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Why Does Handling Coins Cause Hands to Smell?

Many rare coin dealers, collectors, and enthusiasts may assume that the metallic, dusty smell that lingers on their hands after handling old coins comes from the coins themselves. But science tells us that there’s actually a different reason as to why hands smell after touching coins and other metal objects. Here’s an explanation of the true origin of that metallic smell, and why it’s so identifiable.

A Human Scent

A hand holding a bunch of coins

When human hands handle rare coins and other objects made of metal, the iron-like smell that’s generated doesn’t come from the metal itself. It’s actually a human body odor caused by the breakdown of skin oils after touching objects made of certain metals. When hands touch iron, for example, perspiration on the skin adds two electrons to the iron atoms, which then react with skin oils and decompose. This decomposition creates an organic molecule known as 1-octen-3-one, which is largely responsible for that infamous smell. Formaldehyde and acetone are also made of such compounds, so it makes sense that these substances also give off strong, distinctive odors.

Minimizing the Smell

It’s nearly impossible for dealers and collectors to completely avoid handling their collections. Luckily, there are a few simple ways to minimize the metallic smell that lingers after touching coins. Wearing cotton gloves, for example, can stop the hands from smelling; it can also benefit the coins themselves, preventing damaging fingerprints, smudges, and oil deposits. It’s also helpful to handle only the coins’ edges in order to limit the surface area that comes into contact with skin.

The rare coin experts at Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers always handle coins with the utmost care to protect our clients’ assets. We buy, sell, and appraise coins made of gold, silver, and platinum, including rare and old coins. To learn more about our fair and generous offers, 24-hour price lock guarantee, and exceptional customer service, contact us today at 404-236-9744 and schedule an appointment.

Tony Davis
Tony Davis