At first you may be skeptical of the information in this section, but it’s important advice that will stay with you as long as you collect.
We all are used to touching and holding coins. You pull out a handful and spend them, or pay for something and put the rest back in your pocket or purse. How did you hold the coins you used?
Most likely you made one of the most common of mistakes in handling coins for a collection. You held the coin between your thumb and finger, pressed on the front and back of the coin, what collectors call the obverse and reverse of the coin.
If you touch a coin like that, it is generally not a problem, since most circulated coins show obvious wear when you look at them. However, for an uncirculated or proof coin, you just damaged the coin. The natural oils in your skin will etch a fingerprint or a thumbprint into the surface of the coin in a matter of minutes. Once the fingerprint is on the coin it’s impossible to remove without further damaging the coin.
It’s a good habit to get into, even with common, circulated coins. To prevent damage to a coin you are examining, hold the coin by its edges with your thumb and forefinger. Handling coins this way is good practice for when you hold rare of valuable coins.
If you are working with upper-grade, uncirculated or proof coins, a pair of lintless cotton gloves is strongly recommended. Latex or plastic gloves are not recommended because they often have powder or lubricants on them that may damage the coin. Also, consider placing a thick, soft cloth under the coin as you are holding it, just in case you slip or drop the coin. This will prevent damage to the coin that might come from it impacting a hard surface.
Family or friends may want to touch the coins in your collection. You can either warn them not to touch the coins, or show them how to properly handle them.
Another possibility would be to put the coins in holders that protect the surface of the coin. This allows for easier handling, and can provide protection from damage that might be caused by an accidental drop.
Many an old-time coin collector (or coin dealer) will use the “ring” test to determine if a coin is silver. Not only is this a negative test, it will also cause damage to the coin, since the test involves dropping the coin on a hard surface. This is a negative test, because the slightest fissure or internal crack in the coin will make it sound like a lead washer. Weighing the coin will tell you as much, or more, about the coin, and weighing is a non-destructive test. To prevent damage to your coins, don’t let someone else “ring” your coins, ever.
Don’t scratch, cut, clean, rub or polish a coin for any reason.
It’s nearly impossible to cut through copper plating, the metal curls around the blade, giving you the false impression that the coin is solid copper. Stop anyone else from “testing” your coin in this fashion. The damage done will often cut the collector value of the coin in half, or worse. Weighing the coin will tell you a lot more, and as previously noted, it’s a non-destructive test.
The whole idea behind proper coin handling techniques is to prevent damage to the coin’s surface, mint-produced or otherwise. The more wear or damage there is to the coin’s surface, the less will be the coin’s worth. The whole basis of collecting coins revolves around protecting and preserving that mint surface. I’ll expand on this theme in the next chapter.