Why not clean? Beyond the "cardinal rule"...

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by embermike, Apr 22, 2012.

  1. embermike

    embermike New Member

    I've been searching around and cant seem to find a clear answer to this...

    I'm a rookie collector, which I guess is obvious from the fact that I'm even asking this question. I've cleaned coins. Nothing of value, just things that I like and wanted to get looking a bit better. And when I've done it, I've used simple, seemingly safe methods. Pencil erasers, ketchup, etc.

    I've read the various threads on cleaning, that you should never do it, dealers can spot a cleaned coin easily, and of course it can decrease the value of the coin.

    But what I don't understand is why, exactly, a cleaned coin is perceived as being less valuable and somehow damaged? If you're using a cleaning method that can't do any damage to a coin, what's the real harm?

    Take the pencil eraser trick. I don't think some light rubbing with a rubber eraser can put any kind of a defect into a metal coin. Maybe if you accidentally had some sort of abrasive or foreign object stuck on the eraser and dragged it across the surface of the coin, sure, that's bad. But I don't see how this can detract from a coin's value. It's essentially removing years of dirt and grime, especially when we're talking about stuff from circulation. Shouldn't the value of the coin be in the metal, the original product that was minted all those years ago and not in the grit that was picked up as the coin travelled from person to person?

    Also, could cleaning reveal something about a coin that might be obscured by dirt and grime? Seems better to me to clean a coin and really get a good look at it's surface than to try and ascertain the condition of it through years of junk.
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    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Here's a coin where half of it was dipped, incorrectly dipped. And, the area around the date (just that area) was rubbed with a pencil eraser. Now you tell me if you can see the difference or not.

    Attached Files:

  4. rickmp

    rickmp The other White Meat.

    They are your coins, do with them as you please. If you ever want to sell, though, only melt value for you.
  5. jhinton

    jhinton Active Member

    I think it's a really simple answer honestly. "Most" collectors want their coins as original as possible. This includes all of the years of dirt and gunk, to a certain extent. Also, no matter how light you think the "cleaning" is, I assure you that there is a change on the surface of the coin. It might be very small but viewed in sections like the coin Doug posted it becomes very evident.
  6. embermike

    embermike New Member

    It looks different where it was cleaned. Personally I think it looks better. But what I don't understand is how that's a bad thing. Does the dipping and eraser damage the coin?
  7. embermike

    embermike New Member

    My layperson thought is that "original" would mean shiny and new. As close to the original condition as possible. Meaning, minus grime. I know that's wrong, I'm just trying to get my head around this "never clean" idea.
  8. Kirkuleez

    Kirkuleez 80 proof Supporter

    For me there are a few answers to your question. First of all, the reason why many of us love the old dirty coins is the history behind the coin. Changing it in any way is to erase that history. Where would the line be drawn? Would drilling a hole in the coin change its history? Probably not, but surely you can see how the coin would be less desirable and therefore worth less than its untampered counterpart.

    Second, cleaning and polishing is a way to disguise tampering. Removing a mint mark from a 1928 dollar would make it significantly more valuable for instance. The original patina and luster would be a telltale indication of a coin being genuine.

    Third and most importantly, it just looks ugly. You wouldn't take a valuable antique desk and camouflage it with spray paint and expect it to have the same value as it did before.
  9. JCB1983

    JCB1983 Learning

    I think the methods used in the past, which actually caused damage to the coins, really scared people away from the whole cleaning aspect. I would ask this question; why would we come to point in time where cleaning was deemed o.k./necesarry but then haulted and deemed as taboo? I believe that people were using it as a tool to increase profit and going way overboard with it. With that being said a negative stigma was attached to cleaning.

    It has been brought to my attention that some professionals can properly restore a coin without doing damage, but I am not one of them.
  10. embermike

    embermike New Member

    How can someone increase profits if cleaning is largely considered to be a negative?

    I guess that's sort of where I was going with this. If cleaning could be done in a way that does no harm to the surface of the coin, then why not do it?

    I understand the things expressed here, that coins can be seen in a similar way as antique furniture, which likewise you probably would want to restore to a new look. But then again, antique furniture is sometimes restored to a lesser extent. As is artwork. And the value of those things isn't hurt by the restoration.

    I think the stigma in coins just struck me as strange. Coming into this with a background in art, where restorations are common, especially of older, damaged pieces, and also just as a generally unaware coin collecting newbie, the "don't clean" rule seemed strange to me.

  11. Lon Chaney

    Lon Chaney Well-Known Member

    I agree with Post #4. Most collectors want an original surface. That dipped coin up top, the dipped part doesn't look original, it looks "odd." Here's an example of some wheaties that were cleaned: _DSC0113.jpg
    The top two just look very unnatural. The bottom 3 were cleaned with, I imagine, a pencil eraser. You can see the difference.
    Also, cleaning damages the coins underneath the "grime." That ketchup is very acidic, and can eat away at the coin. This may take years, but it affects it. And the pencil eraser can leave abrasions. These may only be visible under magnification, but they are still there.
  12. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    Cleaning coins has been compared to many things from fixing up a classic car to women applying make-up. Points well taken include the fact that cleaning used to be prevalent in this hobby as is evidenced by many of the older "authorities" who advocated lots of cleaning methods. This rampant cleaning led many unscrupulous (spelling) dealers trying to mask coin defects. I remember when "whizzed" coins were common. This is a buffing procedure that could mask scratches, but left the coin unnaturally shiny with MANY small polishing marks. The current thought has moved over to the simple admonition to do nothing at all (kind of like the Hippocratic Oath which I have seen versions of that state "First - Do no harm") which is the safest behavior. Now with that being said, we move from the perjorative "cleaning" to the politically correct "conservation", the difference being in the perception that the former was to hide defects and fool someone and the later is to stabilize the coin in the condition that it is in. Intent does have something to do with it, but for example if you found a cannister of nickels in an abandon house where there had been a flood several years past and they were covered in silt and gross stuff and you washed them off with water only, would this be cleaning or conservation? A fine line I think often.
  13. coleguy

    coleguy Coin Collector

    Ketchup!! LOL
    Thats a new one for sure. I can't think of a more destructive substance to put on metal. Both main components are acids. Acids eat and etch metal, even if they are only exposed to them for milliseconds. If you insist on using a food-based solvent, use mineral oils.
  14. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    Ewwwwww...if you eat mineral oil you must be a regular guy!!
  15. coleguy

    coleguy Coin Collector

  16. BUncirculated

    BUncirculated Well-Known Member

    It may look shinier, but not better.

    It would be like taking an original 1861 Springfield musket, and removing the natural patina from the barrel, hammer, trigger, and then stripping and refinishing the walnut stock.

    No collector wants that in their collection because it's not original, and the value was removed with that patina and is now a damaged piece.

    Same thing with coins.
  17. mrbrklyn

    mrbrklyn New Member

    Boring argument
  18. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    Which foods, I want to avoid them.
  19. Kentucky

    Kentucky Supporter! Supporter

    Simple, don't read the thread.
  20. mrbrklyn

    mrbrklyn New Member

    but its all be argued before adnusium
  21. BUncirculated

    BUncirculated Well-Known Member

    Actually, that's not as new as you would think.

    That's been around since I was kid.
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