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Container is full of counterfeit Indian Head and large cents produced in the Big Tree Coin Factory in Fujian Province in the People’s Republic of China. Dates on the fake Coronet cents are 1854 and 1857. Dates on the counterfeit Indian Head cents display a wider range: 1869, 1870, 1871, 1872, 1877, 1908-S and 1909-S. Although Jinghuashei claims to mark all such coins as “replicas,” no markings are detectable on any of the coins shown in bins in this photo and others he provided. Nor is a “replica” inscription evident on coins in smaller packaging options
Liu Ciyun (who prefers to be known by his eBay handle, “Jinghuashei”) is a typical young upwardly-mobile Chinese suburbanite. Married, with a 2-year-old son, Jinghuashei has worked hard the past few years to build a business.
Like most legitimate businessmen, Jinghuashei operates within the laws of his country, and has earned official certification for his small production facility, which employs up to 30 people. The products he sells are properly licensed, where appropriate, and absolutely, 100 percent legal to produce and sell in China.
The only fault that most Americans might find with Jinghuashei’s business model is that he is in the business of producing counterfeit coins.
Jinghuashei’s company is called the Big Tree Coin Factory. It is located in the Fujian (also known as Fukien) province in the southeast portion of the People’s Republic of China. This area is well known to be a hotbed of counterfeiting activity and Jinghuashei acknowledges being aware of approximately 100 competitors who are manufacturing fake coins.
Jinghuashei says that his coin factory is probably the largest of its type in China. It produces in excess of 100,000 fake coins per month for Chinese coin types alone.
He says he is currently only selling about 1,000 counterfeit U.S. coins per month, mostly on eBay. His primary motivation for servicing this comparatively small volume business is that he is making contacts with people he hopes will come to China to buy counterfeit coins on a wholesale basis.
Jinghuashei also claims a sales volume of several thousand counterfeit coins per month in world coin types.
Jinghuashei is forthcoming about his business practices. He is certain that he is operating legally in China, which requires that the coins he makes are dated 1949 or earlier. As long as he sticks to this one important regulation and maintains his business certification (license), he says he has nothing to fear from the authorities in China.
But what about the United States of America?
Isn’t he worried that the Secret Service or some other U.S. government agency will come after him for making counterfeit U.S. coins? After all, the coins struck by the U.S. Mint, regardless of date, are all still legal tender, and thus subject to U.S. coin counterfeiting laws. It is illegal for him to sell these coins in the United States, even via eBay.
Jinghuashei responds by claiming that he is operating within the confines of the Hobby Protection Act, a U.S. law that requires all nongenuine numismatic items produced after 1973 to be permanently and conspicuously counterstamped with the word COPY. When informed that his eBay auctions are not in compliance with this law, because he is using a punch that says REPLICA, he seems unconcerned.
Despite numerous online chats and e-mail exchanges with him in which the U.S. law has been discussed, Jinghuashei still hasn’t changed his punch to be in compliance.
Although he has never said it outright, it is apparent he feels invulnerable to U.S. law enforcement because they are unlikely to go all the way to China to prosecute him for the relatively small sums of money his eBay sales generate.
The word “replica” was used in conversations with and questions of Jinghuashei since that is the term he prefers and he appears to be more open to talking than if the terms “counterfeit” or “fake” are used.
Jinghuashei acknowledges that the minting equipment currently used in his Big Tree Coin Factory is old and the images he provided show a cramped and dirty environment. But that helps to keep Big Tree’s coin manufacturing costs very low. He says he has access to more modern presses when he needs them.
Jinghuashei says it costs him only 8 cents each to produce each fake Chinese coin using iron-based planchets. Counterfeit U.S. coins cost more – an average of 50 cents each – because the copper and nickel planchet alloys cost him more to make. Jinghuashei says these figures include his entire expense, including materials, labor and marketing.
On eBay, Jinghuashei’s single-coin auctions are usually listed with a starting price of 5 or 10 cents, and they usually close around those prices when he gets a buyer.
Asked how he makes a profit if it costs 50 cents each to make his coins, he explains that he makes most of his profit from the shipping expense he collects from buyers.
This is a common practice with China-based sellers on eBay. They sell the item very cheaply, but then charge as much as $70 or more for shipping. Doing this serves two useful functions. First, their Final Value Fee expense is minimal, since eBay bases this fee on the auction’s closing price. Secondly, if an item is returned to the seller for some reason, the buyer can only recover that minimal bid amount since shipping and handling is typically nonrefundable.
Most of the Big Tree Coin Factory’s current profits are coming from the large number of fake Chinese coins it produces. Many of these coins are replicas of ancient Chinese coins. There is a strong demand for them at flea markets and in tourist zones. Jinghuashei does an active wholesale business in fake Chinese coins, most of which are sold within China itself.
Some of the photos Jinghuashei provided of his storefront operation, the Big Tree Temple Coin Shop, depict fake Chinese artifacts, but he says that some of the goods for sale in the shop are produced by other counterfeiters.
Also evident in photos he provided are what appear to be slabs similar to ANACS slabs, and containing fake U.S. coins. When queried about the slabs in this photo, he became very wary.