US Coins

How should collectors protect their coins?

Part of your disaster planning should include determining if your collection can survive this. Think about how you store and curate your collection. Here we see an 1878-S Morgan dollar and a $2 educational note, for which protection against water damage is a high priority.

Coin World graphic.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the Houston area last week and the damage is catastrophic. Millions are affected, and dozens have lost their lives.

Now Hurricane Irma steamrolls through the Caribbean before smashing into Florida. As of now, Irma is one of the most powerful hurricanes on record. Mandatory evacuation orders for Florida’s Keys went into effect Wednesday, and the storm is expected to make landfall on Saturday.

In July of 2010, conservation specialist Susan L. Maltby laid out options for protecting your coins when disasters like these occur.

Here’s what she suggests:

When value guides differ, what is a collector to do?”How can collectors determine a coin’s value when price guides assign it different values? Also in this week’s print issue, we learn of the first report of a 2017 doubled die variety, found on a Lincoln cent.

It is important to plan for a disaster and know how to respond if one occurs. 

In a disaster, your collection would likely end up wet. 

Part of your disaster planning should include determining if your collection can survive this. Think about how you store and curate your collection. Have you used indelible ink when labeling? Will labels float off or disintegrate when wet? Are your notes and coins in archival quality holders? If not, the holders may fall apart when wet.

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Or, when wet, holders made from acidic paper and cardboard can leave your collection sitting in an acidic soup that would accelerate corrosion of coins and degradation of paper notes. Noncolorfast materials – that is, colors that “run” when wet — can irreversibly stain paper notes. 

After answering these questions, you may decide to rehouse some of your collection as part of your disaster preparedness planning.

If a disaster occurs, the following damage should be expected:

??Metal coins could corrode from sitting directly in water or in a humid environment.

??Notes printed on inadequate quality paper may disintegrate in the water.

??Mold, which favors a warm damp environment, could grow and spread throughout your collection. Paper money is far more susceptible to mold and much harder to disinfect than coins.

??Silt or other foreign matter could coat coins and notes.

??Plastic coin and bill holders could trap moisture next to the coin or note.


Time is of the essence when recovering collections. Once it is considered safe to enter the building, work quickly to limit damage. Planning in advance will help you at this stage.

First, survey the situation to get a sense of how much damage has occurred. You should then implement triage beginning with the items at most risk and of the highest value. Mold will be one of your biggest concerns. Paper notes and important paper records should be bagged and frozen right away. Freezing will not kill mold, but it will put it in stasis, allowing you to deal with it later.  


Thankfully, a number of resources are available to help the collector respond to a disaster. Clearly, these should be consulted in advance of a disaster so you can plan accordingly. First, and foremost, consult the Conservation OnLine (CoOL) “Disaster Preparedness and Response” section of their Web page.

Although other lists exist, CoOL’s is the most concise I have found. The list is easy to use, allowing the viewer to surf quickly through the available resources, including sample recovery plans.

The Western Association for Art Conservation has made paper conservator Betty Walsh’s excellent summary chart, “Salvage at a Glance,” available online.

The chart succinctly outlines how the materials should be handled, packed and dried. Collectors of paper notes and numismatic ephemera will find this chart a helpful resource.

The Heritage Preservation Emergency Response and Disaster Wheel is another handy resource. Like the “Salvage at a Glance” chart, it offers recovery information in a handy and concise format. One side of the wheel outlines the critical stages of disaster response, which include stabilizing the environment and assessing damage. The second side summarizes disaster recovery measures for photographs, framed artworks, books and paper, electronic records, textiles, furniture, ceramics, stone and metal, organic materials, and natural history specimens.

The wheel can be purchased for $10 plus shipping and handling.

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