Many people just getting into coin collecting ask the question, “Should I clean my coins before taking them in for an appraisal with a coin dealer?” Whether or not you should clean your coin depends on what kind of coin you have. A collectible coin is one whose intrinsic value is worth far more than that of its “spot price”. The spot price is simply the value of the weight of the coin and a value which fluctuates with the market price of the metal. An example of coins whose value is that of its spot price is junk-silver coinage such as Franklin and Kennedy half dollars or Roosevelt dimes (1946-1964). While most of these coins are not collectible, they have a certain melt value, which is based on the composition of silver and the spot price at the time of sale.
If you really want to clean your minted gold or silver coins, I highly recommend you do not do so, as this will lower the coins value. However, if you think you have a rare or collectible coin and you are not a professional, then the unanimous rule of thumb is: for the love of the coin and all that it is worth, do not clean it yourself! Leave that to the professional coin dealer’s discretion.
As Americans, we tend to like our stuff bright and shiny clean because – let’s face it – in general things that are clean, bright, and shiny just look prettier. However when it comes to collectible coins, you should think again before trying to get them into what you consider to be perfectly presentable condition because doing so can substantially reduce the value the value of the coin. What do we mean by substantially? Well, we heard one story from a dealer who received a phone call from a gentleman in possession of a rare coin which should have been worth about $20,000. Sadly, for both the dealer and the seller, the man decided to clean the coin before he brought it in for the dealer’s appraisal. Close your eyes for a moment and take a wild guess at how much you think that deed of good intention reduced the coin’s value. Would you believe that one simple act of cleaning a coin reduced its value from $20,000 all the way down to $1300?
Let us all wipe that tragedy from our memories and learn from someone else’s mistake!
Rather than chastise you for even thinking about cleaning your collectible coins, let’s talk about why you shouldn’t do it. First of all, coin collectors have a bit of a nostalgic thing for wanting to see an old coin in its original condition – dirt, grit, grime, and all. Collectors see things with a very different eye than most people. A coin’s perceived flaw may be exactly the thing that gives the coin its value. In addition to that, a professional collector or dealer knows exactly what should and should not be removed from a collectible coin; and, if it does need cleaning, knows how to do it without damaging the coin.
Another reason you should not clean your collectible coins is because many cleaning agents – especially those people tend to use for cleaning metals, such as Brasso or other polishers – contain abrasives and abrasives cause value-reducing micro-scratches. Even trying to polish a gold coin with an apparently soft cloth can scratch it. Remember: gold is a soft metal and as such, it can easily be damaged by rubbing or scrubbing. If you are planning to keep your coins and you want them to be in the best possible condition for maintaining their value, then you should play it safe and take them to a professional. Taking them a professional will ensure your coins are properly cleaned and ready for safe storage.