Cleaning your coin can kill your profit potential

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Blanchard and Company Douglas LePre recently discussed the importance of toning in coins for numismatic collectors and investors.

The natural oxidation that occurs on coins, especially silver, can enhance their appearance and maximize their historical character with this naturally occurring patina. (Related to toning is the concept of the shipwreck effect, in which coins recovered from sunken vessels show signs of long-term immersion in saltwater.)

Some coin owners even go to the trouble of trying to add artificial toning to their pieces in an attempt to make a quick buck, Doug notes.

Conversely, some neophyte collectors who are unaware of the importance of toning actually make the huge mistake of cleaning their coins. And when one submits his or her coins for official grading by one of the major certification services like NGC and PCGS, the doctoring likely won’t go unnoticed.

Cleaning coins is a big no-no in numismatics and should never be attempted without first consulting an expert. Three recent news items in Coin World drive home this point.

An 1892-S Morgan Dollar that PCGS had designated as Altered Surfaces and Uncirculated Details sold earlier this year for $16,450. That sum is well below what other comparable Morgans have garnered in recent sales.

On the gold front, an 1857-S Liberty Double Eagle also received an Altered Surfaces and Uncirculated Details designation from PCGS. It sold for $4,230, a price that Coin World noted was higher than an About Uncirculated 58 example, but lower than a problem-free Mint State coin. And 1886 proof version of a Coronet Double Eagle, also with the Altered Surfaces tag, got $18,800 at a sale a price deemed affordable by Coin World but perhaps not optimal. (The flip side of such doctoring practices is that they make certain coins more easily obtainable for collectors on a budget, but that doesn’t do the sellers much good.)

The lesson here is: Don’t clean your coins. If you do, you’re at risk of reducing or even destroying the value of your investment by eliminating some of the very attributes that are sought by coin enthusiasts.

Let a phrase from the ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates (of Hippocratic Oath fame) serve as a guide for collectors: First, do no harm.