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The Basis for Collecting and Appreciating Naturally Toned Coins, Part 3

By Greg Reynolds for CoinLink

In Part 1, I frame the topic and put forth perspectives of very accomplished, active collectors regarding natural toning. As I discuss in Part 2, preferring coins with natural toning is a tradition at the core of the culture of coin collecting in the U.S.

Here in Part 3, I maintain that the case for strongly favoring naturally toned coins goes beyond collector opinions and tradition. There have always been logical reasons for determining that coins with natural toning and/or mostly original surfaces are superior.

nat_toned_120609(1) Coin collecting has been a popular and serious pastime for around 150 years in the United States, and there has always been a strong tradition of valuing, all other things being equal, coins with mostly original surfaces and/or natural toning over those that have been treated with acids (including dipping), artificially toned, surgically altered or deliberately chemically affected in other ways.

It is fair to conclude that experts in earlier eras were employing reason, not just following a tradition, especially before the tradition evolved. (Please read Part 2.)

(2) The layers of a coin’s surface that are stripped off, and the changes in the texture of the surfaces of coins, through standard dipping or the application of many chemical concoctions implemented via ‘conservation,’ or other deliberate, short-term modifications are, to some extent, irreparable. The original state of the coin can never be restored, and will never fully return on its own. Parts of the coin are destroyed, and, while some coins can largely recover, parts of the nature and history of each coin are lost forever.

Please note that I am referring primarily to rare or at least scarce old coins. Usually, recently minted coins are minimally or not noticeably toned. So, not much toning is destroyed when a recently minted, or modern coin, is dipped in a standard acidic solution. For high quality, rare coins, dipping or ‘conservation’ through liquids, almost always destroys toning.

Typically, a coin will be much brighter after it is dipped, and some will thus conclude that the coin’s luster is not impaired. Luster is the way that the metal flow lines on a coin reflect light. When layers are stripped via dipping, the characteristics of the flow lines are changed. The coin may end up being brighter than it was before, or even brighter than it was the moment it was minted. Destruction still occurred, however, and metal was removed.

Jeff Ambio very much agrees with the above statement (#2), and he “believe[s] that, if more collectors understood this point, it would really help to the put the coin doctors out of business.” Ambio is the author of three recent books on coins and is a cataloguer for leading auction firms and coin dealers. He has analyzed and written about thousands of U.S. coins, including innumerable rarities.

Dipping changes the texture of a coin. Ambio, Joe O’Connor and myself all agree that toning that occurs after dipping, natural or not, will be different from the toning that would have occurred had the coin never been dipped. (more…)