Europe Is Fighting Counterfeiting


We’ve discussed before what a problem counterfeiting is in the coin world. In recent years counterfeit coins have proliferated in America so frequently, many of them imported from China via online sales, that the U.S. Mint has issued warnings. A few years ago, when the stock market was in freefall and real estate rapid lost value, collecting coins became not just a hobby but an investment for many people. The characteristics about coins that make them valuable – origin, condition, scarcity, and history – do not fluctuate much over time and, unlike bank accounts, coins are not hackable (although they can, of course, be stolen). Counterfeiting is a significant threat to collectors, however, and anyone involved with coins has an incentive to stop it.

In April the European Central Bank issued new €50 banknotes they designed to be far less vulnerable to counterfeiting. These orange-yellow bills were designed in consultation with Stanford neuroscientist David Eagleman to so that anyone – not just currency experts – would be able to spot a fake. The usual security measures are present, including watermarks, color-changing inks, threads, and microprinting, but instead of relying on high tech measures, the ECB took a new tack: focusing on face recognition. This is because the general populace doesn’t look at their money very carefully and the human brain isn’t designed to spot inconsistencies in objects that often decorate paper money.

Instead, the new €50 banknote features both a hologram and a watermark of Europa, the Phoenician princess in Greek mythology whom Zeus briefly loved. Faces are something that the human brain is programmed to recognize and differentiate. Eagleman took a pragmatic approach to the re-design, stating that there was no point in adding features that only experts would be able to identify. Counterfeit bills victimize regular people, not experts.

Recently Great Britain also issued a new £1 coin that was also designed to hamper counterfeiting, touting it as “the most secure coin in the world.” This is because surveys had revealed that between 2-3% of these circulating coins were counterfeit. The new £1 coin is 12-sided, thinner, larger, lighter, bi-metallic, and contains a latent image, similar to a hologram as well as an undisclosed security measure. The Royal Mint issued the following very useful guidelines for spotting counterfeit coins:

  • The date and design on the reverse do not match (the reverse design is changed each year). A list of designs and dates is available here.

  • The lettering or inscription on the edge of the coin does not correspond to the right year.

  • The milled edge is poorly defined and the lettering is uneven in depth, spacing or is poorly formed. The obverse and reverse designs are not as sharp or well defined.

  • Where the coin should have been in circulation for some time, the colouring appears more shiny and golden and the coin shows no sign of age.

  • The colour of the coin does not match genuine coins.

  • The orientation of the obverse and reverse designs is not in line.

These are positive developments, and we will see how they affect anti-counterfeiting measures worldwide. Of course, for anyone who is concerned about fakes or would like assistance in valuing coins they’ve collected or are considering for collection, there are reputable, knowledgeable coin expert services like the one we offer. Grand Rapids Coins does not charge for evaluation. Call Pat at (616) 272-4402 or send him an email at [email protected] to schedule an appointment. We are here to serve you.

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