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From the March 2003 issue of ACCent, the newsletter of the Anchorage Coin Club:


Cleaned Or Ugly Coins? Here's How To Improve Them

By Mike Nourse


    The good news is that improving lightly cleaned or somewhat ugly coins is about as simple as anybody could ever ask for. All you have to do is take the offending coins out of their album, 2X2, or whatever holders they happen to be stored in, gather a group of 10 to 20 of them together, then simply carry them around in your pocket! It really is that simple. No need to bother fooling around with expensive toxic chemicals, no elbow grease required, and this improving method is absolutely free.

    As with most things in this world, you can not get the good without a little bit of bad. There are two notable downsides to the 'carry them in your pocket' method of improving coins. The first is quite obvious - you will wear the details down a little bit. Your Very Fine Walking Liberty half dollar may very well end up being a nice Fine-15 by the time you get done. You should not loose more than half a grade, as such problems as ugly toning or light cleaning only affect the surface of the coin. Remember that it is our objective here to actually cause some wear. The ugly toning or evidence of cleaning do not magically disappear when you put the coins in your pocket. The defects are slowly worn away by having the coins rub against each other. That is why a group of 10 to 20 coins works best - so that they can wear each other down a little bit.

    The other downside to improving coins in this way is that it is very, very slow. It usually takes at least three to six months to get good results, and that is for somebody like me who works 50 hours a week in a factory environment in which I am on my feet, constantly moving around, rather than sitting down at a desk job. When you are up and walking around, the coins will also be moving around in your pocket and rubbing against each other to cause the desired wear. If you are sitting still, the coins will also be still, and no progress will be made. If you work at a desk job or are attending school, it will likely take well over a year to achieve the desired results.

    I have observed that the best results seem to be achieved on silver coins. They regain a natural look much faster than nickel coins (which seem to take forever). Copper coins never seem to regain their normal color in the protected areas of the field. I have not tried carrying around any gold coins yet, so I am not sure how well it will work in this department.

    Profit minded individuals will be wondering if you can actually make money by carrying coins around in your pockets. The answer is, theoretically, yes. If you find an advertisement for a particular item that is listed as "Fine-12, cleaned" and priced as a Good-4, you may be able to wear it down to a nice problem free Very Good-8. You would end up with a decent VG for the price of a Good. It will take a while, but you may end up with a bargain.

    At this time, your mind is probably churning with ideas of how you can speed this process up a bit. Maybe if I just rub two coins together really hard for a few minutes, it will wear away the same amount of metal as carrying them around for three months? What if I try some really fine sandpaper? Either of these two methods will remove the top layer of metal (our objective) but will impart a shiny, artificial look with many hairlines (not our objective). Any method of speeding up the wear process is almost certainly going to microscopically scratch the design elements. You may not be able to see the scratches, but they will be there and their cumulative effect will be an unpleasant appearance. There really is no substitute (that I am aware of) for carrying the coins around for a good long time. Think about it: they were originally created to function as pocket change, so there is no better way to bring them back to their natural state than to use them for their intended purpose.

    One final side note about improving coins by carrying them around: you will always have some interesting items to show to people if the conversation ever turns to coin collecting. Think of the stir you will create when you dump a pocket full of flying eagle cents and Barber dimes into the tray at the airport security check! Just make sure that you don't spend any of your good coins by mistake!


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