“Cleaning” or “conserving” a coin?

These are two words that might seem to mean the same thing, but they often don’t.

The distinction often boils down to whether a coin is in the hands of an expert, or an amateur.

A 1922 Peace dollar appears to have little to no wear or damage at first glance.

A 1922 Peace dollar appears to have little to no wear or damage at first glance.

Doug Mudd, curator at the American Numismatic Association Money Museum,  Colorado Springs, Colo., said that the difference is what issue is affecting the coin.

“When you’re doing conservation on a coin, the basic premise is that there is something on the coin destroying it,” he said. “It depends on the coin and its condition. To conserve a coin implies that it needs the help.

“Cleaning a coin doesn’t assume you’re trying to protect a coin from a damaging condition. There are people who clean coins because they’ve toned. There are people who clean coins because they have dirt on them.

“Something like the Saddle Ridge Hoard, where the coins have dirt on them, you can clean them with some distilled water. That’s a different thing than conserving.”

There are many reasons a collector would conserve a coin from further damage, Mudd said.

“For example, if a coin was stored in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and got its residue on it,” he said. “You want to get that residue off as soon as possible.”

John Krupka, owner of Point Coin, Stevens Point, Wis., said he has seen mainly improperly stored coins turn green because of PVC.

“When PVC was prevalent in the ’80s in coin flips, the PVC would turn the coins green and slimy over time,” he said.

But a closer look reveals scratches from an amateurish attempt to clean it.

But a closer look reveals scratches from an amateurish attempt to clean it.

PVC damage is fast and can permanently stain a coin if not stopped through conservation, he said.

“I actually had a set of Lincoln cents that were stored in a coin album containing PVC. Within six months time, they began turning green. PVC is a major detriment to coins.”

Mudd said the metals that most often see damaging conditions that require conservation are silver, nickel and copper.

“With those metals, you have to get the stuff off it, like sulphur,” he said.

“Clay emits sulphur. I saw a demonstration once where the plasters of the coin were displayed with the coin.

“They use clay to change some details on the plasters. The clay emitted Sulphur and the coin turned black and flaky. That’s why, with a museum, you use a felt or cloth display that is acid free and inert.”

Mudd said coins can also get “diseases” that eat away at the metal.

“You also get coins that contain copper that get bronze disease, where you really want to conserve them,” he said.

Most coins from sea salvage will need conserving, he said.

“If you’ve got many coins in a mass, you’d need to treat them all in some way,” Mudd said. “The outer coins will have secretions and damage, while the inner coins may look fresh and brand new.”

As opposed to conservation, Krupka said that coins are often cleaned because the owners want them to look better, not to stop any preexisting condition.

“For those that inherit some coins, they’ll want to clean them to make them look nice,” he said. “People will bring in a coin and they plan on keeping it and passing it along to a relative. They’ll ask, ‘What should I clean it with?’

“For a true collector, they already know not to clean coins.”

What people do with their coins is up to them, he said. But if they attempt to clean their coins and they don’t know how to do it properly, the results often dramatically reduce their value, which is the opposite of what is intended.

“I’ve seen coins erased with a pencil eraser, dipped, put in caustic acid or even had fingernail polish put on them to ‘protect’ them,” Krupka said. “If it’s a common coin, it’s not really a big deal. It’ll look hokey though.

Want to add some luck to you collection or your pocket?

Want to add some luck to you collection or your pocket?

Other collectors will not spend their hard earned money to buy a hokey-looking coin. In essence, it is ruined.

“If it’s a 1893-S or 1894 Morgan dollar or a 1916-D Mercury dime, it will be bad.”

Mudd said that cleaned coins are around in today’s market, even in museums, a sort of testimony to past numismatic sins.

“Cleaning was not an issue in numismatics until the 1960s, so coins that had been in a museum  may have been cleaned, sometimes multiple times,” he said.

Many older U.S. coins were also cleaned at some point, he said.

“Is it a problem if you have an 1828 Bust half dollar that was cleaned in 1848?” Mudd said. “I tend to look a little less harshly on a coin that was cleaned many years back and it still has its eye appeal.”

When it comes to a coin in your collection, ask yourself: Is this a coin that needs conservation to be saved, or is it better off left alone and its market value preserved?


Everybody plays the fool: What not to do when buying coins

A 1901-S Barber dime in a low grade, such as this one graded About Good 3 Details, Scratched, Corroded, by ANACS may not be the bargain it seems if it doesn’t bring its buyer pleasure.

By Todd R. Sciore

For those of you who recognize the title of this as a song about when relationships go bad, it can also be applied to coin buying. Having heard and even preached all of the old collecting adages at least twice, I am at an age where I thought my rookie mistakes were behind me, but apparently that is not the case. 

At a recent show, I had a judgment lapse and purchased some coins that were real dogs. How bad were they? Let’s just say that I thought they both graded Very Good 10’s and they came back as K-9’s. After establishing my registry set with the American Kennel Club, I sat down and thought about what went wrong. So, with an acute case of buyer’s remorse, a slightly bruised ego, and a lighter wallet, I will now share my transgressions with you, in hopes that unlike this fool, you and your money will not soon be parted. Here is what not to do when attending a coin show:

(1) Do not have a plan. Sure, there’s the saying about no battle plan surviving first contact with the enemy anyway, but at least go in with some idea of what you would like to accomplish. I didn’t have a real plan until just before leaving for the show, when the idea of buying 1901-S and 1903-S Barber dimes came to me like an epiphany on a remote, mist-shrouded mountaintop. 

(2) Buy the first example you see of a coin that’s on your list. I was probably two minutes and 20 feet into the bourse floor when I made my first purchase — the 1901-S dime. Now, I know there comes a time when as a collector you occasionally see a rarity you’ve been chasing for a while and you have to pounce on it right away. A low grade, flawed 1901-S Barber dime would not constitute a true rarity nor require any degree of pouncing. Had I looked around without my glasses and my good eye closed, I would’ve mostly likely found a nicer example of this coin. 

(3) Buy the lowest grade, lowest priced example of the coin you can find. I have advised others to buy the best example they can afford and did the complete opposite, settling for an inferior example with the eye appeal of a smoldering campfire. I can only attribute this to subconsciously making sure I had some money left over to treat for lunch at our annual stop after attending the show in question. 

(4) Focus on only one detail. Or, if you will, go stand very close to a forest. That was me — so close I couldn’t see the trees, or the rim nicks, cuts, and ugly toning that must have come from being caught in the great conflagration of 1906. In focusing only on the headband details, I was able to make out the “E” and “R” of the word “LIBERTY,” or was that “Sucker”? 

(5) Don’t make the same mistake just once. With the first of my bad buys in hand I walked the rest of the floor and glanced at another table that, lo and behold, had a low grade, flawed example of the 1903-S Barber dime, which I quickly purchased. Go ahead and laugh, but there’s something to be said for consistency.

There you have it, what I did wrong and what hopefully you will avoid doing. These mistakes have not soured me on collecting. If anything, they have served as a reminder and inspired me to be more discerning with future purchases. As to the fate of the two dimes, I didn’t even want to look at them anymore, and they are now ensconced in the “Uncle Todd’s Home For Wayward Coins” collection of my 6-year-old nephew. Right now he thinks it’s great that I gave him some old coins for his growing collection. Wait until he learns how to properly grade. 

Oh, and to cap it all off, I missed the exit for our ritual post-show lunch spot.


The doubling on the 1955 Doubled Die cent is very dramatic and can easily be seen with the naked eye. The doubling is most prominent on the date, the word "LIBERTY" and in the motto "IN GOD WE TRUST."

The 1955 Doubled Dies were created when the Mint struck a working hub and a working die together while they were both slightly rotated. Consequently, this working die then received a doubled die impression, and as a result, struck thousands of 1955 Doubled Die cents.

After the 1955 Doubled Dies were produced, they were mixed with millions of regular circulation strike cents from that same year. However, Mint employees caught some of the 1955 Doubled Die cents before they went into circulation. The Mint then decided that it was just not worth the trouble of melting millions of cents to retrieve the approximately 20,000 Doubled Die cents that were accidentally produced.


Sacagawea. stolen, held captive, sold, eventually reunited with the Shoshone Indians.

She was an interpreter and guide for Lewis and Clark in 1805-1806 with her husband Toussaint Charbonneau. She navigated carrying her son, Jean Baptiste (see below), on her back. She traveled thousands of miles from the Dakotas the Pacific Ocean .

The explorers, said she was cheerful, never complained, and proved to be invaluable. She served as an advisor, caretaker, and is legendary for her perseverance and resourcefulness.

Jean Baptiste Charbonneau (February 11, 1805 – May 16, 1866) was an American explorer, guide, fur trapper trader, military scout during the Mexican-American War, alcalde (mayor) of Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, and a gold prospector and hotel operator in Northern California. He spoke French and English, and learned German and Spanish during his six years in Europe from 1823 to 1829. He also spoke Shoshone and other western American Indian languages, which he picked up during his years of trapping and guiding.

Jean Baptiste was the son of Sacagawea, a Shoshone, and her Metis French-Canadian husband Toussaint Charbonneau, who worked as a trapper and interpreter for the Lewis and Clark Expedition; he was born at Fort Mandan in North Dakota. He was taken by his parents as an infant across the country. The Expedition co-leader William Clark nicknamed the boy Pomp. He lived with Clark in St. Louis, Missouri as a boy, where he attended St. Louis Academy. Clark paid for his education. Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau also had a second child, a daughter named Lizette Charbonneau who, as there is no later record of her among William Clark's papers, is believed to have died in childhood.

Charbonneau's image appears with that of his mother on the United States Sacagawea dollar bronze one dollar coin. He is the 2nd child depicted on United States currency. Pompeys Pillar on the Yellowstone River in Montana and the community of Charbonneau, Oregon are named for him.



1853 Seated Half Dollar - Arrows and Rays


The 1853 is a highly desirable one-year type Seated Half Dollar with arrows at the date and rays on the reverse added to indicate a weight reduction from 13.36 grams to 12.44 grams.

While Arrows and Rays Halves are relatively available in the better grades of AU and lower-end Uncirculated, there are very few truly Gem, upper-end Mint State examples known.

When vast quantities of California gold began arriving in the nation’s commercial centers, the overwhelming new supplies made silver overpriced in relation to gold or other currencies. The silver content of the nation’s coins exceeded their face value, leading to wholesale meltings. To alleviate the situation, the silver content of the nation’s minor coinage was somewhat lessened, to an amount less than their face value, indicated by arrows at the date and rays on the reverse. (Neophyte collectors sometimes believe that the 1873 Arrows coinage shows a further silver reduction, but in fact the opposite is true.)

Designer: Obverse by Thomas Sully, modified by Christian Gobrecht and Robert Ball Hughes, Reverse by Christian Gobrecht
Mintage: 3,532,708 and 10 Proofs
Denomination: Half Dollar
Diameter: ±30 millimeters
Metal content: 90% Silver - 10% Copper
Weight: ±192 grains (±12.4 grams)
Edge: Reeded


Exonumia—What Is It?

What is exonumia anyway? It sounds like some kind of strange skin disease. Nothing could be further from the truth! While numismatics is the study of coins, few coin collectors may be familiar with the term exonumia. I won’t keep you guessing any longer, exonumia is simply the study of coin-like objects.

These coin-like items take many forms such as elongated coins, encased coins, souvenir medallions, tags, badges, counter stamped coins, wooden nickels, merchant tokens, casino chips, etc. Exonumia is related to numismatics, and many avid coin collectors become economists.

The noun exonumia is derived from two classical roots: exo, meaning “out-of: in Greek, and nummus, meaning “coin” in Latin; hence, “out-side-of-coins.” In the United States, the term exonumia is applied to any coin-like item. The British term is “paranumismatic.”

Items such as bus tokens or other types of transportation tokens, bar or pub tokens, soap tokens, and casino tokens or chips are some of the more common forms of exonumia.

It is an interesting fact that less is known about many U.S. tokens than about most ancient and medieval coins. It is often possible to date coins minted 1,000, even 2,000 years ago much more closely than many common tokens. It is this lack of readily available knowledge on these types of tokens that attracts many coin collectors to exonumia collecting.

Token tracing is almost a hobby in and of itself. Many sources must be used to trace down the origins and history of a given token. Old city directories are the first thing to be consulted. Just reading them is practically an education in itself. Here you can learn how people lived at that time, what businesses they patronized, where they lived, what their occupations were, perhaps even how fast or slow the town or city grew.

While city directories are useful for 19th century tokens; for more modern tokens, Duns, Bradstreet’s, and Dun & Bradstreet books are invaluable. Most businesses are covered in these books, and with their frequent publication it is often possible determine the date of issue of many tokens.

Telephone directories are another useful resource for more modern tokens. Genealogical sources such as census records are useful for tokens issued up to around 1880. Sometimes it is possible to contact the descendants of the original issuers.

If this can be done, this often yields the best information about the token such as pictures of the store, exact names and the purpose of the token’s issue, etc. Even visiting the locality where the token was issued and making some inquiries can often turn up useful information.

I will be covering the various types of exonumia in future articles. So stay tuned, subscribe to my newsletter, and keep up to date on future articles on coin collecting.