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Cleaned Coins: How To Detect Them

 
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 Posted 05/24/2018  4:26 pm Show Profile   Bookmark this topic Add SilverDollar2017 to your friends list Get a Link to this Message
I decided to create a write-up about cleaned coins. Every day, I see more and more cleaned coins being posted on the forum by new collectors. Often, these cleaned coins are sold as Uncirculated or high grade coins. People new to the hobby will often purchase these coins at bargain prices hoping to get a great deal. Instead, they receive a coin that has been polished, dipped, or harsly cleaned. This guide will help new collectors distinguish cleaned coins from coins with original surfaces. I posted this in the Classic and Colonial Coins forum, as most of the cleaned US coins I see are classic coins.


What Does It Mean When a Coin Is Cleaned?

A coin that has been cleaned has been, well, cleaned. It has usually been dipped in a cleaning solution, scrubbed with a brush, or wiped with a cloth. A cleaned coin is usually worth less than one that has not been cleaned. It also usually has less eye appeal than un-cleaned coins. Never clean a coin unless you are conserving it with a chemical like acetone.
Types of Coin Cleaning
There are several ways that coins are cleaned. Here is a list of the most common ways, and terminology.

Dipped: A dipped coin means that the coin was dipped in a cleaning solution for too long. This method of cleaning will usually strip the luster of an AU or Uncirculated coin, and strip off the "gunk" on a worn coin. The coin might have reflective surfaces or appear shiny/prooflike.
Whizzed: A coin that has been whizzed has been "whizzed" by a wire brush rotating at a high speed. This will create many small hairlines on the coin. The whizzed coin may appear to have an odd pattern of luster, and many hairlines when rotated under light.
Improperly Cleaned: This category covers several methods of cleaning. Often, coins in this category will have large hairlines on them from being cleaned with a wire brush, lack of luster, or an odd color. Proof coins that have been buffed with a microfiber cloth, and as a result have fine hairlines, also fit into this category.
Examples of Cleaned Coins

Coins with incuse hairlines that are parallel to each other almost always signify that a coin has been cleaned.
One must not confuse incuse hairlines with raised lines. Raised lines signify die polishing lines (basically, that means the coin has not been cleaned), not signs of a cleaning.

Here is a coin with a lack of any toning (or luster) around the devices, even though it's definitely worn. Most likely this coin was cleaned with a wire brush:

Remember that a well-circulated coin will usually lack luster. If a coin that appears to be worn down to, say, Very Fine, but appears shiny or prooflike, it is most likely cleaned. On the other hand, an AU/Uncirculated coin should have luster. If it doesn't, that points to the coin being cleaned.


This coin has an odd color from being cleaned, most likely from being dipped. It also lacks luster:
This coin appears shiny, but has no luster. Remember that luster and "shiny" don't mean the same thing. A shiny coin will be reflective, while a lustrous coin will have cartwheel luster. This means that if you rotate the coin at different angles, you will see a cartwheel pattern of luster.


Copper coins will acquire a pink color if they have been cleaned. I have cleaned a common date Lincoln cent to show what a cleaned copper coin will look like:



Halos Around Devices - Does This Mean a Coin Is Cleaned?

The short answer: Not 100% of the time.

Halos of toning around devices (stars, portrait, date, etc.) can signify that a coin has been cleaned, and the cleaning did not reach into the corners of the devices. However, it often just means a coin has a "crusty" patina on it. Therefore, if a coin exhibits signs of a cleaning (hairlines, lack of luster) and has halos around the devices, we can say that the halos were caused by a cleaning. However, if a coin exhibits no signs of a cleaning except for halos of toning around the devices, then we can say it most likely hasn't been cleaned.

TPGs, Market Acceptable Cleaning, and Buying Coins Online

When first purchasing coins, it is best to start off by only buying coins certified by PCGS or NGC. Other grading services do not have as good of a reputation, and might over-grade coins or grade cleaned or damaged coins with a straight grade.
You might see a coin in a PCGS or NGC holder that appears to be cleaned that does not have that noted on the slab. You might wonder "Why didn't they say "Cleaned" on the slab?" Many times, this is because they thought the cleaning was market acceptable. This means that they thought the coin was not cleaned harshly enough to warrant a "Details - Cleaned" grade, or a coin has been exposed to the environment and has toned, therefore hiding the cleaning. A coin like this may straight grade one day at a TPG and might receive a "details" grade another day. Purchase these coins with caution, as you may have trouble selling them if you decide to do so in the future. Remember - "buy the coin, not the holder." Make sure to examine all coins carefully before buying them.
When purchasing a coin online as a new collector, it's best to buy coins certified by PCGS or NGC. However, don't just assume the coin will be un-cleaned and look like the assigned grade in hand. Make sure you examine the coin carefully on the photos. Check for all the items listed above (hairlines, lack of luster on AU/Unc. Coins, shiny coins that are heavily worn, etc.). Unless the photos are of excellent quality, then it may be hard to analyze the coin from the photos. Well-known dealers on eBay will often use high-resolution, clear photos.

Note: Conserving Coins

A note about conserving coins: To conserve a coin means to remove grime off the surface of a coin without changing the metal of a coin in any way. For example, acetone can be safely used to remove organic matter on coins without damaging the coin being conserved.
This is different than cleaning a coin, which alters the metal on the surface of the coin.
Note that conservation will not remove evidence of a cleaning on a coin.

Hope this article helped you understand cleaned coins better, or if you are new to collecting, help you understand how coins are cleaned and how to avoid them.

Thanks for reading.

Collector of all classic US coinage.

How to identify cleaned coins: http://goccf.com/t/319679
Edited by SilverDollar2017
05/25/2018 10:13 am
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 Posted 05/24/2018  4:49 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add moxking to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Well done.

Two points of some importance. First, emphasis should be placed on understanding that photos only, unless professionally done, will often make it difficult to ascertain grade, eye appeal, or cleaning.

Case in point - I trust Great Collections, Stacks, and Heritage for accurate photography. eBay, not so much unless they are a well known dealer such as David Lawrence.

Two, age should not influence cleaning acceptability. Today's use of the term "market acceptable" is much too broad and will be deleted as a determination once computer technical grading becomes dominant.

Mark that technical grade is objective, while eye appeal is subjective.
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 Posted 05/24/2018  4:54 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Crazyb0 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Good write-up. There's always more to add, gotta start somewhere first tho! Two other things I see a lot are proof coins getting a microfiber cloth buffing, those fine lines are really hard to distinguish and with a little movement of a light, presto-chango! And light surface "touch-ups", especially on older silver series to increase the "eye appeal. Sad, but these are either schmucks selling known problems or an embarrassed new buyer trying to recoup his loss. See these all the time.

Oh, and you can't emphasize enough, in 95% of the cases of cleaned coins, professional conservation WILL NOT work...


kinda echoing Mox, he's just quicker!
Edited by Crazyb0
05/24/2018 4:57 pm
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 Posted 05/24/2018  4:55 pm  Show Profile   Check chafemasterj's eBay Listings Bookmark this reply Add chafemasterj to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Thank you SilverDollar. Actually read it twice.
Check out my counterstamped Lincoln Cent collection:
http://goccf.com/t/303507
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 Posted 05/24/2018  8:20 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Webster to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I noticed you said you're seeing more new collectors on the site are posting cleaned coins, I'm bad at identifying cleaned coins so I cannot but please tell me that you make them aware of this. It may seem crass but I for one would hate to get a coin that has been cleaned and never know it. I have not seen this in the past but maybe I just haven't encountered it personally but I think it would be a good process for the forum to adopt.
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 Posted 05/24/2018  8:33 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add bd251 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Good writeup. I would like to add that it's import not to confuse "shiny" with "luster." I think this is the reason we often see new collectors with polished coins.
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 Posted 05/24/2018  9:01 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add SilverDollar2017 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Thanks for the suggestions. I will go ahead and add them to the post.


Quote:
I'm bad at identifying cleaned coins so I cannot but please tell me that you make them aware of this.


Yes, I always try to notify the person who posted the coin that it has been cleaned.
Collector of all classic US coinage.

How to identify cleaned coins: http://goccf.com/t/319679
Edited by SilverDollar2017
05/24/2018 9:06 pm
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 Posted 05/24/2018  11:54 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Earle42 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Excellent thread and info posted here.

I would emphasize for clarity, that cleaning means you somehow change the metal surface. Conservation means you remove dirt without changing the metal in any way - chemically or physically.

If you spill coffee on a coin, then rinsing off the coffee with distilled water is not "cleaning" in the numismatic sense, but you have conserved the coin.

Bad Thad, one of our members, has a list of safe conservation steps here:
http://goccf.com/t/39932
- When I value " being right" more than what IS right, I am then right...a fool.
- How much squash could a Sasquatch squash if a Sasquatch would squash squash?
- Real men play Fizzbin.
Edited by Earle42
05/25/2018 12:25 am
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 Posted 05/25/2018  6:37 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Slider23 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
SilverDollar2017 you did an excellent job. I would like to expand on your dipped section.

A dipped coin means that the coin was dipped in an acidified solution like eZest or Jewel Luster. These solutions are used most often to remove unwanted toning from the coin. Dipping will remove the surface of the coin at a microscopic level. A coin that has been over dipped can strip the luster off an AU or UNC coin. An UNC coin that has been dipped correctly can be difficult to detect.
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 Posted 05/25/2018  6:55 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add basebal21 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
An UNC coin that has been dipped correctly can be difficult to detect.


Not difficult, impossible. People just guess that it has been dipped based off its color but properly dipped coins aren't detectable
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 Posted 05/25/2018  7:46 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add SilverDollar2017 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Thanks for the suggestions to add to the dipped section.

When I go to edit the topic, it states that I can't edit the topic after 24 hours. Could a staff member help out with editing the post? Thanks.
Collector of all classic US coinage.

How to identify cleaned coins: http://goccf.com/t/319679
Edited by SilverDollar2017
05/25/2018 7:55 pm
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 Posted 05/26/2018  09:16 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add just carl to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Interesting information. Now where is it to be found in the future?
just carl
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 Posted 05/26/2018  11:36 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add SilverDollar2017 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Not really sure...This will probably disappear into the old topics unless it is occasionally bumped or made a sticky.
Collector of all classic US coinage.

How to identify cleaned coins: http://goccf.com/t/319679
Pillar of the Community
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 Posted 05/26/2018  12:02 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add SilverDollar2017 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I thought of an idea for this write up. I noticed that there is a Numismatic Articles section on CCF. No self promotion intended, but would there be a way to have this article considered for being placed in the "Numismatic Articles" section? Just wondering if there is a way to make sure this article doesn't vanish with other old topics.
Thanks.
Collector of all classic US coinage.

How to identify cleaned coins: http://goccf.com/t/319679
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 Posted 05/27/2018  01:13 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add jbuck to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply

Quote:
Could a staff member help out with editing the post?
Use the "Report this Post to the Staff" link and let us know what you need fixed.
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