LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- Rare coins are big business in Nevada.
A recent auction of the coins in Las Vegas topped $1 million in sales.
A Chinese counterfeit coin expert may be threatening the success of the business, while diluting a part of Nevada history.
Washington lawmakers are focusing on how coins minted in Carson City in the early days of the state could be at the center of a counterfeit operation.
Built near the Comstock mines at the peak of the silver boom, the mint produced 50 issues of silver coins and 57 issues of gold coins between 1870 and 1893. The coins bore the “CC” mint mark.
Coin collectors and businesses say the phony coins threaten to ruin them. Historians say the fakes tarnish Nevada’s minting heritage.
Collection experts and historians see accused counterfeit expert Jinghuashei as their worst enemy.
Robert Nylen, curator of the Nevada State Museum housed in the old Carson City Mint, says it “seems sad that something so important can be tarnished by people out to make money.”
Every day Nylen leads tours through museum, ending in the room where thousands of coins were stamped out of silver and gold. Authentic examples of the coins are kept behind bars.
Nylen and others say counterfeit Carson City coins are devastating a proud part of the state’s history while also duping serious coin collectors.
Rusty Goe, one of many Carson City coin experts waging war on the influx of fake coins from China, says keen eyes can spot the counterfeits.
“This is a fake,” Goe says, holding up a coin. “This is the real thing. The Chinese have made this fake one look worn.”
He says a good ear can detect the fake when it is dropped, creating a thud like a piece of lead.
While he can tell the difference, Goe says buyers on eBay often cannot, and they lose money to counterfeit experts.
“He makes it for 50 cents,” Goe says. “He sells it on eBay … $50 … a huge return on his investment.”
In response, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are pushing to expand a law known as “The Hobby Protection Act,” to cut the number of counterfeit coins.
Current law requires replicas of real Carson City coins to be stamped with the word “copy.” But there is no way to force foreign counterfeiters to comply.
Under legislation proposed in House Bill 2754, U.S. coin merchants who help counterfeiters sell their coins, would face penalties.
Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., supports the proposal.
“We must ensure the proper anti-counterfeiting measures are in place,” Horsford says. “Not only does it pose a serious challenge to the security and integrity of our currency, but counterfeiting also tarnishes our unique history.”
A spokesperson for Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., says she also supports the legislation. “It is essential for both collecting and preserving our country’s history to protect against counterfeit and fraud. This is especially true this year as Nevada celebrates its sesquicentennial.”
The office of Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., said he has no position on the measure.