I am writing this on behalf of the owners of coins that have been
cleaned, improperly retoned or are otherwise impaired so that if sent
to Professional Coin Grading Service, Numismatic Guaranty Corp., or
another leading grading service, they will be returned in a “body bag.”
There is the aspect of logic, and this is often conspicuously
absent. First, I have yet to see a definition for “properly” cleaned.
However, I know that an “improperly cleaned” reject is one that is
brilliant but shows many hairlines in the field, from use of an
abrasive during the cleaning process.
Then there is “artificial toning,” whatever that means. There
seems to be “good” artificial toning — as in a large number of copper
pattern coins from the King Farouk Collection (his majesty polished
all of his coppers!) that have been expertly conserved and retoned and
are now in holders of the leading services. Then there is “improper”
toning, such as blotchy iridescent hues that might make a neon sign envious.
As Al Gore might say, the inconvenient truth is that any Proof
coin — say a Barber or Seated Liberty silver coin — that has hairlines
in the field has them by virtue of having been “improperly cleaned.”
The U.S. Mint did not issue coins with hairlines and the hairlines
did not magically appear. Any coin certified as Proof 62, Proof 63 or
any other grade below “perfection” is apt to have hairlines. And yet
these are acceptable in most instances.
Artificial toning has been practiced for years. In his 1949 book,
Early American Cents (later Penny Whimsy), William
H. Sheldon gives detailed directions on how to do it.
The other day, while editing some catalog copy for Stack’s Bowers
Galleries, this came to mind when a fairly nice consigned coin was
tagged with a nasty note. The solution, or at least a matter for
consideration: bring to the fore the matter of experts improving the
appearance of coins. Many “hurt” coins can be brought back to
desirability, as is constantly being done behind the scenes.
Perhaps the American Numismatic Association or Professional
Numismatists Guild should have a forum, with the certification
services participating, on how these coins can be expertly reviewed,
and many of them revitalized using professional conservation methods.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.