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Old coins and toning

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Looking for a bit of forum wisdom.

I am looking at buying an old coin, although not any I want to pull the trigger on as of yet.

You see some older coins with wonderful toning and discolouration. You see others of the same type and year quite normal looking.

By that I mean a Silver coin being grey in colour, largely.

What accounts for this ? Storage for example ? Luck ?


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In simplest of terms toning on a silver coin is similar to "rust" on iron and steel.
On silver a chemical reaction occurs when the metal is exposed to pollution especially sulphur compounds contained in e.g. smoke.
This starts to create a thin black layer which when extremely thin creates optical interference and rainbow colours.
Some like this look and some don't but at the end of the day it is still "rust" which on iron is called oxidation since the reaction is with oxygen in the air.
I have seen toning on fine silver coins caused by agents in certain types of plastic and also from the black rings often used in coin capsules.
Chemicals outgassing over long periods of time can cause toning so the choice of wrapping or container etc can become important.
Personally I see nice shiny silver that has turned black as very poorly kept in a smoke filled environment during it's lifetime.
Newer coins that are only a few years old with darkened toning, usually appearing first on the edges tend to indicate air pollution either from traffic, industry, fossil fuel heating and cigarettes.

Edited by Pete
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Any historic silver coin without toning or a grey colour would make me suspect it's been cleaned. Before the advent of plastics most coins were collected and stored in cabinets or albums that were open to the air. There was no choice. When plastics became available for storage a lot of them were not suitable for storing silver and the result was either colourful or, often, black patination.

Circulated coins that ended up in collections are often grey - probably due to being handled by sweaty and greasy hands. I believe the accumulated detritus formed a layer that prevented further toning. Specimen and proof coins that were never/rarely handled tend to show more colour.

The amount of toning will be dependent on the atmospheric pollution the coin was/is exposed to. I have an uncirculated Edward VII crown that is pretty much brown all over - to me the coin has character and appears 'honest'. I also have a Geo II crown that is blindingly shiny even though the details are clear and crisp - it's obviously been cleaned in the last 20 years and, to me, has much less appeal.

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I was coming to the cleaned conclusion myself after reading some of the things in this thread and doing some research.

That's probably a show stopper for me. Some pictures I am looking at might have be done with a flash, either that or its very pale looking.

I will likely give it a miss

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