US Coins

Preserving Collectibles: Important to document changes

An important component of collection documentation is condition reports. If your collection were to become damaged when stolen, the insurer may ask for proof of this. Having an up-to-date record of the condition of the articles prior to their theft would help the claims adjustor determine the settlement.

Condition reports

A condition report is a record of the physical condition of an object. It describes and gives the location of any damage or weaknesses on each individual piece.

When repeated at regular intervals, the reports provide a record through time that permits one to monitor the long-term health of a coin or note. Changes to your collection can be subtle and are often difficult to notice without a previous condition report. If, through regular examination, a coin or note is found to be deteriorating, then its environment can be assessed to determine what is causing the damage and what can be done to remedy the situation.

Writing a condition report should not be too onerous. In fact, assessing a coin’s condition is a lot like grading a coin. When grading a coin, you look for wear, signs of corrosion and other anomalies.

A condition report records what you see. I recommend making it a habit to condition report new acquisitions right away.

Condition reports can come in a wide variety of formats. The format you choose should suit your needs and be easy to use and understandable at a later date.

The terminology should be standardized and consistent.

Ideally, other collectors should be able to read your condition report and have a clear understanding of the coin’s or note’s condition. You can design your own customized form or borrow a format that you find useful.

Condition reports can be “stand alone” documents or be a component of your collection inventory. All reports should include:

? Year and denomination, type of material, dimensions and weight (if nonstandard), decorative motifs and any errors or other noteworthy features.

? The location, color and extent of any corrosion or staining.

? Wear and grade, where appropriate.

? The location and extent of tears (tears should be carefully measured and noted so that you will know if they are getting larger).

? Scratches or gouges.

? A sketch or photograph noting the location and extent of any damage.

? Any previous treatments such as cleaning or repair of damaged notes.

? The name of the person/persons who wrote the report.

? The date of the report.

An obverse and reverse photograph of each item is an important component of a condition report.

Condition reports can be handwritten or inputted into a computer. One could also record a video of the collection noting the condition for each piece. Whatever format you use, make sure you have a backup copy stored off-site (e.g., in a safety deposit box).

Technology and software have made condition reporting a lot easier and more accessible. I personally find the Adobe pdf (portable document format) software very useful for condition reporting.

The “comment” tool allows me to easily annotate a photograph or drawing in a pdf. The advent of tablets such as iPads, and a variety of “apps,” has revolutionized condition reporting in museums. Many museum professionals now use a tablet exclusively to update condition reports.

Apps currently being used include the “PDF Expert” app.

Further reading

The Southeastern Registrars Association publication Basic Condition Reporting: A Handbook is an excellent publication for those wishing to learn more about condition reporting. It can be obtained via

Susan L. Maltby, Toronto, is a private conservation consultant, with an interest in numismatic preservation.

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