Keep It Nice
Now we'll explore the mysteries of handling coins.
"What mysteries," you ask?
True, we all handle coins most every day...but usually not in the way that's best for the coins!
That's why handling coins well is such a mystery.
Coins for collections should be free of fingerprints, even if you can't see them.
Ever notice how dull the old circulating coins are?
That's because everyone's skin has oil on it and the oils from hands can ruin the coins' surface after awhile.
Here's how to make sure your special coins stay clean:
Wash your hands before you touch them.
Don't eat or drink while you're handling them.
Hold them over a soft surface, like a towel, in case you drop them.
Don't talk close to coins.
Tiny droplets of saliva from your mouth can land on the coins, causing spots later that are hard or impossible to get off.
Never touch the front or back of the coins with your fingers.
If you buy a coin in a plastic holder, leave it there.
Hold them only by their edges, between your fingertips.
Get into the habit of holding coins by the edges—even circulating coins that already have some wear.
There's no sense in adding more wear to your collection—or someone else's!
It's considered bad manners to pick up another collector's coin without touching only the rim.
Don't drop a coin to test its ring.
If you nick it, it can never be fixed.
And never use metal pincers or other tools that could dent or scratch the coins.
Let's see how you handle yourself on this case!
Click the case icon.
Now that you know how to handle coins with care, let's think about what we need in order to look at them more closely.
Unlocking all the mysteries in the tiny world of your coins can be impossible without some help.
Here's a list of some simple tools that will make your investigation more complete:
Latex gloves to keep dirt and grease off coins while handling them.
A 75-watt directional light (not fluorescent) for examining coins.
A velvet cloth or padded tray for handling and viewing coins.
A scale for weighing coins.
A plastic ruler to measure your coins (a metal ruler can scratch them).
A magnifying glass for seeing all the tiny details.
A reference book to help you make decisions about deals.
A notebook or software to keep track of your collection.
Got your tools?
Solve the case!
Another reason to keep coins from getting dirty is that coins are very hard to clean.
"What" you say?
"Coins are made of metal!
They're almost indestructible!"
Think about the fact that the relief on a coin is made by simply stamping the metal with a die.
Think about the fact that coin dies, which are also made of metal, wear out after less than a year of use.
And think about the fact that, once it gets dirty, a coin is very hard or impossible to clean without damaging it.
Once the shine is gone, there's no safe way to get it back.
Cleaning usually does more harm than good—it removes metal and adds scratches.
If you decide to clean, here are some tips:
If you get fresh fingerprints on a coin, you can wipe them off gently with a soft cloth, but even that can leave tiny scratches that will hurt their value for collectors.
And never use a brush or harsh cleansers on coins—they can scratch and wear away the metal.
If you find some loose dirt—but as seldom as possible—gently swish the coin in a solution of pure, mild soap and water, rinse it with distilled water, and let it air dry.
If a coin is discolored, don't try to change it—the colors that can appear on old coins makes them more valuable than they would be if their surfaces were stripped away by rough cleaning.
Coins can "tone" when they are exposed to sulfur and other chemicals for a long time.
If a coin is green and slimy from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), don't try to clean it yourself.
This is a serious problem that's best handled by a professional (see Lesson Five).
There are more details about PVC under "Displaying and Storing."
Never use any kind of jewelry polish on coins because of its harsh grit.
"Home remedies" like erasers, vinegar, lemon juice, and tomato juice are also more harmful than helpful.
So, basically, don't clean your coins, especially if they're old and rare or if you might want to sell them someday.
Most collectors and dealers won't buy coins that have been cleaned.
If you have common coins that need a washing, try waiting to find one that's in better shape.
If you do want to clean these common coins just so they'll look better to you, do it carefully, paying attention to what material they're made of.
Rub with vegetable or olive oil and wipe with a soft cloth.
Never wash copper coins with soap and water because the high spots will look bad.
Nickel or silver:
Work up a lather in your hands with mild soap and water and scrub with your fingertips only.
Rinse off the suds with water and air dry.
Baking soda and water may leave microscopic scratches on these coins, but gives them a nice shine.
Have you learned the secrets of safe cleaning?
Try case 3.
Displaying and Storing
Where should you keep all your numismatic treasures?
When it's time to put your coins away—maybe for weeks or months—you want to be sure that they're in a place that will keep them well.
Some containers—like envelopes—are better for storing than for displaying, but others—like plastic coin trays—are great for both.
Here are some types of holders you can buy at a coin store, office supply store, hobby shop, or even online.
Paper envelopes, best for circulating coins.
If they'll be holding the coins for years, get acid-free envelopes because acid can damage coins.
Plastic tubes, good for rolls of coins.
2-by-2 cardboard holders.
These have a clear plastic holder for the coin and a cardboard flap in the back that you staple closed, and are best for short-term use.
You may need to use these if you can't find a ready-made album for rare or foreign coins, or if you want to record more information than an album provides.
You can see both sides of the coins.
Plastic sleeves can be kept inside flips or coin-sized envelopes for a short time.
Just make sure they're the kind made for coins!
Coins will keep for a long time in bags made of Mylar or polyethylene, but bags made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC)—the kind used for storing food—can coat your coins with green slime, which eats into a coin's surface.
Flips are clear plastic holders with two pockets—one for the coin, the other for a label.
Remember to identify your coins as part of the display.
When you take a coin out of a flip, you should "bow" it by squeezing the sides together to make an opening so you won't scratch the coin on the way out or in.
Some flips are brittle and could break, but if yours are soft, watch out—they may be made with PVC.
Three-ring binder pages.
Vinyl pages with 20 pockets each are not very expensive and also let you see both sides of the coins.
Cardboard fold-out albums.
These are inexpensive, easy to get, and already labeled with each coin's date and mintage.
When closed, the coins don't touch.
They're held in place by the friction of the hole against the edge.
The main disadvantage of folders is that they show only one side of each coin (though in a date and mint mark collection, this isn't a serious problem).
Also, worn coins tend to slip out of the holes because wear has made them smaller.
Albums show both sides of each coin through clear plastic, which also protects them, and they don't take up much room.
Plastic coin trays.
Slabs are sonically sealed hard plastic holders for individual coins.
You would have it done only to really valuable coins, by a professional.
Special folders for common collections—like type sets—are easy to find and don't cost much.
But when you store coins in folders, never paste them into the slots.
The glue will damage their surface.
You can get ideas about how to display as well as store your coins by visiting numismatic displays at museums.
Time to empty your piggy bank...after a few true or false questions, that is.
Click the icon.
Hot and Cold, Wet and Dry
Moisture and air are your coins' worst enemies—both will discolor them.
Keep your coins in a room that's dry and in a place that's not too close to a heat source.
An unheated attic gets too hot and cold and a damp basement holds moisture that could tarnish and corrode them.
Even if they're stored in a safe deposit box at a bank, check your coins once in a while to make sure they look happy and aren't getting "slimed" or developing other problems.
This rubs me the right way!
Here's an idea that's both fun and useful:
coin rubbings. Rubbings can help you keep track of your coins if you keep them in envelopes—just paste rubbings on the outside so you know what's inside!
Click here for more
fun coin projects.
But you don't even need a collection to do this fun project.
Just find some coins.
Either way, you can cut the rubbings out and use them as play money or make a "collection" for your little brother or sister.
Here's the rub
To make a good rubbing, you might want to put the coin on something made of rubber like the back of a mouse pad to keep it from sliding on the table.
Hold some paper—the thinner the better—on top of your coin.
Get a good grip so it doesn't move around.
Then rub the paper where the coin is with the side of a pencil or crayon.
It will come out best if you don't press too hard, but with a little practice you'll get the hang of it.
Here are a whole bunch of ideas for fun with coins.
Click the icon.
Here's fun a way to see if you remember some of your reading:
the Collectors Crossword.
Click the icon.