It is unfortunate that articles like this have to be written,
but where there is money trading hands, there will always be fakes, frauds, and counterfeits.
If you have purchased some silver and can’t get rid of that little voice in your head that keeps saying what if they are fake silver coins …
Below are 14 ways on how to spot fake silver eagles, bars, and bullion. We’ve ranked them from the least to the most effective methods in detecting counterfeits. (Most of these tests can also be applied to gold as well).
1. Magnetic Test
While many fakes can easily pass this test, silver as well as gold bullion for that matter are both non-magnetic. If a bullion coin or bar sticks to a magnet you can easily throw this one out. Fakes that are produced with any iron or steel content in them will give off some magnetic attraction and identify itself as a fake. Metals that have a core of zinc, copper, lead or other non-magnetic metal will not be detected by this test.
The stronger the magnet the better, a neodymium magnet (grade N52) should be able to detect any iron or steel based metal. Be careful these magnets are extremely strong, fun to play with too! If it sticks it tricks. You can pick them up on amazon.
2. Magnetic Slide Test
Continuing on with magnets, another test you can to spot counterfeit silver is using a magnetic slide. Simple and easy to build, this is a fun way to instantly spot fakes without any complicated testing.
How it works: even though silver is non-magnetic it has a property known as diamagnetism. This causes silver to repel when in contact with a magnetic field. So real silver moving down a magnetic slide will move slower than fake silver. A fake will move down the slide with no resistance. Check out the video below, it’s actually pretty cool:
3. The Ice Test
Cheap and easy to do, getting some ice from the freezer is a simple way to test both silver coins and bars for authenticity. All you need to do is place the ice on the silver and watch.
The ice should begin to melt immediately, this is because silver is the best conductor of heat for all the metals. Below is a chart on thermal conductivity amongst popular metals. You will see that silver tops them all even including copper which is the most popular metal to use. This makes it extremely useful in electronics and as an industrial metal, check out 101 uses of silver, and you will see how useful this metal really is!
4. Dimensions Test
This type of test only applies to bullion coins from government mints. Since the most popular is the American Silver Eagle, we will take a look at that particular coin. You can view the specs of the Silver Eagle below:
The best way to take advantage of this is by using a good digital electronic scale. You will want to get a scale that measures at least to 2 decimal points in grams. Here is the one that I use, you can buy it on Amazon for about $11.
Silver Eagles have a minted weight of 1 Troy oz. ~ 31.103 grams. Another easy give away is the diameter of the coin, this should be pretty exact at ~40.6mm. To check this you will want a good set of calipers. A nice digital entry-level set is this one. If you want to get the top of the line calipers go with the brand Mitutoyo.
When weighing your coins, be sure to account for a certain tolerance or variance in the weight. There is no official guideline given, but anything from 31.1g – 31.8g should be OK. If you are getting readings of 30g or 32g+ that is reason for concern.
Another tool to test for the dimensions of the American Silver Eagle is The Fisch. It can correctly verify the weight, thickness, diameter, and shape of 4 different coins. It also can check for the Canadian Maple Leaf, the Austrian Vienna Philharmonic, and the US Silver Dollar (1840-1935). At $169 though, overpriced in my opinion, as a basic digital scale and good set of calipers will do the same. My magnetic slide at $49 is a much better deal 🙂
5. Visual Test
Silver has a distinctive look and feel to the coin not too shiny and not too cloudy. Grab an old magnifier, the one’s that jeweler’s use, and take a good look at the coin. It’s always best to have an authentic coin or bar next to the one you are examining.Mismatched surfaces, text spacing, crevices, or edges will stand out if it is a fake.
Your tool of choice for this test is a handy magnifying glass or a jeweler’s loupe. A loupe if a special magnifying glass without the handle with higher magnification due to its special lens. These are essential to the world of coin collecting & numismatics, making it easier to grade the quality as well as identify counterfeit coins such as fake silver dollars.
You can pick one up pretty cheap on Amazon for about $5. Just be sure to get one at least 10x the magnification. Looking at enough real silver eagles, will give you a trained eye to easily spot the fakes.
A dead giveaway is the edges of the coin or reeding. If there are no grooves or reeds, there is a 99.9% chance it is a fake since minted coins non-reeded (errors) are extremely rare. Examine where the coin meets the rim and between the reeds, sometimes silver-plated coins will not fill these in and with a proper magnifying glass they will be detected.
Below we have a real vs. fake American silver eagle. By using the visual test, you can identify several red flags to weed out the counterfeit eagles. Having the same minted year will help with minor differences that may occur between each strike. You can see font differences alone on both the obverse and reverse should be enough to spot the fake. (Ignore the glossy and mirror finishes).
Here we have the reverse, again font differences stand out especially the tail on the “U”. The missing ‘veins’ on the feathers and leaves are another big giveaway on this fake.
For silver eagles, pay special attention to the fonts: letters, numbers, upper/lowercase. Note: the US mint changed the font in 2008 so 1987-2007 coins and 2008 – present have a different font. Also the ‘veins’ on the feathers and leaves on the back side.
This is by no means exhaustive and depending on the producer, different fakes will leave different red flags. You can only assume as time goes by, these counterfeit rings will get better and better, so be diligent.
6. Bleach Test
Another cheap and simple way to test for real silver vs. fake is to use some household bleach. Silver will tarnish very fast when exposed to any sort of oxidizing chemical like bleach. All you will need is just 1 drop, place it on the silver and if it begins to turn black then you can check it is silver. If your coin has numismatic value of any sort, this test may reduce its premium and you may want to perform another test. (Silver-plated items will also pass this test)
7. Ping Test
The great thing about silver is that it has a certain high-pitched ring to it when struck with another metal, many people refer to this as the ping test and it works fairly well. To do this, simply place one silver coin on your fingertip and take another between your thumb and forefinger and gently tap your coin. It should produce a nice high-pitched bell ring.
The neat thing about this test is that silver rings at a certain frequency of about 6145 Hz. Watch the video below to hear the difference between a real vs. fake American silver eagle.
Caveat: While the ping test is a great method to check for fake silver bars or coins, it is not foolproof. You will always want to combine this with the magnetic slide and dimensions test.
8. Buy From Reputable Dealers
If you are buying silver coins or bars on ebay or craigslist, there is a higher probability that you will encounter a fake. A little common sense will go a long ways! While there may be deals to snatch up there, it may be best to go with a licensed & reputable dealer even if the premium is slightly higher. If you are looking to buy junk silver from ebay, you can get their melt values using our US Coin Value Calculator.
Here are some silver scam identifiers on ebay, watch out for these fraud keywords:
Silver-Plated – Like it says, this is any base-metal with a silver plating on the outside to fool the naked eye.
100 mills – This word is deceptive, it is stating the measurement of the thickness of the silver plate. They can even state 99.9% silver since the plate is pure silver. Just another fancy word for silver or gold-plated.
Silver Clad – Just read the definition of clad: to bond a metal to (another metal), especially to provide with a protective coat. Yes, again silver-plated.
Replica or Copy – If this word is in the title or description you can be sure that it is not pure silver.
Nickel Silver – While this has a silver appearance, it has a composition of 60% copper, 20% nickel, and 20% zinc. You can read more about it here.
German Silver – Another term for nickel silver, see above.
We recommend the following 3 online bullion dealers, just remember to do your own due diligence:
Be sure to read our gold and silver dealer user reviews, and please leave feedback if you have bought from any of these dealers!
9. The Specific Gravity Test
These next 4 tests are highly accurate in determining real vs. fake. The specific gravity test of silver is basically a ratio of densities and due to its chemical & composition makeup should equal ~ 10.49, given by the formula below:
This test will weed out those silver-plated or clad coins if they have a composition of some other base metal. You cannot change the density of metal and pure silver will always give a reading close to 10.49. To calculate this perform the steps below:
- Obtain dry weight of the silver coin or bar with an accurate scale to .01g
- Use a cup of water enough to fully submerge the silver into and measure its weight or reset the scale with it on.
- Tie some string around the coin and setup an apparatus to hold the coin
- Submerge the silver into the water and record the submerged weight minus the weight of the water & cup.
- Divide the dry weight by the submerged weight to obtain the specific gravity of silver
Be warned: Sophisticated counterfeiters also have ways of combining certain metals together to get a similar specific gravity readout. Using this test together with the ring test & visual test should be able to detect these types of fakes.
Homemade specific gravity testing of silver below:
10. The Acid Test
Another test with high accuracy, this test uses acid solution usually of nitric acid and muriatic acid. You will have to purchase this from a dealer or on amazon. Just search for silver acid testing kit or puritest. You will also want to get a testing stone to use with the solution.
While this test can immediately verify pure silver, it will damage the coin. So it is best to use this is you bought a lot of coins or bars and want to test 1-2 for purity.
These are dangerous chemicals and should not be done by children. Always wear goggles and gloves when performing the test. Do not use on numismatics, this will lower the value of the coin.
If you suspect the outside is silver-plated, you may need to file through an edge to get to the center metal in order to test. Once the acid is placed, pure silver will stay a certain color, while fake silver will turn a different color depending on the metal used to counterfeit. This test is also really useful for testing sterling silver if you’re not sure that platter you bought at the goodwill is 925 🙂
11. XRF Analyzers
If you’re serious about silver or maybe ultra paranoid, you may consider investing in a portable or handheld XRF Analyzer. XRF is short for X-ray fluorescence, and is used not only in detecting precious metals but all sorts of metal alloys, mining samples, environmental assessments etc …
These handheld device are just like scanners, point and shoot, and the device will give an accurate readout of the metal composition. If you’re interested in getting one of these cool little toys, 2 companies that make them are Niton and Bruker. Be warned these are extremely pricey can run over $10,000 and are usually carried only by gold/silver bullion or jeweler shops.
12. Ultrasonic Thickness Test
If XRF analyzers are out of your price range, but you still want a scientific tool to determine real vs. counterfeit silver, an ultrasonic thickness gauge may be for you.
What this test does is measure how long it takes for sound to travel through a metal object, in our case silver. If your bar is pure silver, it will give an accurate reading, if it is a mix of metals, the reading will be off. For different metals, you will get different readouts of thickness. This is also a great way to test for fake gold coins and bars.
The speed of sound for silver is 3650 meters/second at room temperature.
You can check the speed of sound of other metals here. Gold is 3240 m/s.
Here’s how this works:
- Set the device to a velocity of 3,650
- Measure the silver bar with a proper caliper
- Place a dab of glycerin on the bar where you will measure the thickness
- Measure the thickness with the sensor
- Readout thickness should match the actual thickness of the bar (in mm)
This works really well for large silver bars or ingots. If the bar is plated in silver/gold it will give an inaccurate thickness tipping you off that the silver is counterfeited with some other metal. From here you could perform a few other tests to confirm your suspicion.
If you are a regular buyer of silver bars this maybe the tester for you as you can buy an entry-level gauge for several hundred dollars unlike the expensive XRF analyzers. Here is one for less than $200 on Amazon. Perhaps a wise investment.
The video below shows a demonstration of how to properly perform this test:
13. Sigma Metalytics Precious Metals Verifier
A step up from an ultrasonic gauge but still less expensive than an XRF analyzer is the Sigma Metalytics Precious Metals Verifier. This ingenious product sends electromagnetic waves though the metal & confirms it with stored patterns.
This is ideal for any coin shop, bullion dealer, or avid coin collector. Besides silver, also a fullproof way to spot fake gold coins & bars. Check out what it can do in the video below, really is a piece of work!
- Can verify any metal including gold & silver
- Determines metal from bulk not the coating or plating
- Very fast reading times, only seconds
- No dangerous or wet chemicals
- Can read through packaging, good especially for numismatic coins
- Comes with 3 wands to read 1/10 oz. up to 100 oz. bars