Nothing can replace actually looking at coins to understand grading
and the overall look of a coin that is considered “original” in the marketplace.
A prior generation of dealers had the opportunity to learn
originality by looking at old collections that were established over
time, with coins that were allowed to mellow over decades. Those
opportunities are quickly vanishing and are rare encounters for
Several weekends ago, I took the opportunity to view the upcoming
Heritage auction featuring more than 1,800 coins from the Eric P.
Newman Collection, which is set to be sold Nov. 15 to 16 in New York City.
The collection was put together over a period of 90 years, and the
bulk of the holdings was purchased decades ago. It presents a broad
study in the various “looks” that coins (mainly silver, but also
copper-nickel) can have when left alone for decades.
Hundreds of gorgeous coins in the mix are illustrative of a
wonderful sort of magic occurring over time as a coin reacted to its
environment. The mix also holds coins where chemistry did not
necessarily agree with today’s aesthetics that define what makes a
coin attractive and marketable. Some coins would be considered
original by the marketplace, but are toned in dark or uneven palettes
that may not be to everyone’s taste.
For better or worse, many of these coins with negative or marginal
toning are likely to be stripped of their color. In this process, they
become more marketable, but much of a coin’s history is lost.
Still, these “stripped” coins may one day retone and educate a
future generation of collectors. Many coins from the cabinet of
Egypt’s King Farouk were scrubbed bright at one point, but they’ve
toned over time and the cleaning is much less offensive now.
Simply put, the best way to learn grading coins, once you’ve
covered the basics, is to look at them and understand how coins
acquire wear, just as the best way to detect a counterfeit coin is to
understand how a real coin was made.
The key to distinguishing between natural toning that has been
established over time and mechanically applied toning that’s
considered artificial in the marketplace is to look at coins from old
collections that have been allowed to age and react with their
environment over time.
The process of viewing old collections like Newman’s is something
that is irreplaceable in a coin collector’s education. As more
collections get sold and broken up, the opportunity to view an
old-time collection with coins that have not been spruced up to meet
current market tastes is becoming rare.