Coin Cleaning And Caring For Coins

Cleaning Your Coins

People often ask us what the best way is to clean their coins. The answer is simple.

Don't.

Collectors value beauty in their coins, but they also value originality — a coin that has aged naturally. Inexpertly cleaned coins can be quickly distinguished by their unnatural color; moreover, the process of cleaning coins leaves traces such as visible hairline scratches and can even cause wear. A bright, shiny coin with a lot of wear just looks "wrong", and collectors will be less interested in such a coin.

Cleaned coins are considered "problem" coins, and as such they bring lower prices than similar coins that have not been cleaned. For example, we sold a key date 1916-D dime in October 2012 for $1645; a similar piece sold a month earlier brought $3525. Both coins graded Very Fine 20. The difference — the coin sold in October had been cleaned; September's coin was original.


Caring for Coins

Coins are designed to last. The mere existence today of coins over 2,000 years old proves it. But although coinage has been the backbone of commerce through most of recorded history, coins will become worn over time if they are handled and spent. As collectors, most of us are interested in acquiring high quality coins for our collection, and at a minimum, we need to ensure that we don't do anything to hurt our prized possessions.

As collectors, we need to learn both how and where to store coins. We hope the following information will help you keep your collection intact over the years.

Storage methods:
Folders | Coin Boards | Albums | 2x2s | Flips | Hard Plastic | Coin Tubes | Slabs

Folders

Many of us who began collecting as kids started out by filling Whitman folders with Lincoln Cents or Jefferson Nickels. Today, many people who are discovering coin collecting with the Statehood Quarter series use similar folders, now available from a number of manufacturers.

Folders are cheap, and are excellent for storing low value or circulated coins. However, they only allow you to look at one side of a coin, and over time they can cause toning on the unexposed side of the coin. Because one side of the coin is exposed to air and there's nothing in particular to hold the coin in, there is also the possibility that coins can fall out when the folder is opened. Some Whitman folders, most notably for Cents, have a "Lock-in" feature which prevents coins from falling out, but the amount of effort required to put the coins into the holes has led to the nickname "Thumbbuster".

Coin Boards

Similar to folders, but flat. These were popular in the 1940s and 1950s, and there are quite a variety of Statehood Quarter coin boards available today.

Albums

Fancier and more expensive than folders, these are a good way to keep higher quality coins. Coin albums open like books and have pages consisting of holes for each coin. Each hole is covered on both sides by a clear mylar slider which, when open, allows the collector to insert the coin into the hole and, when closed, allows one to see both sides of the coins.

It's a little bit less likely that you'll be able to find these in a bookstore, but most decent-sized coin shops will carry a selection of albums from manufacturers like Dansco and Whitman, and in some cases you may be able to find used albums to house your collection.

If you keep very high grade coins in an album, be sure that the coins are inserted in such a way that they do not make contact with the mylar slide when it is removed. These contact marks are called "Slide Marks" and can lessen the grade of an uncirculated coin. Also, although both sides of your coins will be covered, it is possible to lose coins within a coin album if the paper covering the page is loose, and especially if the coins in your album are small. There are probably a few Half Dime albums out there that are not as empty as their owners think!

2x2s

Pronounced "Two by Twos", these are small cardboard holders that fold over a coin with a cellophane window that allows you to see both sides of the coin. The most common ones measure two inches square when folded, hence the name. You can purchase these in various sizes depending on the coin you wish to store; coin windows come in sizes ranging from dime to silver dollar, and the actual holders can range from 1.5 inches square (which is not big enough to hold a silver dollar) to 2.5 inches square (which is necessary to hold a larger coin such as a Silver American Eagle).

2x2s are inexpensive, and you can find them at coin shops, where you will probably be able to buy as many or as few as you need. Better hobby shops will often carry them, as well. If you wish to use these you will need to have a stapler in order to put both sides of the holder around the coin, and many people recommend that you also use a pair of pliers to crimp the staples after you put the holder together in order to minimize the effects of air flows on the coin.

Because 2x2s generally hold only one coin, you will also need to find housing for them if you don't want them to lie loose in a pile somewhere. The boxes they come in work quite well, and many coin shops sell empty boxes designed to house them. You can also keep them in plastic pages designed to hold them, such as in a stock book or a binder.

Finally, 2x2s, unlike other kinds of coin supplies, can be used one time only. Removing a coin from the 2x2 results in the holder bent beyond future use, sometimes torn cellophane, and usually bent staples sticking out in a somewhat dangerous position. When removing a coin from a 2x2, be very careful that the coin does not contact any protruding staples, as thick scratches which lessen the coin's value can easily result.

Flips

These are small see-through plastic holders, also usually sized two inches square when folded. Many flips have two separate spaces to hold coins, one on both sides when folded. This allows the collector or dealer to insert a small card or piece of paper describing the coin.

Unlike 2x2s, flips are reusable and allow a collector to remove and replace a coin as many times as he wishes. Although a little more expensive that 2x2s, they can be found in most of the same places and are housed in the same way, and there is no need for different sized flips for different-sized coins, as long as the coin fits. Even a Silver American Eagle will fit, somewhat snugly to be sure, within a two inch flip.

The danger with flips is that not all of them are designed to hold a coin forever. Many flips contain a chemical known as Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC, which will damage coins with prolonged exposure. In general, if you have a soft, flexible flip, it probably contains PVC, and while a harder, more brittle flip may not contain PVC, it is more likely to break with use. In general, flips are best used for temporary storage until you have a chance to find the coin a more permanent home.

Hard Plastic

Hard plastic containers for coins can range from 2x2s that snap together to ornate display pieces designed to show off an entire series of coins. In general, this kind of container does an excellent job of preserving the coin, but they are usually quite expensive and often somewhat unwieldy to store. Recently, Coin World has begun offering hard plastic holders roughly the same size as common slabs. These holders have received excellent reviews, and are a good alternative for storing high quality uncertified coins.

Coin Tubes

Plastic tubes sized specifically to hold a particular type of coin. These are not recommended for holding individual coins, but are terrific for holding coins in roll quantities.

Slabs

All of the above storage methods apply to coins that are "raw" or uncertified, and the vast majority of coins that most collectors will run across fit that description. Most of the coins that Heritage sells and many other high quality coins have been graded and authenticated by PCGS, NGC, ANACS, or ICG, and as such have been encapsulated in "Slabs", hard plastic holders which show the coin, the grade of the coin, and the certification number.

Slabs are designed for long term storage of coins and for reasons that should be fairly obvious are also designed not to be opened without destroying them. Because they are larger than other coin holders and fairly common, it can be a problem to house them, so most of the companies that encapsulate coins also provide plastic boxes to hold them. PCGS, NGC, and ICG slabs are all roughly the same size and will fit fairly well into a box produced by one of the other companies. ANACS slabs are smaller and will be loose if placed into a box provided for a larger slab, so they require their own box. Because ANACS slabs are only two inches wide, they can often be housed along with 2x2s and flips if you don't mind the fact that they're taller.

Slabbing is, in and of itself, not a means of storing coins. It is a grading and certification process which should not be considered for inexpensive coins; after all, a ten cent coin in a twenty dollar slab is still a ten cent coin.

Along with storing individual coins, there is the question of where to store your collection. There is an age-old question about security vs. access in that coins, as valuables, need to be secure and protected against theft, but as a collector you will also want to look at them on occasion. The Collector's Handbook, available here at HeritageCoins.com, has a full chapter on the topic, what some of the alternatives are, and how collectors have balanced being able to take a look at their coins and keeping them safe.

Regardless of whether you choose to keep your coins at home or in a safety deposit box or some other secure location, you need to take into account that the atmosphere itself may have some effect on the coins. Try to keep your coins in a dry location, and if you live in a humid area, keep some desiccant near your coins in order to keep them dry. Humidity has been known to do savage things to coins!

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