About fifteen years ago, during my time as a coin professional, I received a call from an individual who had his great-grandfather's coin collection and wanted to sell it. He, of course, wanted an estimation of what it might be worth, so I requested he bring it in for me to give him an accurate assessment. He continued to press me for some idea of the value, after telling me the types and dates of several of the pieces from his inheritance. I then mentioned that it depended upon the condition of the coins, whether they were worn or uncirculated, meaning like new. This was, perhaps, a fatal mistake in my remarks, for a few days later I met my potential customer, along with his collection. When he displayed them to me, my heart sank and sadness filled me. Apparently thinking "uncirculated" meant shiny, he had taken each member of his valuable 19th-century collection and cleaned them with what he later described as toothpaste and baking soda. What had been expensive, gracefully aged coins were now circular pieces of chrome. They had lost nearly 85% of their value through his attempt to make "improvements."

Prior to this time, I worked for the leading West Coast coin dealer in Hollywood, and would occasionally assist in preparing coins to go out to customers enrolled in our monthly Collection/Investment program. Customers often returned coins with color, surmising they were "dirty" or appeared circulated. So there I stood, placing each coin, sometimes possessing gloriously beautiful toning into a dipping solution to remove this hypnotic sign of age. These coins were seldom returned.

The color that appears and blooms upon the surfaces of a coin over the years, the decades, the centuries is unique. Sometimes the hues are subdued grays and chocolate browns, while others have been caressed by iridescence likened to brilliant sunlight through stained glass. The coloring or toning depends on the atmosphere and materials the coin comes into contact with over the ages. But, homely or beautiful, toning provides the specimen with a personality and a dignity all its own.

At times, cleaning might be necessary in order to remove unsightly corrosion from the delicate surfaces. Ancient coins and those found in the sea are pertinent examples. This work must be done by professionals skilled in restoration. Outside of these and others threatened with irreversible deterioration, coins should remain in their natural state.

Generations from now, after we have long passed on, these numismatic works of art shall remain as our legacy. How we cared for them will be apparent to our ancestors. Let's not disappoint them.




Copyright 2001 Dennel · All Rights Relinquished