Featured How to Detect Cleaned Coins

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by TypeCoin971793, Nov 24, 2018.


    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    I finally took the time to read this thread today. It's obvious that TypeCoin spent a lot of time and put a lot of effort into this, and I applaud his efforts.

    Learning how to correctly identify harshly/improperly cleaned coins is one of the hardest things there is to learn in all of numismatics. To try and put that into perspective I'd say this. If you think what has been written is complicated, try wrapping your head around this - TypeCoin has only scratched the surface of the subject.

    Please understand, I'm not defending the guy, (your dealer), but what I said above ties into this. The writing that TypeCoin did here requires 23 clicks on the page down button to get from top to bottom of what he wrote. So just imagine how much time it would have taken to explain all of that verbally.

    And no, I don't know what the situation was with your specific coin, he may have been able to explain it 5 or 10 minutes. But when two people start a discussion on a subject like this, it's almost never gonna take 5 or 10 minutes because as soon as he says one or two things, you're going to start asking questions. And with everything else he says, you're going to ask more questions. And each question requires answers, explanations. So that 5 or 10 minutes suddenly turns into a discussion that has gone on for 2 hours and you still haven't gotten anywhere.

    It's likely your dealer knows this because you can bet he's been in the same situation many times already. So rather than enter into that situation again, he says what he said. In other words, what he's doing is telling you it would take too long to explain.

    What folks need to understand is that what I said above about learning how to correctly identify harshly/improperly cleaned coin being one of the hardest things there is to learn in all of numismatics - well, even that is a gross understatement. If you ever take the time to look you'll soon find that there are no books on this subject. And I've always suspected that the reason there are no books written on this subject is because no single book could ever cover it, it would take several books. And it's hard enough to get people to spend money buy numismatic books as it is, let alone several of them just to learn about one subject. And writing a book is a whole lot of work and writing several is a whole lot more, especially if you consider that hardly anybody is ever going to buy them.

    And besides that books would not be the best way to learn about this subject, might not even be a good way to learn about it. That's because learning all this requires hands on experience, and a whole lot of time, years, many years. And in a way that's the what dealer referred to above was trying to say - that he spent most of his life trying to learn it.

    Overall there's a lot of of useful information in what TypeCoin wrote. There may be a few inaccurate conclusions or false assumptions mixed in here and there but for the most part it does a fair job of getting some basic information out there. And I'm not trying to find fault or be argumentative, not in any way, so please don't take this comment that way.
    Kentucky, imrich, gbandy and 3 others like this.
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  3. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random nobody...

    I opened up discussion in my last paragraph for anything I may have gotten wrong or have not talked about in enough detail
    Kentucky likes this.
  4. Robidoux Pass

    Robidoux Pass Active Member

    Identifying cleaned coins is an area in which I'm very uncomfortable with my skills. I really learned a lot from this thread. Thank you, TypeCoins, for the sharing! You obviously put a significant effort into your posts.
    TypeCoin971793 likes this.
  5. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random nobody...

    I gave a presentation on this subject for a couple coin clubs, and the question I was asked was how I learned all of these diagnostics. I gave three sources:

    1. Pattern recognition. (This coin has been cleaned, and it has this look. This coin has been cleaned and it has the same look. 10 similar coins later, I decide that look is indicative of a cleaning.)
    2. Trying to logically explain why the coin looks the way it does. (What historical context influences the appearance, and what could have happened to give the coin its appearance.)
    3. Look at hundreds/thousands of coins. (This allows you to see the patterns and get a feel for what a coin is supposed to look like.)
    Pickin and Grinin likes this.

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    When it comes right down to it those with the necessary experience and knowledge can almost always identify a harshly/improperly cleaned coin at a glance. It's a lot like grading in that regard. It only takes a few seconds to do either. But it takes people years to get to that point !

    For most people anyway. I'm reminded of a story that one our past moderators once told me. In fact he is a story in and of himself. He first came to the forum just like anybody else, but he showed what I thought was a profound willingness and desire to learn. And learn he did. Eventually he became a moderator, not that has anything to do with it really for mods are not chosen based on their knowledge, they are chosen based on their personality and character traits. But he did become one, it is part of his story. Eventually he applied for and got a job at PCGS as a grader. Then later he left PCGS and got a job working for Heritage as a buyer - probably the toughest to get and highest paid job there is in numismatics. And then later he even quit that and went on his own, started his own business.

    But the story that he told was one that just about all who ever heard it found quite surprising. It was about one of the other graders who worked at PCGS, and this grader was considered by those at PCGS to be the best, simply the best. But here's the surprising part - he was only 19 years old.

    And that's why I said above - for most people anyway. For I have just related about 2 people who were able to acquire the knowledge they needed to do their jobs, and do them quite well, in a very short period of time. And the ability to do that, well to say that it's rare, doesn't even come close. It just doesn't.

    I've always thought that I picked up on things rather quickly, quicker than most even. But I couldn't hold a candle to either one of those guys when it came to how quickly they did it. For some reason for them it all just clicked.

    And there's people like that in every field, not just numismatics. But most of the rest of us have to put in the time, the effort, the study, and gain the physical experience.
  7. SilverDollar2017

    SilverDollar2017 Morgan dollars

    I think we can all agree that learning to tell whether a coin has been cleaned is not a matter of simply reading one article. It takes experience as well. The article written by TypeCoin provides useful and insightful information about how to differentiate a cleaned coin from one with original surfaces. However, neither the write-up created by him, or the one that I did earlier, describe every possible way that a coin can be cleaned, and neither are they supposed to substitute for experience. But these posts have information that is important and relevant to coin collectors, especially those new to numismatics. And that is important - to educate new collectors and set them on the right track.
    TypeCoin971793 likes this.

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Strictly my opinion, the best way to learn it is to discuss specific coins in detail. There's a lot of bad information out there, a lot of mistaken opinions and beliefs. Some things people think they know that just isn't so.

    I'll use this as an example. And no, it doesn't have anything to do with the subject at hand, identifying harshly cleaned coins. But part of it is bad information.

    Pick up almost any book on coins, read any of a multitude of articles, and you'll find that same basic statement. But the part of it that is wrong - is that when a coin is struck the metal flows towards the rims. Not only is this not true - it cannot even be true ! But yet it is one of the most often repeated ideas there is in numismatics.

    Start with why planchets are run through the upset mill. That is done to make sure there is enough metal to form the rim of the coin when the planchet is struck. And it is specifically done because the people at the mint know for a fact that when a coin is struck the vast majority of the metal flows inwards towards the center of the coin - not outwards towards the rim !

    On almost all coins the single largest part of the die that must be filled is the central device, in the center of the coin. And that is where the vast majority of the metal flows to - to fill that portion of the die.
    Dynoking, ldhair, imrich and 2 others like this.
  9. Half Disme

    Half Disme New Member

    Well written and illustrated article. Thanks.
    TypeCoin971793 likes this.
  10. KEK52

    KEK52 New Member

    Just a newbie question- why are cleaned coins less valuable than not-cleaned? The other comment( for now) is that I find it very, very hard to believe that most of the coins, including error coins that have been bought and sold for considerable money have survived life and are as near-perfect as they seem. They can’t be that perfect, or owned by collectors only so that they seem perfect.
    OK-one more-I read online on a coin website that there was (someone or place) that will clean coins that do not negatively effect their value. Has anyone heard of this?
    Thanks a lot
  11. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Simple answer, because harshly/improperly cleaned coins have been harmed or damaged, if you prefer that word, by the harsh/improper cleaning.

    I think almost everyone has heard of it - including you apparently. And it goes much further than that. Private individuals, collectors, and dealers - clean coins on a daily basis.

    But here's what you need to understand, there is a huge difference, a night and day difference, between cleaning a coin and harshly cleaning a coin. Cleaning is good, harsh cleaning is bad.

    Cleaning does not harm or damage the coin in any way.

    Harsh cleaning does harm or damage the coin in several ways.
    John Skelton likes this.
  12. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random nobody...

    @KEK52 just so you are aware, @GDJMSP uses “cleaning” to denote a proper cleaning and ”harshly cleaned” to denote an improper/abrasive cleaning of any severity.
  13. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    And so should everyone else. If they did, there would never be any confusion over the term and people would have a much better understanding of what it actually means.

    It is the improper use of the term - clean, cleaned, cleaning - that causes all the confusion and misunderstanding to begin with.

    Even the TPGs use the same terminology I do. This is a direct quote from PCGS.

    92|N-2 Cleaned – surface damage due to a harsh, abrasive cleaning

    When the TPGs put "cleaned" on a slab label, all they are doing is using the contraction of the proper and correct terminology "harshly cleaned" to save room on the printed slab label.
    CHARLES ROSENBAUM likes this.
  14. capthank

    capthank Active Member

    Excellent. Thanks
    TypeCoin971793 likes this.
  15. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random nobody...

    PCGS has actually changed their published standard:

    “92: Cleaning: Surface damage due to any form of abrasive cleaning.”

    It is a very strict standard, but one which has been made laughably obsolete by PCGS itself.

    I still believe the two adequate designations are “properly cleaned” and “improperly cleaned.”
  16. KEK52

    KEK52 New Member

    OK, so did I miss the discussion on how to clean and not how to clean harshly?
    I’m sorry if I am being dense...it is frustrating to find a coin that has re-sale value, or that is just really old and really cool, not to be able to clean it .
  17. MommaHenn

    MommaHenn Active Member

    KEK52...you are not dense as long as you are willing to learn. As a newbie myself, you will get frustrated, but I’m learning little by little not to be easily frustrated. Like other vintage/antique items, more value lies with the item being in it’s current, original state. Almost like it tells it’s own story and if you clean that item, you have just washed that story away. As a collector of many things, it is best to leave well enough alone. Hope this helps and welcome to CT
    Tlberg and CHARLES ROSENBAUM like this.
  18. buckeye73

    buckeye73 Active Member

    Important topic, well-written article covering both proper and improper cleaning, worthy of periodic re-reads..thank you for sharing your knowledge with us!
  19. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random nobody...

    This article was about the myriad of tells used to detect improper cleanings. It is not a discussion of what is a proper/improper cleaning.

    There are several topics on here about properly cleaning coins. Search “acetone”, “Verdi-Care”, or “dipping” and you will find a treasure trove.
    KEK52 likes this.
  20. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    And the discussion of those tells could go a long ways yet if people would post specific coins they want to know about. It could be coins they themselves are uncertain of, it could be coins already labeled as such. Or it could be questions if this method or that method would be acceptable as a proper cleaning method - and why it is or is not.
    TypeCoin971793 likes this.
  21. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random nobody...

    If you want to put this comment at the end of my writeup, feel free. That would make for a very good discussion
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