across the coin’s surface. As the coin passes from hand to hand, contact with other coins and surfaces causes the metal to slowly rub away.

Under close inspection, authentic silver dollars show feathering along the highest points of the coin design and uniform thinning that extends evenly across each feature.

Counterfeit silver dollars, on the other hand, tend to display uneven wear patterns since artificial aging techniques aim to make the coin appear circulated. Features like Lady Liberty’s cheek and cap lines may exhibit irregular scratches or isolated areas of heavy wear.

The difference becomes apparent when comparing the coin’s lightly worn and more worn elements side-by-side.

Harsh scratches suggest artificial aging

Authentic silver dollars develop natural signs of wear with time. But counterfeiters often artificially age fakes by manually scratching the surface with an abrasive material or chemical solutions. These aging attempts usually leave behind deep gouges and harsh scrape marks rather than subtle feathering on genuine coins.

In particular, be wary of silver dollars with scratch patterns that follow straight lines rather than the random circulation wear normally seen. Also inspect Lady Liberty’s cheek, cap, gown lines, and other high points for any unnatural discoloration or raised metal burrs around harsh scratches, both evidence of artificial aging attempts.

How To Tell If A Silver Dollar Is Real – Conclusion

By carefully examining silver dollars for proper weight, ping sound, dimensions, lettering quality, rim design, and wear patterns, you can reliably determine authenticity.

With practice inspecting known real and counterfeit coins, you’ll quickly learn what to look for. Before long, you’ll be able to spot fake silver dollars at a glance.

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