So why aren't these companies considered to be counterfeiters?

You know the collectors’ coins churned ou… er, minted by the “Federalist American Mint” or similar-sounding names that look remarkably like United States currency in current or past circulation, except they contain minimal cosmetic changes or are “platinum-coated” or “hologram editions” or whatever. They claim to be legal tender currency, with the caveat that they are legal tender in some country no one’s ever heard of. Why aren’t those companies considered to be counterfeiters?

Presumably because they’re different enough from regular American money that they won’t be mistaken for the real thing, and/or expensive enough that no one will try to pass them as real coins anyway. And if they claim to be legal tender in some country no one has ever heard of, they probably are - poor countries will do all kinds of things for money (see also: domain names like .tv, .ws, and .fm).

They’d be counterfeiting if they were producing coins or bills that would be used instead of genuine money, although they aren’t. And that’s not what they are doing. Those coins are genuine money, just not in the U.S., but as has already been said, those companies never claimed that, nor is there a risk of their products to be mistaken for American coinage.

Additionally - it’s only counterfeiting if it’s intended to be mistaken for government/Federal Reserve issued cash. If I wanted to, I could issue gold-plated JerH Dollars with my picture on the front; what I would not be able to do is claim that they are U.S. money, or can be used in place of U.S. dollars. There are a number of private currencies in existence in the U.S. (Ithaca Hours being probably the best-known), and there’s nothing illegal about them.

Besides, why would you spend a commemorative dollar coin as a dollar when you paid 4 easy $19.95 payments for it in the first place?

Look again. These are replicas of actual, historical U.S. coinages.

It is not counterfeiting, but it is fraud to claim that coins are “government authorized” in a deceptive way. Check out this AP article on those “Freedom Tower” coins. Here’s an excerpt:

They had to modify the ads to make it more clear that they were not, in fact, legal tender in the United States. In short, this activity is still illegal even though it may not be considered counterfeiting.

If I remember correctly, the FTC or FCC also chastised the TV stations that ran the ads for them for airing something so suspicious and misleading. I think this was considered a fairly big deal and a possible shift in FCC policy. Normally TV, radio, magazines, etc. are not held responsible at all if ads they run turn out to be false or even libelous.

It doesn’t depend on whether they merely look like American coinage; it depends on whether they can (and are intended to) be mistaken for genuine American currency, and this might not be the case even if the products closely resemble past coins. It might be clear from other things that they are not legal tender.

If you look closely in some of the commercials, you’ll see that the edge of the coin has something like “commemorative” or “not legal tender” engraved on it. I imagine this is to keep someone from trying to use it or sell it as an original in the case of those “replica” coins.

Often these ‘replicas’ are significantly different in size from actual currency. Which is specifically allowed by Treasury regulations. (See the Bureau of Engraving site at

But you usually can’t tell that from the ads – the photos have nothing in them to indicate size. If yuo actually fall for it and buy this, you might be surprised to find that your ‘replica silver dollar’ is more the size of a quarter or less.

Alrighty… thanks for the answers. I’ll assume it’s not quite a settled question yet whether it is illegal to reproduce those coins or not…

On a tangent–some of those “mints” alter US currency (biggest example being ); does “coloring” or “platinumizing” or “hologramizing” actual US currency fall under defacing the currency? I’ve heard that it’s not illegal to deface money, it’s only illegal if you spend defaced money, but wouldn’t the emphasis on “legal tender” imply that it is indeed legal to spend the now-defaced currency?

As for attempting to spend money with those coins, some months ago I started a thread on the SDMB because I found a genuine mirror-struck proof coin in a set of laundry quarters and wanted to tell whether it was silver or not. If you assume no one will try to spend that currency, well, you’ve got too much faith in humanity…

Go to the source – the Bureau of Engraving website has a specific section on “Defacing Currency”: ( and another one defining “legal tender”.

Basically, they say “Defacement of currency … with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued” is a crime.

I recall that in the 60’s some activists in the African-American community were advocating stamping “Black Money” on their currency before spending it; and in the 80’s some GLBT activists were similarly advocating stamping “Gay Money” on currency. Both were attempts to impress on local merchants the economic power of the minority community.

In both cases, there were bigoted local officials who tried to charge them with “defacing currency”. I don’t believe any of these charges went anywhere; the Treasury Dept. or the Courts declared that such rubber stamps did not render the currency unfit to be used.

What about those penny-smashing machines you find at tourist attractions? They’re sure popular for being illegal…

You’re talking about two separate kinds of things here.

  1. Something like a dollar-sized thing that says “Republic of the Marshall Islands, $5” that people pay $10-20 for. This coin, when it was struck, was legal tender in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. And, since the Republic of the Marshall Islands is on the same monetary standard as the US, you can redeem it there. Good luck on getting there. A refuling rock in the Pacific.

An enterprising duo of Germans had a novel idea some years back. Since these “coins” trade hands in coin circles for about $1-2 US, they bought up US $250,000 worth. Flew to Marshall Islands. Tried to redeem them. Government said…WHOA! After international lawsuits, final result was that the Marshall Islands agreed to redeem them for US $5…but…you could only redeem $50/day. It cost you that much or more to stay on the island.

  1. One-ounce, .999 pure silver replicas of US coins. …Perfectly legal. They can be an almost identical copy. Only thing you can’t do is put the denomination on them. You can’t put “One Dollar” on them. Then you just made a coin, and the guvmint takes exception to that.

As a ex-magician, I’ve got quite the collection of “defaced” coins, especially half-dollars. (What, it’s not really magic? :eek: ) We defaced plenty of dollars as well.

Of course, it would be silly to try to spend the coins at face value since they cost so much.

Well, generally you keep the smashed penny as a souvenoir – that’s the point. So it isn’t actually reissued into circulation.

I suppose it might be technically illegal, but I doubt any prosecutor would ever bother to charge you.

As for the US Treasury, they aren’t concerned, they’ve made money on the deal. You paid 1¢ for that penny, but it cost them less than that to make it. The Treasury probably makes thousands of dollars a day on the millions of loose change laying around on people’s dressers, jars on the table, etc.

Just an input because the defacing issue came up. The ban on defacing currency goes back gto the days when coins were made of valuable metal, namely silver and gold. People would get a, say $10 Eagle gold coin (whose metal value equalled the denomination) for $10. Then they would cut off a bit of the gold and try to change the defaced coin into $10 in another form of money. Now they had the initial $10 plus the gold they had cut off. This scheme worked to the detriment of the general public, and finally the Mint because the damaged coins had to be replaced with new ones. In order to prevent this, defacing coins was made illegal; but nowadays, when the intrinsic value of coins is far below their denomination, this just isn’t an issue.

Thanks all! I learned a lot on this thread; the bit about the origins of why defacing currency is illegal is particularly interesting. Makes perfect sense.

I still say that they’re scumbags preying on the gullible, but, hey…

Well, a fool and his money are soon… well… converted to a fool and quasi-fake money.

Gullible in what sense? I doubt anybody paying $49.95 for their replica of a 19th century silver dollar really intended to pass it as $1.00 in currency, or thought he was going to convince a coin dealer this was a real antique.