Coin collecting: The beauty and appeal of toned coins

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By Douglas LePre, Senior Portfolio Manager at Blanchard and Company, Inc.

In the many years that I’ve been in this market, one of my favorite areas of interest has always been type silver coins, regardless as to whether they are proof or mint state.

One of the many factors associated with my love of silver coinage is the various ways in which they tone as they age. Oxidation or toning as its referred to can be either amazingly colorful and beautiful or really dark and hard to appreciate. In my opinion toning always adds a layer of intrigue to any coin, and in some instances, quite a bit of value.

In just the last seven to 10 years, toned coins have become increasingly more popular with collectors and investors alike. I think they bring another layer to the thrill of the hunt.

Silver, gold, nickel and copper all tone at their own pace because toning takes place as a result of many different factors. Basically, coins tone as the base metal in a coin reacts with its surrounding environment. Temperature, humidity and even the means of storage can all play a role in how a coin tones.

Different gases in the air can also lead to different types of toning. One of them sulfur occurs naturally and will combine with the moisture in the air to accelerate toning. Most coins that were preserved prior to the introduction of acid-free paper or clear PVC were stored in paper and cardboard holders, wrapped in white tissue paper, sealed in brown or manila envelopes or stored in antique coin albums each of which contributed to the toning process.

Listed below are some general descriptions of how different coins tone and what collectors might expect to see from the variety of metals used in the minting process:

Copper: Orange to red or reddish-brown, and full brown to almost black.
Nickel: Silverish to a smoky gray
Silver: Blast white to light grey to black. Also greens, magenta, orange, gold and blue. Sometimes rainbow-style colors may appear, which can add significant value.
Gold: Bright yellow to orange. Sometimes a reddish color.

Sometimes its hard to see a coins beauty when its toned very darkly from dark blue to almost black. However, in other instances a coin can possess the full spectrum of a rainbow, and even still there are coins that simply possess a grayish patina that gives them a crusty original look.

Whatever the look or cause, toned coins are generally either something collectors love or hate.

There are many collectors who prefer white coins to toned examples simply because the un-toned version can cost less! Coins with rainbow toning or coins that are vibrantly toned usually carry a price tag that can be as high as two to three times that of a pure white example in the same grade.

While most toning happens naturally to coins, collectors should also be aware that some toning unfortunately can also be simulated artificially by those trying to make a quick buck. Just search the Internet to find a variety of procedures online for creating a toned appearance on coins.

Why would someone try to artificially tone a coin? Its either an attempt to improve a coins eye appeal so it can be sold for a higher price, or more often, the artificial toning is being used to hide imperfections the coin already possesses.

Regardless as to the motivation, once a coins surface has been tampered with the value of it instantly diminishes considerably. No matter how beautiful it may look and some artificially toned pieces look gorgeous if its artificially toned collectors should avoid it at all costs.

It usually takes a trained eye to distinguish whether a coin has been artificially altered or not, so collectors in search of beautifully toned coins should only purchase examples graded by the leading certification companies (PCGS or NGC) to ensure theyre purchasing the authentic article.

Collecting toned coins is a great way to expand the enjoyment that coin collecting has to offer. I find these special works of art fascinating, gorgeous, and in some instances, worth the price. I suggest that everyone take the time to explore the world of toned coins, it really does create a new layer of beauty to an already amazing medium.