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Shall I Clean My Coins?
( Article orginally published January 1958 )
This age old question has been bothering collectors and dealers for a long time. Originally, the cleaning of coins was taboo, consequently those that first attempted cleaning, did their best to have the coins they cleaned look as much as possible as if they had not been cleaned. Today, well cleaned coins are accepted as much if not more readily than those that have been kept in their original state, with exceptions, however. The coins cleaned and the cleaner used will determine the desirability of the coin in question.
Never clean a badly worn coin of any kind. In the first place it is a waste of time, and secondly, cleaning a coin in condition inferior to very fine will never enhance the piece.
Proofs in gold seldom, if ever, will need cleaning, In silver they frequently become tarnished, and if the tarnish is not too dark, silver dip purchased in your local supermarket will brighten them without scratching, but don't leave the coin in for more than five seconds or so, and rinse immediatelv with water. Dry with soft cleansing tissue. Proof nickels will react favorably to the foregoing treatment.
Bronze and copper coins: Leave proofs alone. In my opinion, nicely toned proof cent is more desirable than one that is brilliantly cleaned. If there are specks or corrosion spots on the coin, it will then have to be cleaned but it is questionable whether the spots will come off, and if they do, whether the cleaning will not harm the proof surface. Silver proofs that have been cleaned seem to be more desirable to the collector than uncleaned ones for detection is difficult and they like their proofs bright in silver. In copper, however, toned ones are more desirable, for the brightness of a cleaned copper coin is easily detected. I find. a trade-named cleaner, Brilliantize, excellent for the cleaning of copper coins.
Gold uncirculated coins rarely need cleaning. At times it might be advisable to wash them gently with ivory soap and warm water. Silver coins, if lightly tarnished, can be brightened nicely by a five-second dip and quick rinse in Silver Dip as suggested for the proofs. If heavily tarnished they should be cleaned as follows: Make a paste of bicarbonate of soda and water; do not use the ordinary inexpensive brand of soda found in grocery stores, but use the better grade found in drugstores-reason the texture of the cheaper brand is coarser and may scratch, whereas, the better brand is smoother and will not tend to scratch as much. Be certain your fingers are soft and smooth, no nicks or scratches on the skin, good idea to soak them a minute or so in warm water to soften. Then rub the coin gently with the paste until all tarnish is gone, don't forget the edges.
Large cents or half cents in copper should never be cleaned, Indian Heads and Lincolns should not be cleaned if they are naturally brilliant or red. If they are toned down so only a slight amount or no red shows, it probably is better today to clean them than leave them as they are, for a dark uncirculated cent of the small size does not seem to as desirable as a cleaned brillant one. !
VERY FINE & EXTREMELY FINTE COINS:
Gold rarely needs cleaning. Ivory soap and warm water should do, if it is absolutely necessary. Silver pieces can be cleaned with bicarbonate of soda as per instructions for uncirculated silver pieces. This usually improves the looks of the coin. Cnnner or bronze coins in this condition should never be cleaned. 'Thev look better in their natural state. Silver will tarnish very quickly, narticularlv if exposed to air and other chemicals that will affect it. It is difficult to believe that brilliant uncirculated or proof coins as old as a hundred or more years could possibly have lasted all that while without ever having been tarnished. It is my opinion that nearly all choice silver coins must have been cleaned some time or other, and perhaps many times. It hasn't hurt them; in fact, had tarnish been allowed to increase the coin would finallv have become black and the tarnish would have had a permanently bad effect on the condition of the coin. Very badly tarnished silver coins begin to have the surface eaten and can never be brought back, the corrosive quality of the tarnish having deteriorated the value of the coin.
Many collectors of large cents prefer their uncirculated specimens in a rich brown or steel color acquired naturally through the years. The film that has given them this fine glossy surface is a protection preventing the annoying corrosion spots that so frequently appear on cents that are red or brilliant. This is not the case with collectors of small cents, with this series they want them "Brilliant or Red," even though these, too, are subject to the same annoying spots. I wonder when small cent collectors will follow the large cent collectors and appreciate the value of rich, colored small cents, rather than the brilliant ones that are subject to deterioration.