How to tell if an old coin has been cleaned?

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by Detecto92, Dec 31, 2011.

  1. Detecto92

    Detecto92 Well-Known Member

    I posted this earlier but it disappeared, so I will try again.

    I've been doing some learning on telling if a coin has been cleaned... and I do know this.

    High Grade coins will have a "cartwheel", cleaning removes this cartwheel.

    If a coin has been retoned, usually the toning lacks contrast and is very evenly distributed.

    However I still find a lack of understanding on this.

    If a coin has been cleaned say 60 years ago, usually it will retone back to normal as far as toning goes.

    But on a lower grade coins, say F or VF, there is scratches on the coins from circulation, and there are scratches from cleaning.

    So if a VF coin was cleaned 60 years ago, retoned back to normal, how can one tell scratches from cleaning and scratches from normal wear like circulation?
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  3. Cazkaboom

    Cazkaboom One for all, all for me.

    Micro scratches... Caused by that rubbing like with baking soda on silver, it will have micro scratches everywhere. Also a cleaned and re-toned coin will have some parts of submarine-grey color that shows the cleaning. Not always the case, but that is my rule of thumb: If it looks like the navy owned it, don't buy it.
  4. Detecto92

    Detecto92 Well-Known Member

    Ya but doesn't normal wear from being circulated put microscratches on the coin?
  5. desertgem

    desertgem MODERATOR Senior Errer Collecktor Moderator

    I hate to say experience, but that is much of it. Not necessarily in years, but in handling problem coins. get a roll of appropriate coins from a bank, such as lincoln cents, sort them out by wear, and carefully examine the color and wear patterns. Then take a similar coin and try to clean it as gentle as possible and carefully reobserve. Try cleaning with a soft brush, baking soda, salt, vinegar, etc. Keep track of your results and eventually you can spot surface alterations,

    Retoning almost never fools an experienced coin person. there are many chemicals and processes which can produce a change in color, but 99% of the time, there is a slight variation in the color or distribution . The ways people say they can do it, usually fails above the inexperienced person. Try them with the circulation type coins, as you know what you did to them and you are gaining the ability to detect. No one is perfect, but if you can tell 95% of the time, you will be better than most.

    It goes to say, that this experimentation should not be done in order to produce a different appearing coins for profit.

  6. Hobo

    Hobo Squirrel Hater

    Additionally look at as many slabbed coins as you can so you will learn what uncleaned coins look like. It's hard to spot a cleaned coin if you don't know what an uncleaned one looks like.

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Yes, sometimes it does. But rarely will normal wear put micro-scratches over the entire coin or even patches of them in areas of the coin. Normal wear and tear will produce a scratch here and a scratch there. And nor will they all be running in the same direction. Harsh cleaning produces lots of them or patches of them, and they will often all be in the same pattern and direction. But there are also times when harsh cleaning does not produce any scratches at all. Scratches are merely one of the thousands of different things that harsh cleaning can do to a coin.

    The thing about recognizing a harshly cleaned coin is that there are a thousand things to know. For just like there are thousand (and more) different ways to harshly clean a coin, each of them leaves different tell tale traces. And you have to gain the experience to be able to recognize them all.
  8. AdamL

    AdamL Likes Silver

    ^^^ I was going to say the same things. Scratches all going the same direction is the first sign of cleaning that I look for. Its not the only thing to look for though, so looking at alot of coins and learning from experience is key as well.
  9. Detecto92

    Detecto92 Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the help.

    When I have time I'm going to get two quarters from my change and buff one of them, and compare them under a scope to look for hairlines.
  10. Detecto92

    Detecto92 Well-Known Member

    Well I took two EF quarters from my change and buffed one with polish until it was so shiny you could see your face in it, and left the other one alone.

    I think I figured it out, these tiny little "dimple" looking things were not visible on the other coin.

  11. Hobo

    Hobo Squirrel Hater

    Those are not hairlines from being harshly cleaned. Those are random hits from circulation.
  12. Detecto92

    Detecto92 Well-Known Member

    Well aside from that. I studied both coins under a scope for several minutes, and that's the only difference I could see.
  13. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Well that's kind of the hard part - learning to see what is there. Don't feel bad, there's a whole lot of folks that can't see it either. But even from your picture of a just a tiny area of your coin I can tell that it has been polished. And like I was saying, they can all look different. And a coin does not have to be covered in fine scratches for it to be considered harshly cleaned. Your coin has been harshly cleaned, but yet no scratches are visible.

    Take a look at the Peace dollar in this thread - . That coin has also been polished, but it IS covered with scratches. Other coins can be harshly cleaned and look very similar to that, having the scratches I mean, but they won't have been polished at all.

    These are just a few of things you need to learn to recognize when you see a coin.
  14. Danr

    Danr Numismatist

    if it is "dirty" or toned just around the devices
  15. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    That's another way. But there's more that goes with that method. It also depends on what the fields and the devices look like. That's because a coin in normal circulation will also get dirty and or toned around the devices, and yet remain relatively clean on the high points of the devices and in the fields. Relatively is the key word there. A coin in normal circulation will still have some dirt and/or toning in the fields and on the devices.

    It's when those areas look too clean, coupled with the dirt and grime around the edges of the devices, legends, and numerals that you have to start looking closer.

    Also, dirt and grime in protected areas and recesses, and around the devices, but the fields and high points being very clean - that can also be a sign that the coin was dipped. The dip (acid) will remove the the dirt/toning from the fields and high points and yet leave it in the protected areas.

    What I am trying to explain here is that you can look at a coin and see the same clues, but those clues can indicate 2 or 3 different things. That's where experience comes in because you have to be able to recognize those tiny, little differences to be able to tell one from the other.
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