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."
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.
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.
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.
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.