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This important guide is the direct result of

Summit 2000, a precedent-setting conference to examine crucial issues facing dealers and collectors, conducted in December 2000. Organized by the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) and the Industry Council for Tangible Assets (ICTA), the summit produced frank and candid discussions to identify numismatic concerns and problems, ways to correct them and proposals to plant seeds for future growth of the hobby and marketplace. Major topics discussed at the summit included numismatic education and grading services. One of the first tangible accomplishments of the conference is this educational booklet for collectors and dealers to clear up misconceptions and misunderstandings about coin cleaning and restoration. Under a committee chaired by Mark Salzberg, this guide is a cooperative effort by (in alphabetical order): Independent Coin Grading Company (ICG); ICTA; Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC); Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS); and PNG. Numismatics is an enjoyable pursuit. This booklet is designed to help buyers and sellers become knowledgeable about one of the most important and misunderstood numismatic concepts coin conservation.

The P urpose

of This Guide

One of the least understood areas of numismatics centers around the cleaning and conservation of coins. To many collectors and dealers, the word cleaned sets off an alarm, since this term is sometimes cited by third-party grading services as the reason for declining to certify a coin. Of course, what the grading services mean when they return an uncertified coin as cleaned is that it has been harshly cleaned, leaving a completely unnatural appearance. But when a coin is skillfully cleaned by persons having knowledge of the proper conservation techniques, the result is often a specimen thats attractive and desirable in the marketplace and that will readily be certified. The widespread confusion that exists over the distinction between undesirable cleaning versus proper conservation has alarmed many coin enthusiasts. It is hoped that this booklet will serve to clarify that distinction and permit both collectors and dealers alike to trade coins in an atmosphere of confidence.

The cleaning of coins has a long history. When numismatics first flourished, during the Renaissance period of the 15th Century, it was the coinage of the ancient Romans and Greeks that struck the fancy of wealthy gentlemen and scholars. These pieces were typically recovered from hoards buried in antiquity, and it was not unusual to find such coins deeply encrusted with earth and minerals. While the gold and silver coins were fairly easy to clean, due to the durability of their metal, copper and bronze coins presented a greater challenge. Even after removal of soil and other contaminants, these coins frequently retained a fine patina, or coloration. Typical shades were emerald green and Tuscan red, and the owners of these gradually came to prize such patination as a sign of the coins antiquity. Even today, collectors of ancient bronze pieces are drawn by their distinctive colors, and detailed descriptions of these coins will usually include the specifics of their coloration. This fact notwithstanding, proper conservation of newly discovered specimens usually includes extensive cleaning to remove encrusted contamination. When coin collecting first achieved widespread popularity in the United States during the 1850s, many budding numismatists obtained their specimens from banks, bullion brokers, toll keepers and others who were likely to encounter large numbers of coins in the normal course of business. As is true of most beginning collectors, their first impulse was to render their coins bright and shiny through harsh cleaning. Many of the surviving United States coins made before about 1840 have been cleaned at some time in an attempt to make them look new, much of this activity having occurred during the latter half of the nineteenth century. This is particularly true of gold and silver pieces, somewhat less so for copper specimens.

Coins that exhibited normal tarnish were oftentimes dipped into potassium cyanide to strip away their patina and leave them bright. Even the United States Mints own curators would periodically spruce up that institutions collection with a rinsing in cyanide, a risky business given this substances highly toxic nature. In fact, the poisonous compound is known to have taken the life of at least one prominent numismatist who, while engrossed in his cleaning endeavors, mistook the deadly chemical for a nearby glass of ginger ale. Fortunately, the use of cyanide to clean coins was abandoned decades ago, and most of the pieces so treated have naturally retoned to some degree.


is a widely accepted tool

It seems that numismatics is nearly the only field in which the cleaning of objects is still perceived as taboo. Collectors are told repeatedly by columnists and other well meaning individuals in the hobby to never clean their coins. This advice is offered as a means of protecting coins solely from clumsy, unskilled attempts at cleaning, but it has left a lingering impression that any kind of restorative work is strictly forbidden. This stands in stark contrast to nearly all other fields of collectibles. For example, the restoration and conservation of art works is performed routinely. Indeed, to not undertake this work is viewed by the art community as negligence. Among conservators of antique furniture, it is not at all unusual for a piece to be completely disassembled, stripped of its varnish and then refinished in its entirety. As long as this work is done with respect to the original materials and to the appearance of the object before it deteriorated, the collecting and museum community view such work as not only natural but quite desirable. Tarnished silverware and pieces of jewelry are not

condemned as cleaned when they have had their beauty restored, so why then are coins? Professional coin conservators are no less skilled and responsible than conservators in other fields, so it is time to re-evaluate the cleaning and conservation of coins in this new light.


We Stand Toda y

The term cleaned continues to be widely misunderstood. Perhaps, this is because the resulting appearance of a coin that has been cleaned stretches across a broad continuum. There is no obvious dividing line between what is certifiable and what is not, yet a professional grader will intuitively know the difference. This is a challenging concept for the novice collector, and even some experienced hobbyists are uncertain where the boundary lies. When it comes to very old coins, such as United States issues prior to 1840, grading services typically employ a somewhat more liberal standard in determining what degree of cleaning is acceptable. As noted above, many early U.S. coins (and world coins of similar vintage) have been cleaned at one time or another. To condemn all cleaned coins as uncertifiable would render an entire segment of the numismatic market off limits. Some leeway must be given for these early coins, provided that their appearance is still acceptable. Indeed, this raises an important point: The numismatic marketplace usually places cleaned coins into two categories those that retain an acceptable appearance and those that do not. This is an important distinction, because the major third-party grading services will not certify coins that have an unnatural

appearance as the result of harsh cleaning. Some of the features that can make a cleaned coin undesirable are hairline scratches from abrasive action, a loss of luster from excessive metal removal and a strange color to the metal (this latter condition is especially true of cleaned copper and bronze coins). In contrast, a coin which has been lightly cleaned in a manner that is consistent with proper conservation techniques will not only remain certifiable but may even become more desirable by virtue of its enhanced appearance. Thus, cleaning is not exclusively a bad thing. It is only the harsh and unskilled cleaning of coins that harms their appearance and makes them unappealing. When it comes to cleaning coins, often one starts out thinking that he or she is an expert. It is only when the sad results are revealed that collectors and dealers learn just how challenging the proper conservation of coins can be. It is a job best left to experts.


to do?

When is it appropriate to clean a coin, and what techniques should be used? These questions can be answered authoritatively only on a case-by-case basis, yet certain general rules apply. For instance, coins should be cleaned when such action is needed to prevent further deterioration. As an example, a coin that has an active contaminant adhering to it should have this substance removed immediately. Perhaps the most frequently encountered contaminant is polyvinyl chloride (PVC) residue. PVC is a compound added to many plastic coin holders to make them flexible. Such holders are suitable for short-term use, such as displaying a coin for sale, but over a period of years the PVC will leach out of the plastic base and begin to deposit itself on a coins surface. This residue appears as a pale green film, and it can react with moisture in the

air to form hydrochloric acid. It doesnt take a degree in chemistry to imagine what prolonged acid exposure can do to a coins appearance. This is a substance that must be removed, and the coins surface neutralized, yet the proper method of removal is not common knowledge among collectors and dealers. Only a skilled conservator should perform such cleaning. Just as not all surgeries are performed to save a life, the conservation of coins can likewise have a purely cosmetic aspect. Some coins are cleaned simply to make them more attractive while retaining their acceptability within the marketplace. An example of such an image enhancement would be the removal of blotchy or irregular toning. The appearance of one or more colors on a coins surfaces toning occurs naturally when reactive metals are exposed to the environment. All coinage metals react with their environment by forming new chemical compounds that can alter a coins appearance to varying degrees. Such reactions are scarcely noticeable on coins made of gold or platinum, as these metals are highly resistant to their environment. Nickel, in its pure form, is also quite resistant to chemical change, but when it is alloyed with copper, as it is in United States coins, it too can be sensitive to the environment. Of the metals commonly used in United States coinage, copper and silver are the most reactive. While toning can sometimes result in extraordinarily beautiful specimens that are seemingly alive with color, unattractive or irregular toning reduces a coins appeal and is best removed. This is always a judgment call, and inexperienced persons are often too quick to eliminate toning that would be perceived by a veteran numismatist as desirable. Toning on copper or bronze coins cannot be removed without leaving a harsh, unnaturally orange color that is not acceptable to knowledgeable coin buyers. Copper coins that have been cleaned in this manner are oftentimes subjected to a process

that accelerates their retoning in an attempt to make them acceptable once again. Fortunately, the major thirdparty grading services can spot such efforts and will reject these treated coins for certification. Silver and gold coins, however, can be treated to remove heavy or undesirable toning without negatively affecting a coins value and appeal to a numismatist. Indeed, the removal of certain types of toning is sometimes critical to the coins long term preservation. Once again, the key to making a correct call lies in understanding proper conservation techniques. Anyone can dip a coin in one of the several mild acid solutions that have superseded cyanide as the cleaning agent of choice, but only a professional knows when such action is in the best interest of enhancing the coins appearance and its preservation. Proper conservation also directs that such a cleaning be followed with a neutralizing action that will stop the chemical reaction from continuing and will stabilize the coins surfaces for generations to come.

P roper conservation

v ersus coin doctoring

One controversial issue that must be addressed is the practice, or rather malpractice, of coin doctoring. This term refers to any changes made to a coins condition or appearance in an effect to deceptively enhance its value. This is the ugly side street of coin restoration that can hamper the efforts of legitimate coin conservators who seek only to reveal the natural attributes that a coin possesses already. In contrast, the coin doctor seeks to cover

up a coins flaws with artificial enhancements or to make it appear better than it ever did previously. His ultimate goal is to slip a specimen past the third-party certification services and achieve a grade that does not reflect the coins actual state. Fortunately, the certification services can detect the efforts of these fraudulent practitioners, and their attempts at deception are seldom rewarded. One example of coin doctoring would be the filling in of tiny nicks and scratches with an epoxy or putty. Another example is applying artificial or accelerated toning to a coin that has been improperly cleaned in an attempt to cover up evidence of such cleaning. This may be achieved by applying a combination of heat and chemicals, though the resulting coin is not satisfactory and is easily detected by a professional grader. The coin doctor may also try to simulate or enhance the attractive contrast between brilliant fields and frosted devices typical of some prooflike coins by etching their relief elements with a mild acid or by plating their flat fields with chromium or some other highly reflective substance. Years ago, such practices deceived many collectors and dealers, but the advent of coin certification services has nearly driven this activity to extinction. Such attempts at improving a coin through deceptive means stand in stark contrast to the work of professional coin conservators. Also not qualifying as conservation are mechanical repairs made to coins. These include the filling of holes, the smoothing out of scratches and the reengraving of details lost through wear or damage. While this work will no doubt continue to be performed for years to come, it does not qualify as conservation, and coins subjected to such improvements will not be graded by the major coin certification companies.

The proper cleaning and conservation of coins is a partnership between art and science. It is not an endeavor to be undertaken by the novice, a fact reinforced by the thousands of coins that have been rejected for certification by the third-party grading services. For every coin that an amateur has improved through his or her efforts, countless more pieces have been harmed, some irretrievably so. There are two points that the reader of this booklet should take away from it. The first is that the cleaning and conservation of coins is a challenging task, one that requires years of experience and study to perfect. In most instances, it should be performed only by a professional conservator. The second is that any collector or dealer, whatever his or her level of skill, should be able to learn which coins have been subjected to undesirable cleaning. This is simply a matter of examining pieces that have already been certified and comparing them against ones that have been rejected as cleaned. Knowledge is the key to success in any pursuit, and learning to distinguish between properly and improperly cleaned coins is an important step in the education of any coin enthusiast.