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Tricks of the Trade —
Handling Your Coins with Care
By: Jeff Ambio, ANA, NLG
I have been an avid coin collector for 26 years and a professional rare coin expert and numismatic author for more than a decade. During that time, I have discussed all aspects of rare coins and the numismatic market with thousands of individuals. Most are everyday people whose only link to coin collecting is the chance acquisition of some old coins from a family member’s cookie jar or safe deposit box. Indeed, the vast majority of conversations that I have had with people about rare coins have started something like this:
Jeff, so-and-so told me that you work with rare coins. I have a few old coins that I got a couple of years ago from Granddaddy Pete . Can you tell me what they are worth?
Of course, I am always willing to oblige, especially since the study of rare coins is not just a rewarding career for me, but also an enjoyable hobby and a source of great pleasure.
Before even discussing value, however, I always provide some basic pointers about handling old coins. These “tricks of the trade” will help you preserve the value of your coins and get the most money when the time comes to sell.
1.            Only Hold a Coin by its Edge. There are natural oils in your skin that can discolor or otherwise harm the surfaces of a coin, thereby lowering its value. Be careful that your fingers and hands do not come into contact with the coins’ surfaces. Only touch the edge—the portion of a coin that rarely shows fingerprints or other forms of chemical damage to the detriment of the coin.
2.            Do not Breathe Directly onto the Surface of a Coin. In the same vein, do not talk, chew or otherwise open and close your mouth in close proximity to your coins. The saliva in our mouths can leave spots or other forms of discoloration on a coin’s surfaces, thereby lowering its value.
3.            Only Handle a Coin over a Soft, Nonabrasive Surface. Should you accidentally drop a coin, therefore, it is much less likely to acquire scratches, nicks, dings or other forms of physical damage that could lower its value. Also, do not slide coins over a table or other hard surface as such handling can impart scratches or other detracting marks.
4.            DO NOT WIPE, BUFF, POLISH OR OTHERWISE ATTEMPT TO CLEAN ANY OF YOUR COINS. I have placed this simple, straightforward advice in capital letters because it is the one that people are most likely to ignore, thereby preventing them from realizing full market value for their coins. Improperly cleaning a coin, even with just a little bit of soap and water, will almost always cause physical damage to its surfaces. The damage is often on a microscopic level and may not be readily evident to the untrained eye. Rest assured, however, that improperly cleaning a coin will impart hairline-thin scratches to its surfaces. These scratches are actually called hairlines, and their effect on a coin’s value can be catastrophic. Improperly cleaned coins are always worth significantly less than pieces that are left in their original state of preservation.
5.            Do not attempt to repair a coin in any way. Some of the coins that you have found or inherited might possess scratches, nicks, cuts, holes or other forms of damage that you suspect will lower their value when the time comes to sell. You are correct—such features always lower a coin’s value—but attempts to plug a hole, smooth over a scratch or otherwise repair a coin will almost certainly lower its value even further.