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Inspector Collector's Coin Course

Four:  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.

Hands Off!

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:

Detecting Who's Collecting

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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:

Solve Case 10: Tools of the Trade

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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!"

Not so!  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:

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.

Solve Case 3: A Cleaning Conspiracy

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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.

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.

Solve case 9: Break the Bank

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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.

Image of coin rubbings, some cut out.

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!

Fun with Coins
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.

Fun with Coins

Solve Case 14: Collectors Crossword

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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.

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