Spotting Cleaned and Dipped Coins
In the coin market of today you need to be aware of a great deal of factors if you intend to be a successful collector, no one likes getting the wool pulled over their eyes. So it is always good to be aware of techniques and processes which people may use to alter the appearance of a coin.
Unfortunately it has been known for collectors to fall on bad luck and encounter less scrupulous or uninformed sellers and pay over the asking price for something that appears to look shiny and nice, or of value and merit, has the appearance of great luster and tone, but to then find out that the purchase is overvalued and the coin has been tampered with.
Now just to make it clear, it may be particularly appealing for a collector to wish to bring a coin back to its original glory, but I would rarely recommend that you do this. Dipping and cleaning coins is a dangerous game and will result in devaluation. There is a huge price discrepancy between an original coin that has not been touched and one that has been altered in any way!
Few circumstances warrant the cleaning of a coin and I will list those that do later.
Coins cleaned with a cloth or polished can lose anything from 20% to 25% in value if not more! Be warned!
Typical methods of cleaning are as follows:
Using metal polishes and cleaners, toothpaste, acidic condiments, baking soda, soap, scrubbing with any abrasive cloth or rag or wizzed (tooled) using hand held electronic devices such as a dremel. Bleaching, greasing and oiling. Laser cleaning and ultrasonic cleaning.
Now you may be asking yourself why this is so bad, what could be wrong with such processes?
Are we not attracted to all that glitters and shines?
When a coin is cleaned the process removes its natural patina as well as removing layers of metal. This essentially damages the coin beyond repair! What you take away you can never give back!
To give clarity the word patina is used to describe changes to the surface layer of metal on a coin. This layer changes over the course of time as a result of interactions with environmental agents or contaminants. This interaction takes time and gives coins a unique appearance. In numismatics the word patina is often synonymous with the use of the words tarnish or toning.
Most collectors prefer to have coins with patina and it can take a great number of years to form this unique aesthetic and it can be removed in one miss judged moment.
People have used various methods to attempt to restore or upgrade coins over the years and the majority of processes leave some very obvious tell tell signs.
How to tell if your coin has been tampered with:
Cleaned coins often have a dulled but bright appearance that will look out of place in comparison to a well circulated coin.
You may see the appearance of greater than natural lustre on the coin, especially if it is old.
Do not expect to see reflection in old coins, they should appear dimmed and darkened.
The cartwheel lustre is not visible, coins that have not been tampered with should have a cartwheel of lustre when you inspect them. This should be especially evident in uncirculated coins! Expect to see radiating lines in a circular pattern. This should only be visible when the coin is turned.
Silver coins of age will look grey but with black build up around the detailing, this is an obvious sign of tampering. The patination can appear inconsistent as well as the toning. Watch out for old flashy white silver worn coins as these are most definitely tampered with. Remember metals tarnish so look out for such examples and compare!
If the coin has a flat luster but yet is dated it has probably been dipped, most coins will have a frosty, smooth or glossy lustre if they are untouched and you can easily see the difference.
Wizzed or tooled coins can be detected by small abrasive marks on the surface of the coins, often the finish will be mirrored. Marks may appear across the entire surface or just in a specific area. Often magnification is needed in order to detect such marks and it is highly recommended that you invest in a decent x10 microscope.
Tampered copper coins of age will appear to have a pale orange hue not the classic orange or red which they are known for. They may also have a grainy quality and can be spotted when compared to an original.
Sometimes you will find old cleaned coins, these will have been cleaned in the past and left to acquire a re tone whilst in storage. These coins will often appear to have a shiny lustre under the tone and may catch you as having an odd combination of qualities.
The more you explore the world of coins the more accustomed you will become to such signs and traits.
It can be difficult to pick up such signs when buying coins online and ebay is notorious for low quality images and dubious sellers. Remember always do your research when confronted by a new prospective seller. Look at reviews and ask for high quality images if you are not satisfied.
It is always good to have reference coins for comparison and if you feel the wish you may conduct small tests at home to examine the effects that coin cleaning can cause.
If you do wish to find out for yourself first hand the effects of coin cleaning if you are new to numismatics, I would advise using modern low value coins and a microscope to see the effects that these techniques cause. Once you have an eye for the different tampering practices it should ensure greater success at telling the unfettered from the tampered.
Now I would like to point out that you can have an exception to the rule.
There are only three instances that I would ever justify when it comes to coin cleaning and these are as follows:
If you have PVC damage on a coin from storage, whoa betide! This is avoidable use non PVC storage devices!
This requires the use of acetone, be careful use gloves and a cotton bud. Ensure you are in a well ventilated space and do not use nail polish remover buy acetone!
The coin has dirt or has built up debris on the surface. If this is the case I recommend holding it under cool distilled water for a brief period of time no longer than a few seconds and patting it dry with a soft cloth.
You have an ancient coin that needs to be identified. Leave the coin in a beaker of distilled water for a number of days no longer than a week, then proceed to soak in olive oil for up to a month. This should remove unwanted residue and any build up without having to result to abrasive or detrimental cleaning techniques.
I hope this information helps if you are new to collecting!
Remember it's all about having that eye for detail, finding reputable suppliers and taking your time! Ask for high quality images if buying online and make sure if you are buying graded coins the third party is recognised and legitimate. No camera tricks! Look for a good supplier and recognise the real from the phony.
Quality Coin Photography Top Tips
The art of photography is something to master if you wish to capture and display the best of your coin collection online, on your sellers page, or on your hobby blog.
There are a few tips that are definitely worth knowing when it comes to photographing a coin in the best light. Capturing detail is key and creating a clear and illuminated image will give the viewer a true picture of the coin, accurately depicting all markings or defects.
Capturing a crisp image makes such a difference and it can be the deciding factor in selling a coin. If you are new to photography and coin photography specifically this guide should assist in giving you the tips and techniques used professionally to capture the perfect image.
It sounds obvious, but for a high quality image you should use high quality equipment. Some people are adamant that you can get away with using low spec cameras, lighting and stands, but I would argue that you get what you pay for in life and quality begets quality.
So here is what you will need if you want to create the best quality images of your top quality coins.
First of all a decent camera is a must, as this will ensure you are able to capture high quality images. You want a digital camera with auto, macro and aperture priority modes available as a pre set option. I enjoy using a full bodied DSLR camera (Canon 100d) but some modern digitals are up to the job and have great in built lenses.
Lens wise, a custom macro lense 30mm to 150mm is the best option, I use a 105mm f2.8 Canon fit Sigma DG Macro HSM lens and can recommend it. However a normal lens can also be used, an 18mm to 200mm zoom lens is recommended if using a regular zoom lens.
Lens extenders and a diopter lens can also be equipped if needed.
Tripods, camera mounts or copy stands are essential bits of kit! You may choose between them or combine them depending on your models and preferences. I find they all offer a similar end result, ensuring stability in capturing the images required. They give you greater control when adjusting the distance between the camera and the coin. In addition you also get precise control when it comes to pre setting the angle of the camera in relation to the coin, this can be useful for showing perspective and scale as well as highlighting the surface area.
At this point I feel it is relevant to make a particular note of mentioning copy stands. Copy stands are a great addition to your photography studio, they are designed specifically for the task of replicating images. Also if your using a bulky and therefore heavy DSLR with a macro lens, a copy stand will really help with camera shake from the mirror lifting up. Another plus is the camera will move up and down effortlessly by using the crank handle, a real plus.
Depending on the model you choose you can encompass all aspects of your coin photography environment in a good copy stand. They can provide an excellent camera mount, with adjustable height control and camera angle options, they can also come with inbuilt lighting and a stable table surface for coin placement. I personally use a Kaiser RS1, which is German built so it's as sturdy as it gets.
Alternatively a modular set up might be more appealing, this is your choice and all types of equipment if used correctly will yield great results.
Lighting is also another must and I personally recommend that you purchase a LED ring light for your camera which you can attach to the lens. These are specifically designed for macro photography and are a cheap but excellent addition to your kit. When operating the ring light you must adjust the settings accordingly to the environment. Remember to set it on light mode, not flash mode and make sure the intensity is not too high, otherwise you will cancel and bleach out parts of the coins detailing. Light intensity is something to be aware of no matter the source.
If you wish to use assistive lighting from an external source this is also equally effective if used correctly. I personally would recommend using LED light sources as the white light they emit is of a good quality, I use Taotronics lights for this purpose. Other bulb options are available and some are definitely up to the job, the only thing I would say is watch out for yellow spectrum lights and shadowing from external light sources.
You may wish to combine LED ring lighting with external assistive lights, this is absolutely fine and can yield fantastic results. See what works for you!
The background that the coin is placed on is equally important and it is recommended to place the coin on an illuminated flat panel. These panels are great in ensuring you get a perfect image without shadowing. If you do not wish to use the illuminated panels a white solid and stable surface will do. Card or paper is fine, the white background will ensure no distractions and will work with the lighting.
Taking the shot:
When setting up your coin photography area you want to keep it tidy and uncluttered. Give yourself a decent amount of space to work in.
If you wish you can keep this space permanently operational, ever ready for the task of coin photography.
I recommend taking the coin out of any packaging unless it is slabbed, plastic wallets and holders only interfere with the image. You will find they add reflection or you may pick up the textures on the surface of the plastic as well as that of the coin, this you do not want. If the coin is slabbed be sure to use manual focus to avoid focusing on the slab which had you used auto focus the camera will no doubt focus on to by some degree.
Place the coin in a central position on your illuminated panel or white surface. Proceed to set the tripod, mount or copy stand up, then attach the camera. You ideally want it set up so that the camera is either faceon to the coin or at a slight angle depending on the shot you wish to take. You want the coin to appear to sit horizontally in the viewfinder as you would naturally wish it to be displayed.
If using a copy stand adjustments will vary depending on the model of stand. The same rules apply throughout all types of equipment.
Adjust the distance of the camera and play with the zoom so you have clarity in the image, the coin is accurately in focus and framed well. You want the entire surface of the coin to be in shot so make sure you are not cropping any area!
Zoom in as close as possible and keep the coin central, you want the coin to fill up the frame.
If you are using an LED light ring, make sure the lighting is not reflected over the surface of the coin especially if you are using a slabbed coin. If you are using external lighting please check for shadowing, you do not want to see shadows!
Also check the light intensity!
Use the widest aperture setting (f stop) possible, this affects your lens. I use the aperture priority mode to achieve this as it sets the shutter speed to suit the aperture opening, therefore taking a bit of guess work out of it. Just to clarify the wider the aperture the more light you have entering the camera. This results in greater levels of light reaching the image sensor. Inversely the smaller the aperture the lesser the light reaching the sensor.
You will also have to experiment with the camera white balance settings to ensure you have the correct balance and colours in the final image. Some cameras will allow you to set a custom white balance this is very helpful and is achieved by taking a photo of a piece of white paper or 18% grey card and setting the custom white balance using the photo. Make sure the lights are on when you take the photo for setting the white balance though. This is a process you will have to play with to find the best results. Increase and decrease the white balance to see how this affects the photographs. After some experimentation you will get a feel for the correct levels.
When it comes to taking a photo always use the pre set timer option, 2 seconds should be plenty. This helps in making sure the image is stable and is not affected by wobble that might be caused by you pressing the shutter release button on your camera.
The last stage of photography entails the use of image editing software, although it must be said if you have followed the above steps the end result should be sufficient.
If you would like to edit your image it is optional. Some people like to go that extra mile.
If you choose to, I would advise that you do so minimally.
For instance it is possible that a certain amount of rotation might be needed to ensure the coin is displayed at the right angle to correct any error in placement. It is good to have consistency in placement so please feel free to level all of your coins, my advice is keep them horizontal.
It is also possible to enhance the final image so you have greater levels of vibrancy, I however think this is not needed as you are essentially doctoring the photo, although this is my preference and the choice is ultimately yours.
But it can be desired and this is easily achieved by increasing colour saturation or using more advanced editing techniques depending on the editing software you choose. You can also preset your camera settings to vivid HDR mode which achieves a similar result.
You may also wish to alter white balance levels, this is to bring the picture of the coin as close to the true likeness of the real coin as is possible, but yet again only if it is needed.
Other options are playing with the sharpness or softness of the image or filling in the edge of the coin to create a smoother appearance, but this is not essential.
I hope this guide helps! Obviously it requires a certain amount of equipment and time but I believe the results are worth it! Enjoy and have fun taking photos!
Looking After Your Pretty Pennies
Coin Handling Guide
If you are a collector or thinking of starting and you wish to keep your coins in the best condition it is important to consider your methods for handling your coins. Now it may sound obvious, many of us handle coins on a regular basis, but there is a difference in how we should handle our collector coins and our regular change.
Handling collector coins should always be done with the up most care, as damage can occur as a result of miss handling and bad practice can lead to devaluation.
Considering a great deal of a coins value can be placed upon the level of perfection found in the coins presentation, you might be surprised to know that how you handle a collector coin can effect that value tremendously.
The safest method to use when having to pick up a coin with your hands is to hold the coin from the sides, refrain from touching the obverse and reverse surfaces (the head or tail). Even the oils produced by our skin can damage a collector or proof coin.
It is recommended that you purchase yourself a pair of cotton non lint forming gloves.
Plastic gloves can sometimes contain powder coatings or other substances that may harm the coin, so we recommend you avoid these if possible.
As tempting as it may be to get your collection out, the truth is the less you handle your coins the better.
As a rule I would recommend that you avoid cleaning coins at all costs.
It may be tempting to bring a coin back to its original lustre. But more often than not this will lead to you damaging the coin.
Coin cleaning for me is a practice I do not partake in, but it is a good subject worth covering.
First of all I would like to outline what you should never do if you can't resist the temptation and give in to the wish to clean!
Using wire wool or abrasive scrubbing pads to clean coins is never an option anyone should employ, this has been done in the past with disastrous results. Acids should be avoided and most cleaning products as well as tap water.
However there are some processes you can use for cleaning that should be mentioned which if done correctly will not cause harm.
Ultrasound would be one of them, but undertake this with care and do not batch clean, you must do this on a coin by coin basis.
There are certain substances, solvents like acetone, which is found in nail polish remover that will remove stains or build up on coins. However if this is something you are willing to consider, never substitute acetone for nail polish removers as they often contain a range of additional chemicals that can cause harm. Also remember that acetone melts plastic so please keep this in mind.
Another cleaning method is to soak old coins in olive oil as this will slowly remove any unwanted build up over time. But keep in mind if a coin is encased due to material build up it is probably beyond saving, as even if you can remove the sediments what is left has probably also been damaged.
A very weak soap and purified water solution can also be used but yet again I would be cautious, and never use a detergent.
As I stated I would avoid the practice of cleaning, but if you were to clean a coin it is good to be aware of the safer methods available to you.
How you store your coins is incredibly important especially if you wish to hold on to them for a great deal of time whilst maintaining the quality of your collections condition.
Ideally the perfect environment is a safe deposit box in a bank as these environments have been purposefully designed to store precious materials and objects. However this is not the most practical option for every individual and should only be considered when dealing with coins of exceptional value.
Security at home is something that you can work on yourself and a decent safe should provide you with some level of comfort. Also consider getting an insurance policy if you plan to store coins in the home.
When it comes to the paraphernalia needed for storage and cataloguing many people use a range of folders, envelopes, boxes and glass jars to fulfil these needs and these are all perfectly fine.
The only comment I would like to make on this subject is focused on the use of folders or wallets that contain PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). Avoid the use of PVC products. PVC plastics degrade over time and under high temperatures and will cause damage to your coins in the process. PVC is most commonly found in the flip folders that are sometimes sold and used within the coin collecting community. PVC is a plastic softener and you can often smell PVC, it smells like low grade plastic. My advice is look for less pliable wallets as a rule or take time to note the material of the product if its listed. Look for Mylar products that will be stiffer and harder than the PVC equivalents. Mylar does not suffer from the same degradation process and will not damage, tarnish or at worst eat through your coins. If you notice any change to your coins stored under plastic, please change the storage options immediately. Acetone is effective against PVC damage if you are unfortunate enough to suffer from it.
Environmentally coins are quite easy to keep. They are best preserved in environments with low levels of humidity and a lack of moisture. Exposure to the elements is something to avoid, keep the coins somewhere secure where they will be individually preserved without facing abrasion and erosion and they will be quite happy. Many traders sell coin collection specific storage devices that are perfectly suited for the purpose of coin storage.
Just remember if you can, segment your coins into individual pouches, envelopes or boxes, this will help with preservation and makes them easier to catalogue and observe.
A Brief History Of Coin Production
When it comes to the process of making coins there are three methods that you will hear of in Numismatic circles.
These are as follows:
- Hammered coinage.
- Cast or casting coinage.
- Milled coinage or machine struck coinage
These names directly refer to the production methods and processes used to create a coin. These techniques and methods used to create and shape coins have evolved throughout human history as we have became more advanced in our knowledge of manufacturing processes. With these changes came a range of benefits, leading to more elaborate coins and higher quality productions. Many of these advancements came about to make it harder to produce counterfeit imitations and to secure currency, as well as make coins in greater levels of abundance.
Coins have been used as a method of currency for a considerable period of human history, the oldest surviving example we currently have on record is over 2,700 years old.
The first coins that we know of were produced using the hammered coinage techniques. These coins were made manually by hand and hammered and struck using a die, this gave every coin produced distinct individuality and would have been a laborious and time consuming process. The dies were hand crafted by artisans and the designs would have been created using the process of engraving. The first coins that we know of were also only one sided due to the use of primitive techniques available at the time.
The blanks or flans themselves that the dies would imprint upon were prepared by hammering metal in to shape, or they would be cut from a moulded strip.
As well as hammered coins many early coins were made using a mould and they are known as cast coins. This technique of casting coins is predominantly associated with ancient China and Asia.
Coins were made in batches, by pouring liquid metal in to moulds. These were created in strips that would be broken and cut down in to individual units. The word cash is thought to come from a number of different sources, one of which was a word used in China when referring to the currency at the time.
Milled or Machine Struck Coins
It was in 1550 that coinage techniques used in European mints advanced in to milled or machine struck methods. Before this time coins were predominantly hammered within Europe, some examples of casting coins can be found prior to this date but hammered coins were definitely more prevalent.
Milled or machine struck coins were revolutionary and brought with them a great change in monetary production. This new advancement in the production of coins required mechanisation and new advanced systems of manufacture.
The first country to develop this technology was France and the process of production was guarded and the methods were cloaked in secrecy.
There were many benefits that came as a result of these new methods of production.
For instance coins could now be produced with a uniform thickness, perfectly round blanks could now be cut from rolled metal and the speed of production increased. The ability to consistently produce well struck coins made it harder for counterfeiters to replicate coins and ensured a more stable economy.
It was under Elizabeth I in the year of 1560 that England saw the first use of milled coin production. Tower Mint, the English mint, employed the skills of the French and the era of the great recoinage began.
Machined coins have advanced over the years and have come along way from the original minting systems, from the use of hand rolled or pressed coins, to steam powered production in the industrial revolution and eventually to the fully automated presses that we use today.
Obviously advancements in technology have meant that modern day coins are far more elaborate than their humble predecessors. However there is a beauty to be seen in all types and levels of production and from all eras. Coins have and continue to hold a fascination and the details found on any coin continue to attract attention, retain authenticity and hold a great deal of information.
Here's a video of the Royal Mint at Tower hill in 1956:
The start up guide to coin collecting
Coin collecting or as it’s known Numismatics.
The word numismatics comes from the adjective numismatic which means “of coins”. It all stems from the Greek word nomisma which means “current coin”.
Numismatics actually refers to the study or collection of not only coins, but also tokens, paper money and related objects.
When it comes to coins there are two types of value systems.
Numismatic value and credit value. These are two very different things. When someone talks about credit value, they mean the standardized value of the denomination. For example a pound is a worth a pound, it is it’s worth at face value and that value is upheld by law. Numismatic value is used to refer to the value in excess of the denomination or the face value, it is its collectors value.
Why do people collect coins?
Coin collecting has been around for decades, history shows us examples of collectors being active in eras that predate the Roman Empire.
Now for some the activity of collecting coins may seem like a relic of bygone years, perhaps something your Grandad used to do, you could view the practice as an antiquated hobby.
I can see how people could view coin collecting in this light, but I would have to disagree.
For many coin collecting has great appeal and that appeal doesn’t appear to be dying out, in fact coin collecting is on the rise and with good reason.
You may even surprise yourself, if you are new to collecting, when you discover the interest and passion that surrounds coin collecting.
Remember it can be a great deal of fun, but also remember to budget!
“Pennies make pounds” as the saying goes. Collecting coins can definitely make you money. Looking at coins as an investment is something that many people do. Many coins carry a commodity value, for instance bullion coins. Throughout history coins have been made of varying materials, certain coins are comprised of bronze, copper, gold, platinum or silver and as a result they have a precious metal value. These types of coin are often kept as an investment (especially in our unstable economy!). Yet more often than not it is not the commodity value which will see a coin sell for more, it is its rarity. Rare coins and beautiful coins are highly sought after and many a collector will pay above and beyond for what they consider to be something special. Factors that are considered when it comes to beauty are, the design and artwork, the lustre, the toning, the perfection and the category of coin to name but a few.
Many a coin collector collects with a certain niche in mind. Be it coins of an era, coins from a specific set, error coins, coins of specific metal content, the lists go on. There is always a pursuit in mind. The challenge of collecting the whole set, or to find the perfect coin is a driving force for many individuals who collect coins, or it could be as a result of a specific historical interest or a love of the art and detailing. The niche interests are many and varied. Some collectors even go out with metal detectors in hand on the hunt for coins, consider the wonder of stumbling across an old Roman treasure trove or a coin that was dropped in years gone by!
Coins are beautiful things, they have a certain lustre about them due to the materials used in their manufacture. The nature of coins is to represent value and that value can be seen in a myriad of ways. If you’ve ever felt a fascination whilst holding a coin, observing its artwork, looking at the engravings and appreciating the finer details, then this is what I’m talking about!
Colour and tones and imagery and precious metals all come together in coins, from beautiful portraits of monarchs and rulers, to flags and iconography, emblems and writing, a coin conveys a great deal and there is much beauty to behold if you take the time to look.
History and knowledge
Coins have been around for a very long time and have been used across the globe. As a result you can find out a great deal of information from looking at a coin. They are representative of the culture and eras that they came or come from. The imagery, inscriptions and information found upon a coin will open you up to a whole world of knowledge, relevant to a particular time in history, to a particular place and the people who lived therein. You can learn a lot about history, society, politics and culture just by looking at a coin.
Another great thing about coins is that they will only ever really increase in value in the long term. As objects get older they become more valuable as a rule. This is true even with our modern coins that we now produce, even though that may not hold a great deal of mineral wealth in comparison to older coins or bullion coins, if they are kept in good condition, the value will only increase over time as this is the trend that is prevalent in coin collecting and trading.
If you have children, it can also be a nice gift for the their future if you go to the bank and purchase new coins on the year they are born. If you continue this until they are old enough to either take up the interest themselves, they can carry it on, or if not they have an heirloom which they can cash in themselves.
Because it is fun, hobbies help focus your time on something that you can do purely for enjoyment. Stress relieving and engaging, hobbies are healthy ways of spending time focusing on something you find interesting that is just for you. The coin collecting community is growing and becoming a part of it is a great way of meeting new people. Collecting coins are a fantastic way to unwind and give you a certain sense of achievement that you don’t find in other pursuits.