To clean or not to clean? Silver French 1851 5 Francs Cérès

Discussion in 'World Coins' started by Ancientdia, Nov 30, 2020.

  1. Ancientdia

    Ancientdia New Member


    Not going to lie, I'm new to this hobby and I've been given so much contradictory advice from various sources I'm lost.

    Apologies in advance, I'm sure you see this sort of question all the time.

    One of my more recent acquisitions was this silver 5 Franc coin from 1851 (minted in Paris). It's not a terribly rare coin but not extremely common either. I got it for a good price in light of it's condition.

    Actually, a lot of the detail is pretty good for a coin that's 170 years old. It is however tarnished and stained. Now, some people have been telling me to clean it using silver polish or vinegar but I've also been told for donkeys years never to clean coins.

    Any opinions or suggestions one way or another would be most welcome.


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  3. gxseries

    gxseries Coin Collector

    It is perfectly fine as it is. You can attempt to use acetone to see if anything comes off but otherwise it's a waste of money and time. Using vinegar or silver polish is literally the same as bathing yourself in acid.
    Mr. Flute and Ancientdia like this.
  4. potty dollar 1878

    potty dollar 1878 Well-Known Member

    Don't clean it don't do anything to it I like its pinta for being 169 years old the way it looks makes it more authentic.
    Ancientdia and Inspector43 like this.
  5. Bradley Trotter

    Bradley Trotter Well-Known Member

    I like the patina; I'd highly advise against cleaning this coin.
  6. potty dollar 1878

    potty dollar 1878 Well-Known Member

    Your coin is the 2nd common out of the three but still a nice coin in very good condition for its age 20201130_181149.jpg
    Ancientdia and SensibleSal66 like this.
  7. QuintupleSovereign

    QuintupleSovereign Well-Known Member

    No, no, no, NO.

    That coin is gorgeous as is. Leave it be!
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  8. The Eidolon

    The Eidolon Well-Known Member

    I think the strongest reasons to clean a coin would be:
    1) It's literally covered with dirt which can be removed with a harmless soak. Or,
    2) It's been exposed to something corrosive and you want to prevent further damage.

    Most other cases it's better to leave things be. You can't really unclean a coin if you change your mind. It took ~170 years to develop that much of a surface patina, so you have plenty of time if you decide you need to clean it later.
    Ancientdia likes this.
  9. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    Patina is one thing, crud is another. The main admonition in "cleaning" or conserving coins is not to rub or scour on the coin. To err on the side of caution, I would probably soak it a couple of days in acetone (glass container, covered since it is volatile and flammable), if the acetone appears dirty, repeat. put a washcloth in a sink and run water on it till it is as hot as it is going to get. Put the coin so the stream of water hits it and give it a good minute of hot water stream, flip over and do the other side. Pat dry and see how it looks. Shouldn't hurt, might help. Show us what you do.
    Ancientdia likes this.
  10. serafino

    serafino Well-Known Member

    The reverse is very dark toned and would look much better if it was correctly conserved (lightly cleaned). Big difference between lightly cleaned and harshly cleaned.
  11. ldhair

    ldhair Clean Supporter

  12. longshot

    longshot Enthusiast Supporter

    I'd go along with an acetone soak, but this is the type of "skin" an old circulated silver coin should have. Remove the toning and many collectors will consider it tampered with (yes, we can tell! :)) and devalued.
    Neat coin.
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2020
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  13. serdogthehound

    serdogthehound Well-Known Member

    Wonderful original coin put me down as don’t clean
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  14. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    If my kids had this "skin", I'd insist they take a shower!
    montynj3417 likes this.
  15. Ancientdia

    Ancientdia New Member


    Thanks for all your replies.

    I'm not going to clean the coin. It is a little bit grubby but most of that's concentrated on one side so I'll let it be.

    I only asked because a local dealer suggested that I do so as it would have initially been "shiny". As I said, it sounded a bit odd to me. Presumably he polishes all of his coins? I don't know.

    So congratulations patina. You get to stay.
    Bradley Trotter likes this.
  16. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    That's pretty much the typical result if and when one goes looking for advice on the subject. And there are numerous reasons as to why the advice is conflicting/contradictory, the primary of which is lack of accurate knowledge. The secondary, in a word - philosophy - differences of philosophy to be exact.

    So, here's the thing, actually a few things. Toning = corrosion, short and sweet that's exactly what it is. And, all coins, and I do mean all, begin to tone the moment they are struck. And toning will continue as long as the coins remain in contact with the air. Now everything I just said there is a fact. It's not an opinion, it's not speculation, it's scientific fact. You may already be aware of all this, I don't know, but if you were not, you are now.

    Given these facts the question that often pops to mind is - OK, so what do we do ? The answer, practice proper coin storage. For while toning is beyond difficult to stop, it can be greatly slowed down by proper coin storage. And that's an entirely different subject that you're free to ask questions about, or simply do a forum search using proper coin storage as your key words. You'll find all you care to read.

    As for your original question, and your stated decision, that's where philosophy, and its differences, comes into play. And given that it is philosophy, it is by definition, opinion. And of course opinion is often determined by accurate knowledge, or lack of it. Other times it is determined by nothing more than emotion.

    Personally, I agree with your decision to leave the coin alone. But I base that agreement on the specific coin and its current condition. If things were different my opinion could and probably would be different.

    I guess what I'm trying to get across is the idea that there are times when proper cleaning of a coin is the better choice. What it boils down to is protecting a given coin from permanent damage. Of course to do that, it has to be a viable option to begin with. And at times it simply isn't, other times it is. This determined by the condition of the specific coin itself.

    Figuring all of this out, that's where accurate knowledge comes into play. It's easily enough obtained provided one puts forth the effort, but it does require some effort. And it seems to me you've started down that road. ;)
    Ancientdia likes this.
  17. Ancientdia

    Ancientdia New Member


    Thanks for that explanation.

    A lot of that's just to do with tarnishing. The more than something passes between our fingers the more it rubs and we (oils) rub off on it. I've seen some 150 year old coins that are seemingly brand new and shiny but they've always unsettled me a bit. They look just too perfect. Maybe it's just me.

    I do have some coins in my collection which I can only assume have been cleaned (not by me). For instance this Louis-Philippe 5F piece from 1834. It makes for a stark contrast with the 1851 5F and this 1891 Crown.

    In terms of patina, I know the history of that particular coin as my great aunt kept it once they stopped being circulated and has kept it in a plastic film case ever since.

    My father's in the antiques trade and faces similar issues. He tends to keep patina on things as once it's gone, you can't get it back (short of waiting 200 years) but a lot of his clients now want shiny stuff and demand that these things be cleaned. Although I suppose that they would have been designed to have a certain look to them, notwithstanding patina.

    I personally like a little bit of use on these things as it shows the age.

    Regarding storage, I've been using a coin book with plastic folders. No glue, no oil, nothing for some years now. I've never seen any ill effects on my coins but perhaps someone might tell me otherwise?

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  18. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    At the least, coins should be stabilized. Proper stabilization will allow coins to remain relatively unchanged for long periods of time. However, if a coin has schmutz on the surface, it is doubtful that it can be stabilized without removing the schmutz. Water and acetone should not remove anything that is desirable, but should not adversely affect the coin except to remove something that might be hiding defects. IMHO
    The Eidolon likes this.
  19. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    It's not just you, many feel the same way. That's the chocolate and vanilla aspect of coin collecting :) But when you see those older coins that don't "look" older, you need to be aware and keep in mind that 80% or more of all older coins have been cleaned during the course of their existence.

    But you also need to be aware that there is proper cleaning and improper cleaning. Proper cleaning does no harm to the coin, improper cleaning does do harm to the coin. And, more often than not proper cleaning is a good thing for it is what keeps the coins preserved allowing us to enjoy them even centuries later. Without proper cleaning, many of those coins would no longer exist.

    Yes I see what you mean. The 5F does look to have been polished (improperly cleaned). And while I can't be sure the Crown looks like it may have been lightly polished at some point as well, and then subsequently retoned.

    It depends on what you mean by "plastic folders". Some plastics are inert (good thing), other plastics are not inert (bad thing), when it comes to proper storage.

    Coins have numerous enemies, the primary of which is air itself, for air can and usually does contain many of the other enemies of coins, moisture and various harmful chemical compounds. Other enemies of coins are pretty much all paper and or cardboard products, wood (any and all wood), temperature changes, and even light for light can cause temperature changes. And we can't leave ourselves out either for our fingerprints and our very breath (moisture droplets) are harmful to coins.

    But like I said, do a bit of searching here on proper coin storage, you'll find what you need to know ;)
    Ancientdia likes this.
  20. offa the saxon

    offa the saxon Active Member

    The Louis Phillipe 5 francs has been ruined by excessive cleaning.
  21. Ancientdia

    Ancientdia New Member

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by "ruined". It could definitely have been done more sympathetically and my best guess is that they used some sort of polish but then I got it at a very reasonable price and with that taken into account it didn't particularly bother me as a collector. Asides the loss of patina, it's still one of my favorites to be honest.

    I agree.

    Although there might also be something to do with national preferences. Curiously, I was looking at my French silver coins and it suddenly occurred to me that those that I had bought from French dealers all appeared very shiny and had clearly been polished (even my Louis XVI 4 sols from the 17th century). Whereas al of those I had bought from private individuals or sellers from other countries appeared to have at least some patina left.

    I know from the antiques trade that French people often like "shiny" things (I don't mean that in a derogatory sense, it's just their own aesthetics) so it might be that many French dealers carry that over to their coins. Just a hypothesis.
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