How can I distinguish between a genuine U.S. coin and a replica?
It is often difficult to distinguish between genuine U.S. coins and replicas. The Hobby Protection Act requires that all imitation coins and other numismatic items be permanently marked with the word “COPY”.
Some businesses in China, however, produce unmarked imitations of pre-1950 United States coins and sell them online. Genuine U.S. coins feature the denomination (e.g., One Dollar), while replicas generally omit the denomination and feature a description of the product in its place, such as “giant proof” or “silver proof” or “.999 fine silver.” Because the features vary from product to product, it is very difficult to offer general guidelines in this area.
In an effort to assist consumers to discern the differences, the United States Mint provides a side-by-side comparison of a few genuine U.S. coins and their replica counterparts in Tips on Identifying Genuine U.S. Coins. In addition, the United States Mint provides this information on a case-by-case basis as questions or confusion arise on Hot Items.
How can I distinguish between advertisements for genuine U.S. coins and those for coin replicas?
Businesses that market replicas of genuine U.S. coins typically use terminology such as “copy,” “replica,” “reproduction,” “adaptation,” “tribute,” “miniature,” “magnification,” or “proof” in their advertisements to describe replica products.
To avoid counterfeiting violations, businesses often produce replicas of U.S. coins in larger diameter (e.g. 3½ inches), quarter-pound, half-pound and one-pound versions. Thus, if you see this terminology used, or this size or weight advertised, it is likely that the advertised product is a replica and is not a genuine U.S. coin.
Are replicas U.S. legal tender?
No, replicas are not legal tender. Under the U.S. Constitution, only the federal government can mint legal tender coins. Replicas of U.S. coins cannot be exchanged as legal tender or used as money.
Does a business need permission from the U.S. Government to produce replicas of U.S. coins?
Businesses do not need the U.S. Government’s permission to produce replicas of U.S. coins, unless the U.S. Government owns copyright in the coin design in question. Thus, consumers should not assume that the U.S. Government has approved or sponsored the advertised replicas. Of course, businesses are expected to ensure that their replicas do not violate U.S. counterfeiting laws.
Are coin replicas considered to be a good numismatic investment?
The United States Mint does not comment on coin grading issues or on a replica’s current or future value as a collectible item. If you like a replica because of the way it looks (e.g. magnified image), then you may want to add it to your collection. However, if you’re primarily concerned about the long-term investment value of a coin replica, you should contact a reputable coin dealer or coin grading service before you purchase the replica.
Where can I seek refund or complain if I purchased a replica believing it to be a genuine U.S. coin?
If you bought a replica believing that you were purchasing a genuine United States Mint product, you may be entitled to a refund or redress from the business that sold the replica to you. Many businesses allow the return of merchandise within 30 days, no matter what the circumstances. If you believe that the business treated you unfairly, there are several federal, state and local government offices available to assist you.