Before you read this guide, please go straight to my fourth guide to read about the thwarted crook.
With the increase in gold prices, you see more and more sovereigns being sold on eBay and that also means that more fakes are being sold. A sovereign in March 2008 could cost you at least £120 and that means that you should take any steps you can to avoid disaster.
The first thing you must have is an up-to-date copy of Coins of England, published by Spink and this lists the most common fakes but it does not list all fakes, so don't assume that you are safe because your coin is not specifically listed as being faked. I have been shown a tray of these fake sovereigns by Spink and there are many more than are listed and some are surprisingly good.
The next thing you should consider buying is a scale. If you are only going to collect coins up to sovereign weight, you will find plenty of 10g or 50ct scales and you need an accuracy to 0.01g. A sovereign should weigh 7.98g. They very rarely weigh up to 8.00g and above this you are almost certainly looking at a fake. However, some fakes do weigh about 8.00g despite only being 9ct gold instead of 22ct and this is achieved by using a thicker 9ct flan and you can spot these by comparing the thicknesses of your sovereigns.
Here are photos of an 1866 sovereign, item 230016248574
This coin just looked too good to me and the seller was suggesting that it is a new and unlisted variety. I was concerned by the apparent extra metal on the edge, most visible on the obverse and so asked him the weight of the coin and as you can see, he has said 7.6g, so this coin must be a fake. I told him it was a fake but nevertheless, he sold the coin! This shows the importance of weight and the need for knowledge - does the coin look right?
You must always examine photos carefully and saving them to your computer and blowing them up in a photo editor can often be very revealing. Do not buy coins without pictures and any reasonable seller should provide a picture of both sides of the item and that picture must be big enough and good enough for you to be able to judge the condition of the coin: just take a look in Spink and you will see how much condition affects the price. You should also ask whether the coin has been polished or mounted as this may reduce a valuable coin to no more than bullion. You can sometimes see evidence of mounting when one side of the coin is more worn than the other or the edge is very smooth or there are regular marks around the edge of the coin.
Even as I write this, one seller is offering a coin claiming it to be a gold sovereign. You can see the pictures he is using below.
He is claiming that this is a sovereign dated 1900 but any collector will tell you that this obverse was only in use from 1887-1893 and so this is a fake. Spink will help you to avoid this sort of fake but there are currently - 20 July 2006 - two bids on this coin. In this case, I alerted the seller who was more interested in his money and eBay who were not interested at all, which brings me to my next point and that is that you must never assume that eBay cares enough to police their operation and remove fraudsters and fakes, they don't act even when someone makes a point of notifying them and eBay staff know nothing about coins and will prevaricate or just do nothing. This metal disc sold for EUR100 to someone in Italy and if I were him, I would be very worried about the fact no British bidders showed the slightest interest in this fake!
The latest obvious fake to appear is shown below and is item 190014693155.
In this case, I pointed the seller to Spink and to a real example of the coin but he persisted in claiming that his metal disc is real and even said so in response to a question from an eBayer. I reported the item to eBay as being fraudulent and they ignored me as usual, and so I resorted to warning every bidder until finally, he removed the disc.
This is such an obvious fake and just emphasises the point that eBay will do nothing about fake coins through a combination of ignorance and greed but you can protect yourself by looking at photos of the same coin from different sellers. This item would then immediately reveal itself as a very crude fake, a worthless piece of metal. The pictures below are of a nice real sovereign.
It is an offence to sell a faked sovereign but few are aware and this listing - 120016892474 - shows an interesting example. If you look at the pictures ...
... you can see that this is a particularly shoddy fake but the seller has written a load of nonsense about it but the bottom line is still that it is a fake which may or may not have some gold in it and this is a fairly typical example of the poorer fake. I have contacted the seller but he has sold these before and will proabably do so again and his responses have been highly insulting and have displayed his total ignorance of coins. I have contacted eBay about the coin and the seller but I expect them to do their usual nothing - which is precisely what they did do! This seller, yardrunt, is continuing to offer these metal discs from time to time and I advise everyone to avoid these, even as scrap gold, as the weight and the gold content will vary.
There are other coins that are frequently faked such as the 1917 London sovereign and the best advice here is simply never to buy one on eBay and there is the story of the 1923SA sovereign faked by skillfully altering a 1928SA.
If you start to collect, you have coins against which you can compare your new purchases and you should do this often. But above all, if you are going to collect such expensive items, work hard to learn. That knowledge would immediately expose the disc above for what it is.
Finally, as I have mentioned in another guide, do not ever buy coins from Chinese sellers with low ratings. I should also add that all the "silver" coins sold by the junk merchants from China are always fakes and although these are usually tatty fakes of American coins, I have seen the occasional British fake from China.
As eBay limits each article to 8 pictures, I have written about further horror stories and given more advice in my latest guides..
I consider this guide to be a work in progress and I invite others to contact me at lapidary99 at hotmail.com to add to this so that we can protect other eBayers. I also invite you to contact me if you have questions or concerns. I will be happy to give you my opinion.