Mr_Norris_LKNS's Blog

31 Jan 2019

Certificates of Authenticity

Collecting Tips | Mr_Norris_LKNS

Hello all.  Hope everyone is staying warm.  The Legacy Knights are dealing with a nice polar vortex here in the Midwest.  We are surviving.

I've been pondering this subject recently:  the point of Certificates of Authenticity.  What do they really accomplish, beyond giving someone a warm fuzzy feeling about a product they are buying?

Ever since I first started thinking about the topic, that warm fuzzy feeling has all but vaporized.  (Poor timing too, what with the polar vortex...)

Most C of A's say something to the effect that "this product is the genuine article, bla bla bla".  How can anyone possibly know that, just because a paper says so?

Well, if you trust the source of both the product and the paper, it might have some meaning.  But if you got the product right from the manufacturer, then you should know it's the real deal without an extra piece of paper, right?

Unless the manufacturer has subcontracted all their manufacturing to someone else to save money.  OK then, maybe that's why.  If there's a C of A included saying it's a genuine article made by the company in question, then it was definitely made by the company in question.

Unless, due to the legalese in the contract, the subcontractor is making them "on behalf of" the company in question.  Maybe that company can still legally say they made it, because subcontracting is part of their manufacturing process... i.e. the subcontractor is acting as an employee.  I don't know; I'm not a lawyer.

Well, at least we know if it was made in the US or not, because if it wasn't, it has to say "Made in [another country]" on it.  Sure.  With the influx of fake Morgan dollars and other coins into the US from China, who neither has to stamp "COPY" on their fakes or put "Made In" stickers on stuff they sell online, how certain are you of that?

And you do realize you can buy C of A's for various products online, right?

And why spend money on those, when most people have enough printing technology at their fingertips to make their own for whatever they want?

Feeling the polar vortex yet?

OK, so to be clear, I am definitely not advocating that anybody mock up a Certificate of Authenticity. 

And I'm also not categorically saying Certificates of Authenticity are always a waste of time.  But I have one of those minds that always looks for things like this.  Maybe I *should* have been a lawyer.

In my mind, about the only way you can unequivocally know that a coin, work of art, or any other object that typically comes with a C of A is truly the real deal, is to watch it being produced and never take your eyes off of it until it's in your hand.  But I'm a "chain of custody" kind of guy.

So you have to buy things with a certain amount of faith.  If you buy a US Mint coin at a coin shop, you know what the Mint packaging is supposed to look like (which can be faked).  You know that your coin shop proprietor has an account with a Mint products distributor (whom you do not know) where he gets them (through a delivery service whose chain of custody is permeable).  The distributor has a relationship with the Mint (involving a slew of people you don't know and can't keep tabs on), and the Mint has a charter from Congress (need I say more) to produce money to facilitate American commerce as well as products that can be sold for a profit.  You have to have faith that everyone in this chain is probably a pretty trustworthy individual; and that even if they aren't always, it's probably fairly difficult (and more trouble than it's worth) to try to pull a fast one and swap in some fake Mint products.  So if the package is still sealed, and you trust your local coin shop person... why would you need a piece of paper?

And once the product falls into private hands, what point is there to keeping that piece of paper with the product?

So I've been trying to study what, exactly, makes a C of A a worthwhile document, and not a fancy, but useless, scrap of paper.

A "wet signature" (ink on paper, actually signed, not photocopied) is comforting, because that puts the signer on the hook for what he or she is signing.  However, that only means something, if the C of A hasn't been separated from the product it certifies.  That paper could be attached to anything!

A C of A that is part of a security feature-- like those holographic stickers that you can't peel without destroying them when you open a video game or computer software-- is somewhat reassuring.  That is, until we read in the news about a counterfeit software ring busted with a whole truck full of holographic stickers that look real.

To the best of my discernment, unless that C of A very specifically and in detail describes the product it's authenticating, it's pretty worthless.  And even so, it's relying on security technology that involves anticounterfeiting measures.

In my mind, third party certification services offer a good bit of reassurance... particularly the type like NGC or PCGS, as they not only provide expert analysis and research, they give authenticated items a serial number that goes in a searchable database; and then they make it very hard to swap out a real coin for a fake one by sealing it in their holders.  I'm sure holders are possible to fake (maybe from that same place that's making all the fake Morgans)... but the combination of security features and authentication methods give you a greater reassurance.

OK, so what I've learned from this is this:  paper C of A's are only a weak form of reassurance.  Some are better than others; the more they describe unique, verifiable characteristics of the product they authenticate, the better they are.  It can in that sense be a reference checklist:  if it's real, it will have this and this and this feature.  Check, check, and check.  At that point you have to rely on a high work factor/low payoff situation; in other words, it costs too much in time, money, and effort, and the payoff is too little, for faking the object to be worth it to a criminal (NGC, PCGS, etc. all increase the work factor with their security features).  If you feel comfortable that's the case... then your C of A can simply guide you to the points to observe, and possibly provide you contact information for the manufacturer who can attest they did make it based on a serial number, date code, or other manufacturing characteristics.  If it does that, then it has some value.

If I'm way off base, keep in mind I'm not a lawyer.  :-)  I just started analyzing the subject.  Please feel free to point out something I've missed, even if it's obvious.

What do you think?  Are Certificates of Authenticity worthwhile?



Level 6

It's just a piece of paper. Most people probably lose them anyway... Just my opinion... ; ) haha


Level 7

Human error will occur in any business or comoany. The important thing is there correcting it. It wasn't done pourposly. Those that they made a mistake in will be fixed . The Numismatic News reported the Mints figures today they didn't sell out. I don't know but we all make a mistake sometimes I make many. But there called mistakes they were not ment to deceive. It's found out its over Thanks


Level 5

Interesting AND timely topic. Recent Coin World report is that the US Mint discovered an error on the COA of the 2019 APOLLO !! 50th Anniversary Half Dollar Set. The COA credits Gilroy Roberts, not Frank Gasparro as the reverse designer. Link to Coin World article at https://www.coinworld.com/news/us-coins/2019/01/apollo-11-half-dollar-set-packaging-contains-mistake.html This was discovered after about 70,000 were shipped. The Mint has halted/delated shipments until it can be corrected and is making arrangement to replace the COA's on ones already shipped. I think that COA have an affect on legal standing in the eyes of the court. With a COA, the seller increase his liability for damages. This is an example of the mint and our government bein run by more lawyers and fewer quality and engineering professionals.


Level 5

COA's are only useful to me if they come from a reputable company and they can be indisputably linked to the item in question. The TPG's have a good system in place. If you separate the coin from the slab though, the certificate (serial number) is now worthless. Can you imagine someone trying to sell you a coin with a loose slab label for "proof" of its authenticity?


Level 7

I agree I also believe the mint is a legitimate company than anything with coins. Sure you can crack open a slab it won't seal again and the cheap one are so obvious match up the reverse. The TPGs also have the all the information on the bar code.


Level 6

Wow!! All I am going to say is Homework, homework, homework. Know what you are buying. Paper is just paper, as you state. As Mike says, there are other ways to authenticate. Another all I'm going to say is fake coins in fake TPG certified holders are rampant. The mint is pretending they will, at some point and some day, make a "Blue Ribbon Certified Caucus" to look into the problem. Always buy from some one or some company you know is on the up and up. Also they should have a real return policy. These are crazy times with fakes everywhere but I think the US Mint is fairly secure. Thanks.


Level 4

Very thought provoking article. Yes, there must be a level of trust to sustain the hobby.


Level 7

By the way clothing apparel shoes sneakers almost everything in life can come with a CO.A. All I know is if you buy from someone you don't know and didn't do your homework you deserve to be taken. I weigh every coin. I check the packaging I check the knitting on the label that says it's an N.F.L. product. You just go out without a list of what your looking for. And don't bring a pocket scale with you you bring it on yourself. When N.G.C or PCGS sets up at a show and the mint is also there your saying that the mint is selling fake packaging especially the C.O.A. That's just not right. Bring it to an authenticator have it checked. If what this blog says is true then don't buy coins. Find something you know is "Real" and collect them. To say that every C.O.A. from any mint is fake them why bother seriously. How can you look at that coin and just wonder everyday if it's fake or real. U.P.S. Fed Ex U.S.Post office has to be in on it chain of cusdoty . If we don't have faith in some items like coins the hobby would crumble. Everyone would doubt every purchase. Every mint would close. If there is no trust then there is no hobby. Tell me I'm wrong. Tell me the mint fakes all there C.O.A.. I have to say no.


Level 7

I bought a store for my wife for sports memorabilia. We had the C.O.A. From the player and the player in the store singing in front of you. The ones from the mint I don't know we're all this came from but they are very through if I get something from the mint the box is not faked the detail of the c.o.a. is very to the point. I think it would take more to make up a box get a box from the mint and then try to match it up with a coin. That would cost more than the coin. Now if your getting one from a show of dealer that you can question. Just print it out. But the mint. I follow the tracking from the mint to my door. So the post office must be in on it to. Now we have counterfeits and now parinoa. Don't you check the coin before you buy it.? I don't need a c.o.a. from a dealer I know. Know your coins. Do your homework. I think with all this we will never buy a coin again. And thank you Mokiechan for putting some sense to this. When ever you buy anything from anyone it doesn't mean nothing. Hockey Jerseys have tiny micro devises sewed into the Jersey it's scanned no device it's not authentic but to question the mint. Isn't that a little much. Did you ever buy anything from the mint and read it. Or any other mint? I for one do not worry about the mint. And if all this was true how could you ever buy another coin seriously. From another person yes I question. But please the mint . Have a good one. I could go on forever. Mike

I have always wondered what those little slips of paper do. For me it is absolutely nothing, seabed coins offer much more authenticity than that small slip of paper. Thanks for writing.


Level 6

Good point. I never put much faith in COA. Just a piece of paper.


Level 6

I don't take much stock in COA's. Interesting blog.


Level 5

Interesting question. I have a COA from mint products, but how do you know which mint products it really goes to? If someone switched out the product, how would the COA cover you for anything

It's Mokie

Level 6

Certificates of Authenticity (COA) are near worthless even if you know in your heart that it is valid. For example, I have a baseball signed by Tony Gwynn, it was obtained in person, and the sponsor further provided each of us with a COA to accompany our signed baseball. The COA had the date, the venue, the fact that Tony Gwynn was the signer, and even the additional signature of somebody from the shop sponsoring the show. Bulletproof right? Well, I know in my heart, that Tony Gwynn signed my baseball, I don't even need the COA for that reason. The only reason for the COA at that point is to reassure the next person owning that baseball, it is legit, and the next person after that, and the next person after that. Now, little old me, the original person that witnessed this event is no longer in the picture and so is the guy who signed the cert (as if that matters at all). Once the baseball leaves my control, the cert becomes truly worthless and is only a false hope for the person clutching that baseball. As Mr. Morris pointed out there may be some COAs that have validity. A foolproof COA will have a unique tie to the item that is being certified and will also have the backing of a highly reputable company that has been in business for generations, say Sothebys for example.


Level 4

Interesting read. The most important aspect of this blog is that C Of A are contracts. Unless the contract guarantees the authenticity then you have no recourse. The recourse would be a business matter actionable by a Civil Lawsuit if the product sold is not authentic. From what I gather from your blog the key point made is that C of A's are only a weak form of assurance. However, in terms of there marketing significance more people are likely to buy a product with C of A as opposed to products without C of A.


Level 4

Isn’t that funny, Prospector! “How’d you like to buy a genuine thingamajig?” “Hey, look, I don’t even know you, and I’m not sure that thing is real...” “It’s got a signed Certificate of Authenticity!” “Hmmm: ‘John Smith’... Well, if John Smith says it’s real, then, by golly, that’s good enough for me! If you take PayPal, I’ll take three!” 😆

We use cookies to provide users the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your cookie settings, we'll assume that you agree to receive all cookies on money.org. You may disable cookies at any time using your internet browser configuration. By continuing to use this website, you agree to our privacy policy and terms of use. To learn more about how we use cookies and to review our privacy policy, click here.