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Coin Cleaning

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Without researching, I plan on not doing any coin cleaning for fear of doin it improperly and risking damaging my coin. What's the norm on this subject? Is there easy, safe cleaning? Is it recommended at all? Would you have it professionally cleaned depending on value? Thanks in advance for the answers.

 

Josh

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The general consensus is any cleaning done to the coin is considered damaging and detracts from the value.

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Without researching, I plan on not doing any coin cleaning for fear of doin it improperly and risking damaging my coin. What's the norm on this subject? Is there easy, safe cleaning? Is it recommended at all? Would you have it professionally cleaned depending on value? Thanks in advance for the answers.

 

Josh

Rather than posing these questions on a forum, I would recommend that you do your own research. For example, visit www.ncscoin.com which is the home of numismatic conservation services to learn about the different types of "cleaning," what is harmful and what is not. It is not true that all types of "cleaning" detract from the value of a coin. It depends on how the coin's surfaces are affected. For example virtually every ancient coin has been cleaned. Most ancient coins were buried and, if not cleaned, would be most unattractive and covered with crud. The comment by the previous poster that "...any cleaning is considered damaging and detracts from value" is dependent on just what one means by the term "cleaning." So I advise you to do your own research and not expect to find simplistic answers to complex questions. I mention the NCS site as they have quite a few explanatory pages of information about conservation methods that are used with coins. Conservation is a term that implies preservation and improvement of the appearance of valuable items such as paintings and coins. Done properly, it is not considered damage and does not detract from value. On the contrary, done correctly, it enhances value - that's why it's done. Coin collectors, just like collectors of any item desire the best states of preservation. If a coin's eye appeal can be improved by the removal of residue without impairing the coin's surfaces, then there is nothing wrong with the process. The masterpieces in the Sistine Chapel in Rome were conserved a few years ago to reveal their original splendor which had been hidden under centuries of grime. It's just like washing your face.

 

You should investigate the case of the recovery of the SS Central America treasure for example.

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And how exactly do you define "cleaning" marv? Conservation is not a term relating to improving appearance... that would be restoration. Coming from someone who is not an ancient coin collector and who deals exclusively with modern coinage, I have always heard that a cleaned coin is considered a damaged coin. Unlike fine art, where the showing of wear on a painting takes away from its visual appeal and its value, many coin collectors view the wear and patina of age on a coin as generally more appealing. For this reason coin collectors imo fall more within the realm of antique collectors than art collectors. Modern coins classified as "cleaned" generally fetch lower values. If you do not know what the heck you are doing, leave the coin alone.

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I agree that barring heavy deposits, it's better to leave the coin alone except in cases where the deposits are "active" and may causing increasing amounts of damage to the underlying surfaces of the coin. A case in point with many modern coins is PVC deposits which are acidic in nature and, if left on the coin, will irretrievably damage the surface of the coin.

 

I'm not advocating that one who knows nothing about the subject take out the brillo pad and start scrubbing away. That's not common sense. It's also a function of the value of the coin, i.e., how much it's worth to someone else. Patina, or light corrosion products on the surface of silver or copper coins is viewed by many collectors, myself included, as usually desirable, however there are some who like the untoned appearance of coins, hence removing the tone or patina may be fine for that collector. That said, there is a right way and a wrong to to do any activity that has the chance of creating observable damage to the coin's surface. That's why NCS was formed. I have used their services to remove PVC deposits on two chinese crowns. Since PVC is soluble in acetone, it's easy to remove without removing any patina or toning. In this case, cleaning or conserving is not only acceptable, but encouraged by all coin experts. BTW, conservation as it's used with coins is not restoration. Restoration involves restoring something that has been lost. This is impossible to do with coins without damaging the coin in the eyes of all coin experts. A worn coin cannot be restored to an uncirculated state. Adding metal to the coin is almost always visible under magnification and results in a loss of value, and no true collector would advocate that. Conservation typically involves removal of contaminants or deposits that obscure the coin without damaging the original surface of the coin to the extent that the change is observable. Read the material on the NCS site. They give a good explanation of conservation as it applies to coins. Conservation, if done properly, can, in fact, improve the eye appeal of the coin which can translate into a higher price at auction. I know that based on personal experience.

 

In sum, "cleaning" as it applies to coins usually involves a process that creates permanent damage, i.e., hairlines or scratches, to the coin. Removal of light or unattractive toning or patina by chemical means, if one desires that, and if done by an expert, would not fit that definition. If done by an amateur, removal of toning could possibly remove underlying metal to the extent that the luster would be affected if the coin is uncirculated, and that would clearly be unacceptable.

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Marv has given some very valuable information. Taking a look at the NCS website will help to clear up some (mis)conceptions about cleaning. The terms "cleaning" and "conservation" are one of my peeves, as conservation is in fact a form of "cleaning". When you submit your modern "rarities" to the TPGs, frequently you may find them returned for "cleaning". When a coin is returned as "cleaned", this does not mean just any form of cleaning. Usually it is for the coin being harshly cleaned where physical damage to the coin's surface may be evident to the authenticator. Oft times, the surface of the coin may have become damaged due to improper use of chemicals on the coin's surface, refered to as "improper cleaning".

 

In the days of old, cyanide was even used to chemically clean coins (even the Mint curators were no stranger to this practice). If I am not mistaken, there are still commercial jeweler products today that utilize cyanide in their products.

 

Conservation may be done either through "harsh" or chemical means. It is when it is done improperly that it becomes an issue with the coin's value and/or desirability. Cleaning performed by a professional is exactly that. It is performed by a person (or group of persons) who make a profession out of cleaning coins. The cleaning they perform preserves, rather than destroys, the underlying surface and originality of the coin in question. This is what we call conservation.

 

Done by an ametuer, "conservation" can turn very, very ugly quickly. Scratches, gouges, removal of luster, etc, all affect the value and desirability of the coin negatively. Also, the removal of the patina could open the surface of the coin to further environmental damage as the patina acts as a form of protection for the coin surface. Why destroy a beautiful patina just to take the chance that the future enivitable environmental damage won't turn ugly?

 

One of the materials available at the NCS site is The Conservation of Coins: A Buyer's Guide. There is a link there to a pdf of the guide you can read.

 

 

And, marv: Some very nice coins you have there. Art would probably love that IHC.

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Maybe I misunderstood what the forum was about. If there's not room for newbie questions, I maybe don't beling here.

 

Please don't leave - we're all at different levels of collecting, and what's old news to one member is often new to another, and vice versa. :-)

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I'm not leaving. Just wishing to make a point. I did get a really nice speedboat today though, so I might pause the coin collecting for now. I gots lots of boating to do and gear to purchase! :)

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Sorry if there is a misunderstanding here. When you're ready to hit the numismatic play button again, here's more toward answering your original questions:

 

Without researching, I plan on not doing any coin cleaning for fear of doin it improperly and risking damaging my coin. What's the norm on this subject? Is there easy, safe cleaning? Is it recommended at all? Would you have it professionally cleaned depending on value? Thanks in advance for the answers.

Josh

 

The first question you posed is of primary importance, and thus has been the one of focus. I think it would be safe to say that we have answered the first question extensively. Which leads to the conclusion of the second question that there is no easy, safe cleaning technique for coins. Is it recommended at all? Yes. That is where "conservation" comes into play. It is when a coin will only continue to become further damaged that cleaning/conservation is most generally recommended.

 

This is especially true with environmental damage such as verdigris or "PVC" (which such damage is not actually the PVC itself, but the plasticizers [esters of polycarboxylic acids with aliphatic alcohols, for example] used to make it flexible). If such contamination is allowed to remain on the coin, it will continue to react with the metal and eventually destroy the surface completely.

 

Would I have it professionally cleaned depending on the value of the coin? Maybe. The results of environmental damage can be nuetralized independant of any professional help. However, it all depends on how much you are willing to risk if something goes wrong. Even a simple dip to remove PVC damage can turn sour easily.

 

There are other cases in which you may actually want a professional to conduct the conservation. This would include instances in which some form of harsh cleaning may be required, especially for any foreign substance that may be adhering to the surface that does not appear to be easily removed.

 

You will find that there are many varied opinions on the subject. Some you may even consider fanatical on the issue. But, it all boils down to your personal preference and how much of a gamble you are willing to take.

 

And, still, another consideration to make (that I feel very few actually do) is posterity. Even if it costs you more money than you can even conceivably return on the coin, at least the coin will continue on after we are gone. We do not own our coins...we are simply temporary caretakers for posterity...

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I’d say never clean your coin. An awkward looking coin can get you more value than one that’s cleaned to look like a sparkling new one. Instead, put your efforts in finding someone who’d be interested to buy the very coin you have, with the mint date and mint it’s struck at. You get more for your coin with a coin collector than a coin dealer.

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