Coin Collecting FAQs - Coin Collector's University - ACSB.com

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An Introduction & Guide to Coin Collecting

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About Coin Collector's University

Coin Collector's University was created by the Numismatists & coin enthusiasts at American Coin & Stamp Brokerage. Our goal is to help answer the most commonly asked questions about coin collecting. We understand the more you know about coin collecting the more rewarding & enjoyable it will be. We understand because coin collecting is not only our business, it's our passion.

-- Rich, Allen, Mark
& the staff at ACSB

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I Have A Stupid Question...

Our answer is always "There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers". What we mean is, when you're learning about coin collecting (or anything else for that matter) we feel it's best you ask a question, no matter how stupid it may seem, and get the correct information, rather than continue to be ignorant about the subject and possibly do something wrong or something you'll regret. We always try our best to give simple, honest answers that our customers can not only understand, but can apply to their hobby.

What's the best way to clean my coins?

How can I tell when a coin has been cleaned?

How should I store my coins?

What are Mint Sets?

What are proof coins?

What are slabs?

How can coins be removed from slabs?

What's the best way to ship or mail coins to someone?

What is Numismatics?

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What's the best way to clean my coins?

This is probably the second most frequent question we're asked week after week. The answer is DON'T CLEAN YOUR COINS!! Similar to restoring fine works of art, this is a job best left to professionals. A professional will know if it's actually needed, what to use, and how to remove foreign substances while maintaining the coin's value. While you might think they'll look nicer if they're bright & shiny, the vast majority of collectors prefer coins with an original appearance. Cleaning a coin may reduce its collector value by half or more. Even wiping with a soft cloth will cause small but undesirable scratches, which will reduce the coin's value.

If the surface of a coin appears to be tarnished, it is best left alone. The color change is the result of a natural process, which collectors call toning. In addition, natural toning can sometimes increase the value of a coin, giving the coin character & providing proof it has not been tampered with. Time after time we've been approached by people who present us with coins they'd like to sell and are greatly disappointed when they find they're worth less (or worthless) because they took the time to clean them and make them "pretty" before bringing them in. Sadly, many of these coins probably sat around in the attic or a desk drawer of a relative for forty or fifty years or more & had beautiful natural tone, then, only just before bringing them in to be sold, were they ruined.

Dirt, plastic film, adhesives from tape, and other foreign substances adhering to a coin can sometimes be safely removed. But again this is best left to the professionals.

If you insist....

If the coin is not too expensive you may want to try removing the "dirt" on your own. If the coin has substantial value, please consult with a professional before proceeding. But for those of you who insist on the do-it-yourself approach....try soaking the coin for a few days either in olive oil or soapy water, followed by a thorough rinse with tap water. Dry the coin thoroughly with compressed air or allow it to air dry. Do not rub the coin. Commercial coin cleaners may also be carefully used to more quickly loosen foreign substances.

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How can I tell when a coin has been cleaned?

All Coins:

If the coin has been cleaned with an abrasive, the coin will have hairlines. Also, abrasive cleaning often leaves some dirt & left over abrasive the recesses of the coin.

A natural (not cleaned or tampered with) coin has a particular appearance which reflects the history of its handling & storage. Poorly stored coins tend to have a "dirty" appearance to the toning. Coins that have lived for a long time in a coin cabinet tend to have spectacular colored toning. Coins stored in a clean metal vault may stay white or red for a long time. Coins stored in albums develop either the familiar "ring toning" (slide type albums) or the much less desirable "one sided toning" (cardboard push-in type albums). Coins stored in canvas mint bags often show spectacular rainbow toning, similar to that seen on coins stored in coin cabinets.

Sudden "hard line" changes in color usually do not occur on naturally toned coins. Naturally toned coins exhibit a gradual change in color or darkness.

Copper/Bronze/Brass Coins:

Copper/bronze/brass coins that have been cleaned have an unnatural color, often looking like a toned gold coin. Even after they retone, they tend it tends to be uneven and a slightly odd color.

Naturally toned, circulated copper coins tend to be very uniform in color, although they might be dark and dirty around the lettering and similar protected areas. If you see hints of brightness in the recesses of a VF copper coin, beware, it most likely has been cleaned as is now retoning. Uncirculated copper may tone very unevenly (especially proofs), so don't automatically count this as a cleaned coin.

Silver Coins:

If the coin has been "dipped", it may or may not be detectable. A bright white 1801 half dollar is immediately suspect. Although it is possible for a coin of this age & type to exist, it is highly unlikely. Also dipping can strip the luster off of the coin. In coins with a grade of XF (or EF) or better you can expect some luster. If a coin should have luster, according to it's grade, but doesn't, it most likely has been "dipped".

Silver coins that have been cleaned tend to be extremely uniform in color after they retone, including the tops of the letters and protected areas. Silver coins with natural toning will usually show some variation in the color at these places. A heavily toned and subsequently dipped silver coin will tend to have a gray appearance caused by surface roughness rather than tarnish. This can be detected by careful examination with a strong magnifier.

Its Your Opinion That Really Matters:

While most collector's prefer coins that have not been tampered with, a few (very few) prefer to have a coin that is totally free of toning, no matter what has to be done to get it. All we can say to those collectors is, beware of your investment & be careful what you wish for.

If you prefer natural coins that are free of toning (& you cannot afford that bright white 1801 half dollar), you will probably have a hard time being satisfied & ultimately may not fully enjoy the hobby.

In any event, its mostly a matter of looking at a lot of coins and forming your own opinions.

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How should I store my coins?

Environment

A relatively constant, moderate temperature and low humidity are preferable for long term storage of numismatic collectibles. Placing packets of silica gel in coin storage areas helps control moisture. Silica gel can be obtained an most coin shops or coin collecting supplies shop. See our Resources section for more information.

If at all possible you should never store your collectibles in a basement or attic. Attics can be overly hot, dry, or musty. Basements are notoriously damp & are often subject to flood & water damage. Unless you have an air-tight and water-tight and climate-controlled attic or basement, you should avoid storing your collectibles there. For important information about insurance policies in regard to basements & basement apartments (or any room where the floor is below ground level) please refer to our Insurance Policies section.

Holders

Need coin supplies & holders? Come visit us on-line 24/7. If you don't see what you want simply email us with your request.

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What are mint sets?

Generally speaking, a mint set is an uncirculated collection of coins from a particular year & country packaged specially for the collector. It should include every denomination minted that year. If the coins were struck at more than one mint, the collection may include a complete set of coins from each mint, or the coins from each mint may be packaged separately. Unlike proof sets, these are "normal" or business issue coins, intended for circulation (when struck) and are not minted with any special handling or consideration for quality. Mint sets may be assembled and distributed by the issuing government or treasury, by dealers and other private companies, or by individuals.

Official United States Mint Sets sold by the Treasury from 1947 to 1958 contained two specimens of each regular issue denomination and mint mark, called "double-mint" sets. Double-mint sets were packaged in cardboard holders. These cardboard holders did little to protect the coins from tarnishing (toning). Because of this, nicely preserved early sets may sell for up to 10-20% over listed values.

Since 1959 official U.S. mint sets have been sealed in a protective plastic envelope. In 1965, 1966 and 1967 higher quality mint sets were made as a substitute for proof sets (proof sets were not produced during these years). The 1966 and 1967 sets were packaged in hard plastic holders. These mint sets were called SMS, or, Special Mint Sets.

Privately packaged mint sets are valued at or priced differently than those packaged by the issuing government. Privately assembled mint sets are valued according to worth of each individual coin it contains. Official government issued sets are valued as a set.

No official U.S. government issued mint sets were made in 1950, 1982, or 1983. Privately issued sets are hard to come by.

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What are proof coins?

Proof coins are specially manufactured for sale at a premium to collectors for the sole purpose of collecting although proof coins are actually considered legal tender and could be used as such if a person so desired (but this would highly unusual & a bit nutty due to their high value). They are also sometimes manufactured for exhibition or for presentation as a gift or award.

Proofs are generally distinguishable from ordinary coins by their mirror like fields, frosty devices (especially in recent years) and extra sharp details. To obtain these qualities, each proof coin die is polished to produce an extremely smooth surface and used for a limited number of coins. Planchets are hand fed to the coin press, where they are struck at a higher than ordinary pressure. Struck coins are removed by hand with gloves or tongs. Modern proof coins are usually packaged in clear plastic to protect them from handling, moisture, etc.

Proof coins are offered as individual pieces or in sets called, applicably, proof sets. They are often confused with mint sets by the novice or beginning collector. Mint sets, also referred to as uncirculated sets or UNC sets, are also sold at a premium to collectors. Since both mint and proof sets are considered uncirculated this is where the confusion lies. Generally speaking, when one refers to an UNC set it means "mint set". Proof sets are rarely referred to as uncirculated (or UNC sets) even though they are in fact made up of uncirculated coins. We hope this ends the confusion.

For many years the U.S. Mint has sold annual sets of proof coins. These "regular" proof sets usually contain one proof coin of each denomination minted. In 1983, 1984 and 1986-97, Prestige Sets were also sold. Prestige Sets include all the coins in the regular set, plus one or two commemorative coins issued the same year. Since 1992, the U.S. Mint has also offered Silver Proof Sets, which include 90% silver versions of the proof dime, quarter(s) and half dollar. From 1992 through 1998, the Mint also offered a Premier Silver Proof Set. The two types of silver proof sets contain the same coins, with the premier set housing them in fancier packaging.

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What are slabs?

A certified coin, or slab, is a coin that has been authenticated, graded and encased in a sonically sealed, hard plastic holder by a professional certification service. The holder affords protection from subsequent wear or damage but is not airtight and therefore will not prevent toning. Because any tampering with the holder will be obvious, it also prevents replacing the certified coin with something else.

Counterfeit and altered coins slabbed by major certification services are not unknown but are extremely uncommon. The authenticity of a coin may be guaranteed by the company that slabbed it. Therefore, a coin slabbed by a major certification service offers some protection, especially when fakes are known to exist and the prospective buyer is not able to reliably determine its authenticity.

Some certification services will not slab coins that have been altered, whizzed, cleaned (dipping is sometimes acceptable), artificially toned or otherwise damaged. Others certification services will slab the coin and identify the problem on the label.

Keep in mind grades are opinions. The same coin may receive different grades if submitted to different services or even if it is "cracked out" and resubmitted to the same service.

Furthermore, grading standards for some uncirculated coins have changed since slabs were first produced in 1986, so a coin in an early slab may may receive a different grade if it were resubmitted now. Remember, the grade indicated on a slab represents the opinions of usually no more than a few people who examined the coin at the time it was submitted, and is not the final word on the subject. When purchasing a slabbed coin you should weigh the "protection" you get from a slabbed coin against how much you personally like this coin. Never buy a coin just because it's slabbed. Buy it because you like it, and if it's slabbed, well, that's just a bonus & a bit of reassurance.

Prices usually range from $7.50 to $175.00 per coin, depending on the service and turnaround time, plus shipping costs in both directions. Like express shipping, if you want your coin certification rushed through it will cost more. Some certification services will give discounts for large quantities. Some coin dealers send coins out to be slabbed on a regular basis. Asking your local dealer to include your coin in their group may save you some money. But keep in mind large groups of coins are never given "express" treatment unless a express service is paid for.

One last word of caution; Some "services" may not be regarded by experienced numismatists as legitimate and may not even be backed by a guarantee of the coin's authenticity. Learning about the service's reputation may save you from paying considerably more than its true market value. If in doubt about a slabbing service, ask a local dealer or experienced numismatist who's opinion you trust.

Refer to our Resources section for information on companies that slab or certify coins.

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How can coins be removed from slabs?

Always wear safety glasses or goggles when ever removing a coin from a slab or hard plastic case!

Until recently, coins could be removed from NGC, ANACS, PCI etc. holders without great difficulty. It was even easier to remove coins from PCGS holders. Numerous complaints from dealers & other customers (who found the slabs cracked too easily in storage or in shipping) prompted many of the slabbing services to improve their plastic encasements. This has resulted in the newer cases being much harder to open or "crack" than earlier slabs from the same service.

General Method (used for most recently slabbed coins)

Tools required: vise, hammer, chisel; safety glasses or goggles Method: Secure the slab in the vise along either long side. The vise should overlap only enough plastic to ensure that the holder is secured (1/4 inch or so). Tighten as necessary to avoid slab movement while you're using the hammer and chisel. Position the chisel in the seam between the two pieces of plastic near the upright corner further from the coin. Carefully tap the chisel with the hammer until the plastic pieces separate. Ideally, the chisel will wedge between the two pieces and can be used to pry them completely apart. Carefully remove the coin from the separated/fragmented plastic.

Earlier PCGS slabs

Tools required: lineman's pliers or wire cutters; safety glasses or goggles Method: Position the pliers along either long side of the slab at the middle of the coin such that the cutting edges are outside the edge of the coin. Squeeze forcefully. The plastic will crack across the entire width of the holder. Carefully separate the plastic pieces and remove the coin.

Of course, you should always take the greatest care not to harm the coin. If you are having trouble or feel you might not be able to safely remove the coin, take it to your local dealer who (most likely) will remove the coin for you at no charge.

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What's the best way to ship or mail coins to someone?

American Coin & Stamp Brokerage has been shipping coins & other valuable collectibles to it's clients for more than 15 years. Our experience may be able to help insure your valuables get to their destination safely.
Packaging

Coins should of course be packaged securely for shipping. The reason is two-fold. First and foremost you will want to protect your coins when they are jostled during shipping (and they will be jostled). Secondly, any package that reveals it contains coins is an open invitation to unscrupulous people to steal the package or try to remove some of its contents: Improperly packaged in an envelope, a coin's outline can show through the envelope once it has been "pressed" between other envelopes or packages. Any package that rattles with the sound of coins jingling is a theft just waiting to happen. And yes, believe it, we have had coins sent to us in this manner.

One, or a few individual coins:

1. Always place individual coins in flips, mylars,or coin envelopes first (if not already in slabs or other hard plastic case).

2. Cut pieces of corrugated cardboard and sandwich the coins between them. Make sure you tape all around the edges so they cannot slide out. Alternately (and even better), some coin shops sell corrugated safety mailers meant for just this purpose. There is no need for cutting and taping since these are precut to fold over and fit in #10 envelopes and are pre-glued to press & seal together. There is no chance of the coins sliding or rattling between the cardboard.

3. Secure the outside of the envelope with packaging tape. Use brown paper tape (not clear) if you are going to send you package via registered U.S. Mail. Padded envelopes are also prohibited with registered mail.

* Keep in mind the United States Postal Service (USPS) does not allow "irregularly shaped" objects to be sent in "regular" size envelopes. You can judge for yourself if your package is too thick for a regular envelope, or ask someone at the post office. Otherwise, to be sure, you may want to use a larger padded envelope or a box.

Large quantities of coins:

1. Always place individual coins in flips, mylars,or coin envelopes first (if not already in slabs or other hard plastic case).

2. Push a soft piece of foam, cotton or bubble wrap (packing "peanuts" do well) in the end of each tube. Make it tight enough to ensure there is no movement. If there is any chance a tube may open, tape it shut.

3. Bundle individual coins, tubes, mint sets, etc., tightly together with rubber bands or create several coin "sandwiches" as described above.

4. Place bundles of 2x2s, tubes, and multi-coin holders (e.g. proof sets) in a sturdy box.

5. Place a card or piece of paper inside the box which shows the "to" and "from" addresses. This is as a precaution just in case the outer shipping label comes off.

6. Use bubble wrap, foam, Styrofoam peanuts or newspaper to completely fill extra space, ideally with some padding between the contents and every side of the box.

7. Thoroughly tape every seam & end of the outside of the box. If the box is heavy use reinforced tape. If the box is heavy you may want to consider taping the entire box (every inch of the outside) with reinforced tape. If the box is not a new shipping box be sure to cover all wording that does not pertain to your shipment or the delivery. Use brown paper tape (not clear) if you are going to send you package via registered U.S. Mail.

8. It is also a good idea to cover the "to" and "from" addresses with clear packing tape. This helps to prevent any labels from coming off and the ink from smearing in moist or wet conditions. If you are going to ship via registered U.S. Mail be sure clear tape only covers the addresses as clear tape is prohibited with registered mail. (Padded envelopes are also prohibited with registered mail.)

9. For very large quantities or heavy shipments consider using several boxes to reduce weight in each one.

10. If using more than one box, mark each box on the outside & inside (place a piece of paper inside). For example, if there are three boxes the first box should be labeled "box 1 of 3", the second box "box 2 of 3" and the third box should be labeled "box 3 of 3". While there's no guarantee, this may help the packages stay together as they "travel".

11. Inform the person you are shipping to how many boxes were shipped and describe how they are packaged. This precaution should be taken since all too often packages either bust open or are intentionally opened before they get to their destination. If the recipient knows, for example, if the package was shipped in one box wrapped with brown reinforced tape they should refuse to sign for a package that looks different in any way.

12. Make sure you insure your package for it's full value. Keep a receipt or some other kind of official record of their value. If you don't have a receipt a letter of appraisal may do.

Addressing

To reduce the chances of the package being stolen, do not use any words in the address or return address suggesting it may contain something valuable. Omit words like Coin and Gold or use abbreviations. For example, use XYZ Company rather than XYZ Coin Company and AGE, Inc. rather than Antarctic Gold Emporium, Inc.

Shipping

Mail rather than a private courier such as UPS or FED EX, is generally preferable for shipping coins. Many couriers will not insure packages containing coins. Different types of mail service are available, and the best one depends on the value of the package. For packages delivered by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), options include first class, third class, priority mail and registered mail.

For packages worth $600 or less, regular insured first class mail should be sufficient.

For packages worth over $600, we strongly suggest registered mail with adequate insurance.

Packages weighing up to 2 pounds can be sent by priority mail to a U.S. address (including APO). Some priority boxes & envelopes can be obtained at your local post office for free. Insurance is additional.

A package insured for up to $50 or less does not require a signature by the recipient unless you pay extra for it.

"Blue label" insurance, which is available for packages valued at up to $5000, is supposed to require a signature for delivery.

Registered mail is the safest way to ship valuables and the only way to insure for more than $5000. A registered package must be signed for by every postal employee who handles it, as well as the recipient. Postal regulations prohibit padded envelopes and all but paper tape (which does not include masking tape) for registered shipments. For packages valued at more than $400, registered mail may be cheaper than first class mail with insurance!

Nothing is gained by using certified mail for coins or other valuables, and return receipts are only useful for proving that the addressee received the package. If the package is sent by registered mail or is insured for more than $50, it must be signed for on receipt anyway.

Shipping Outside the United States:

If you intend to ship from the United States to another country we highly recommend you speak with your local postal authorities about rules, regulations & risks. Keep in mind the United States Postal Authority's jurisdiction stops at the United States Border.

For information on shipping from outside the United States we recommend you contact the postal authorities in the country of origin.

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What is numismatics?

A simple definition of numismatics is; the the collection and study of coins, paper money, tokens and medals, and indeed these are the most widely collected and studied numismatic materials. Other items representing current or past financial assets or liabilities are also included such as stock certificates, checks and notes of financial obligations. With such breadth of material, numismatics offers virtually inexhaustible opportunities for exploration, learning and enjoyment.

Numismatic items are collected and studied for many reasons, including their historical significance and artistic merits, as well as their role in commerce. When significant demand exists, they may obtain numismatic value beyond their current monetary value (if any as with coins and other forms of legal tender).

Coin collecting is perhaps the most popular part of the hobby. and is sometimes used to refer to the entire numismatic spectrum.

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Disclaimer

Coin Collector's University attempts to address the most commonly asked questions about coin collecting. It is intended only as a general guide to the hobby. The information found in this website should not be misconstrued as an actual course in Numismatics and is in no way intended for use as investment advice. Inclusion or mention of a product, dealer or company in this FAQ does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation.

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