US Coins

How to tell real or fake coin toning, especially rainbow toning

Rainbow-toned 1971 Eisenhower dollar coin is among the columnist's enjoyable collecting pursuits.

Images courtesy of Shane Canup.

Every home hobbyist should know the fundamentals of rainbow toning and how to distinguish that from artificial patinas. Rainbow-toned coins command high premiums on the open market.

Recently I purchased a “brown box” Proof 1971-S Eisenhower silver-copper clad dollar for $258 from Shane Canup, an eBay seller and owner of Kryptonitecomics & Coins. I submitted the coin to Professional Coin Grading Service in its original U.S. Mint packaging, and it earned a grade of Proof 68 Deep Cameo.

Toned in old folder

I have a near complete set of rainbow-toned Ike dollars, the majority of them taken from an old Whitman folder where they target-toned in patterns of green, gold, red and blue. I submitted the set to PCGS. All holdered at Mint State 65 or Proof 65 or better.

I buy toned Eisenhower dollars regularly from Canup. Determining natural toning versus artificial or enhanced toning is more of an art than a science, Canup acknowledges. A hobbyist must understand the toning process for different metals, especially the patterns that emerge based on different storage methods.

“Banded rainbow toning looks completely normal and natural on a Morgan Silver dollar that was stored in a cloth bank bag,” he says, “but if you were to see that same type of toning on a 2006 Washington Quarter, then one would have to question how market acceptable the toning would be.”

Third-party grading companies are reluctant to slab wildly toned coins for fear they have been treated chemically and may become unstable, degrading over time into black or unsightly hues.

Whenever Canup analyzes a coin, he asks, “Does the toning look right on the surface and allow the luster to show through? Or does it look applied and subdue the luster?

“If a coin is supposed to be album toned does the toning progression start at the rims and then become lighter towards the center of the coin? If a coin is supposed to be envelope-toned, does it have deeper colors on the high points of the devices and lighter colors in the lower fields?”

Buying toned coins should be done for fun rather than for investment, Canup says.

That should be the guiding principle for hobbyists, not only with respect to toned coins, but for every item in their collection.

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