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Why You Should Never Clean Coins and How it Can Affect Their Value

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Why You Should Never Clean Coins and How it Can Affect Their Value

As a coin dealer who specializes in estate collections, we see tens of thousands of coins every year. Some of the coins are in their original condition while others have been cleaned or altered. In many instances, the cleaned or altered coins were from years ago and have somewhat re-toned while in other cases, the cleaning is relatively new or is somewhat significant and has permanently affected the aesthetics of the coin.Don't Clean Your Coins

Like other antiquities, coin collectors prefer coins in their original state, even if the coin displays evidence of toning, which naturally occurs over time to most silver coins. We realize that this may be counter to mainstream thought, as most people generally like nice clean shiny objects, such as sparkling diamonds or a professionally cleaned ring.

In today’s article, we’re going to highlight why it’s important to never clean your coins, share with you some of the most common types of cleaning that we see in the industry, and comment on how cleaning affects the value of your coins.

We’ve already touched on this subject above, but it bears repeating. Coins should never be cleaned or altered, as this negatively affects their value. We realize that there may be the temptation to do so, especially if a coin is heavily oxidized, has PVC damage, is difficult to make out due to heavy toning or is dirty due to improper storage.

While these are certainly issues that will affect the value of a coin, they will have less of an impact on the value than a coin that has been altered. If you happen to have a rare or valuable coin with these issues, there are professional restoration services that you can use to restore your coin to its natural beauty. In some cases, you’ll find that a coin may have still been altered years ago before its surface was affected from one of the issues noted above, but it may be worth the time and effort to pursue the restoration route if you have a coin that is potentially worth thousands of dollars.

On the surface, it may appear as though a cleaned coin is a cleaned coin and that the value is affected similarly, but that’s not the case. There are a number of different types of “cleaning” that we see with coins. Some types affect the value less, while others can have a significant impact in the value.

Ways Coins are Cleaned

The least invasive type of cleaning is when a coin has been “wiped.” This is a coin that had some type of minor blemish that a collector tries to remove with a paper towel, a cloth, a t-shirt, etc. These coins can be identified by a slight alteration to the surface of the coin – typically the obverse or front of the coin. Basically, when you hold the coin and tilt it, you’ll see a small break in the mint luster or surface patina. While wiping a coin is a definite “no no,” it’s not quite as bad as some other cleaning methods.

The most common type of cleaned coin is one that has a slightly shiny surface with evidence of hairlines caused from the use of some type of abrasive. Hairlines are basically light consistent scratches (they may be straight or circular lines) resulting from a towel or abrasive. A coin that has been scrubbed with baking soda or some other type of chemical no longer has the appearance of mint luster (if uncirculated) or a matte finish (if circulated). Depending on the chemical used and the amount of elbow grease put into it, a cleaned coin may have a slightly shiny surface, or be more pronounced.

Cleaned Coins: Whizzed or Polished

Polished Morgan silver dollar
Polished Morgan silver dollar

Other coins have been whizzed or polished. A whizzed coin is a coin that has been altered to artificially give the appearance of an uncirculated coin. Whizzed coins may display circular patterns of cleaning, while others that have been more professionally done, can only be identified by tilting the coin and noticing the inconsistent surface of the coin. If the surface of an older coin appears to have an artificial mint luster or is a coin that is bright white that should have some toning due to its age, you may have a whizzed coin on your hands.

Polished coins are coins that have been heavily altered to remove toning or one of the surface issues noted above. The difference between a polished coin and a whizzed coin is that polished coins are typically very shiny. In many cases, almost to the point where the coin appears to be counterfeit. We see many polished coins in hand assembled sets that are sold to the public. This is because the general public appreciates things that are nice and shiny, as we noted above.

From a coin dealer’s perspective, a whizzed or polished coin is the worst type of coin and one that has been significantly devalued due to the coin being altered. While not a hard and fast rule, you can expect to receive a price on a whizzed or polished coin that is a two to three grades below a coin that has not been altered. As an example, a coin with almost uncirculated details that has been altered, may sell more in the range of a very fine (VF) coin that has not been altered.

Cleaned Coins: Lightly Cleaned

cleaned coin morgan silver dollar
Lightly cleaned Morgan silver dollar

On the opposite side of the spectrum, a coin that has evidence of light cleaning will generally trade at values of one to one and a half grades less. To use the above example, an otherwise uncirculated coin that has been cleaned may trade more in line with an extremely fine (XF) coin. These coins have only slightly been altered and are still aesthetically pleasing coins. They just lack the original surfaces of an unaltered coin.

Cleaned Coins: Wiped

Lastly, a coin that has been wiped is a coin that on the surface appears to be nice and can typically only be identified when tilting the coin and noticing a break in the surface. A wiped coin disqualifies it from being professionally graded by a third-party grading service, but it will typically trade at a slightly higher value than a cleaned coin. If a lightly cleaned coin generally trades at one to one and a half times less, a coin with a small wipe might trade at one grade less.

Of course, values vary by the coin, and some of the guidelines may not apply to all coins, but this will give you a general idea of how the value of your coins will be affected by cleaning or other alterations to the surface.

We hope that this article provides you with some insight into how the value of your coins may be affected. While it’s always our preference to purchase unaltered coins, we regularly purchase coins with all the issues noted above. We simply adjust our buy rates accordingly. Regardless of the condition of your coins, Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers should be your coin dealer of choice. Contact us today to see why we’re metro Atlanta’s leading coin dealer.

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Tony Davis
Tony Davis
Tony Davis is the owner of Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers, a full service Atlanta based coin and bullion dealer specializing in buying, selling and appraising coins and coin collections of all types and sizes. Tony frequently writes on various economic and numismatic related topics affecting the coin and bullion markets and has been published on some of the industry’s leading websites, including Coin Week, the American Numismatic Association, Coin Collector, Coinflation, and Coin Auctions Help, just to name a few. Visit Atlanta Gold & Coin’s website at atlantagoldandcoin.com to obtain additional information on the products, services and educational resources offered by his company. Tony can be reached at sales@atlantagoldandcoin.com or at 404-236-9744

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