U.S. Coin Price Guide

Toned Coins

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A. HOW DO COINS GET TONED.

 Knowledge of coin toning is not only useful to know but can be a costly factor in determining the value of a coin. Many people like only "white" coins which more closely resemble the "original" or "virgin" color of a coin seen at the stage of it's minting. We use the term white for all the coins included in the silver category.. including the early type coins of the U.S. and fractional coinage from European nations and third world countries. Other colors of major concern are copper, nickel, and gold. But what do these colors or toning have to do with coins and how to grade them?

 Knowledge of these colors and the process that coins get changed from their natural state to other states can be very useful to the collector. To an extent, a coin's value is determined by the attractiveness of it's coloration. Also, certain types of unnatural color might indicate that a coin has been cleaned or otherwise treated.

 To gain a good idea of determining the original color and consequently a change in the "natural" color of various metals used in coinage, we should explore the four major metals used in producing U.S. coinage. We'll state what they are and then proceed to discuss the reactive processes that these metals can take and the consequences of those reactive processes.(2)

Copper -

 Copper is among the most chemically active of all coinage metals. When a copper coin is first struck, it emerges from the dies with a brilliant pale orange surface.

 Once a freshly minted copper coin enters the atmosphere it immediately begins to oxidize. Over a period of years, especially if exposed to actively circulating air or if placed in contact with sulphites, the coin will acquire a glossy brown surface. In between the brilliant glossy brown stages it will be part red and part brown.

 An un-circulated coin with full original mint brilliance, usually slightly subdued in coloration, is typically described as Brilliant Un-circulated (our example here is for a typical Un-circulated or MS/60 coin); a Choice piece would be called Choice Brilliant Un-circulated, and so on. One which is part way between the brilliant and brown surface hues would be called Red and Brown Un-circulated. Specimens with brownish surfaces can be called Brown Un-circulated. Particularly valuable coins can have the coloration described in more detail. Generally, in any category of grading, the more explanation given, the more accurate the description.

 Early copper coins with full original mint brilliance are more valuable than Red and Brown Un-circulated or Brown Un-circulated pieces. The more original mint brilliance present, the more valuable a coin will be. The same is true of Proofs.

 Circulated copper coins are never fully brilliant, but are toned varying shades of brown.

Nickel -

 Un-circulated nickel coins when first minted are silver/gray in appearance, not as bright as silver but still with much brilliance. Over a period of time nickel coins tend to tone a hazy gray. Circulated nickel coins have a gray appearance.

Silver -

 When first minted, silver coins have a bright silvery-white surface. Over a period of time silver, a chemically active metal, tends to tone deep brow or black. Un-circulated and Proof silver pieces often exhibit very beautiful multi-colored iridescent hues after a few years. The presence of attractive toning often increases a silver coin s value. Advanced collectors will often prefer attractive toned coins. Beginners sometimes think that "brilliant is best". Circulated silver coins will often have a dull gray appearance, sometimes with a deep gray or black area.

Gold -

 When first struck, gold coins are a bright yellow-orange color. As gold coins are not pure gold but are alloyed with copper and traces of other substances, they do tend to tone over a period of time. Over a period of decades, a gold coin will normally acquire a deep orange coloration, sometimes with light brown or orange-brow toning "stains" or streaks in certain areas (resulting from improperly mixed copper trace in the alloy). Light toning does not affect the value of a gold coin.

 Very old gold coins, particularly those in circulated grades, will sometimes show a red oxidation. Gold coins which have been recovered from treasure wrecks after centuries at the sea bottom will sometimes have a minutely porous surface because of the corrosive action of sea water. Such pieces sell for less than specimens which have not been so affected. Care must be taken to distinguish these from cast copies which often have a similar surface.

 Now that we've determined the forces that can change the natural planchets of a coin, we have set the foundation for distinguishing between artificial and naturally toned coins. In our experience, the majority of unnatural toned coins is easily detectable. However, as the reader will further read , the coin doctors are also aware of the information. That's why the interview with one of the so-called "coin doctors" shed even more light on a very complicated subject.

B. Artificial Toning.. .An Interview With a Coin Doctor

 There have been many attempts to give a coin the appearance of being in a higher grade than it actually is. Numismatists refer to such treatments as "doctoring". This doctoring can include any different number of processes... .with chemical alteration being the number 1 method of enhancement.

 As our reader has now discovered from Part (A), coloration is a powerful tool that put into the right hands, represents a tremendous profit possibility for those people we appropriately refer to as "Coin Doctors". People who doctor coins fall into two different categories.

 Category 1 is the chemical and surface alteration of a coin while Category 2 is the mechanical alteration of a coin' s devices. Category 2 will be covered in a separate report and refers to date changes, added or removed mint marks and the physical metal movement in a coin. Category 1, however, will be discussed in this summary because it is such an informative part of the procedures used in "doctoring" coins.

 The story of how a coin gets doctored begins with a lie.. It all started with the explanation that a group of coins which had "toned" considerably was from an old timey collection. This collection had apparently been stored in paper holders like 2 x 2's (envelope) or in the old style coin albums. The coins in question exhibited beautiful shades of purple, orange, sea green and light tinges of orange. These were blended in color hues that produced streaks and cameo target designs on several of the coins. As the reader may surmise at this point, the coins in question were all artificially enhanced to produce the most attractive array of color toning. These are the same shades that professional coin dealers recognize as "profit possibilities" even though some retail customers think otherwise. Now, back to the story.

 The lie, began by the dealer selling the coins, was not only believable but was further reinforced by the crinkled cellophane with names of major numismatic auction companies and old time collector greats (like B. Maxmehl and others). At this point, money changes hands and the coins locked away for safe keeping. Months later, one of the foremost coin doctors who happens to be visiting the proud new owner of the "toned coins routinely engages to purchase coins from the host dealer. All at once, the doctor spots one of the treated coins. Further discussion between the dealer and the doctor blooms into a full scale conversation about chemically treated coins. Finally, the doctor admits working on some of the actual coins owed by the dealer, At this point, he admits extensive knowledge into the process and begins the education of the dealer. Here are some of his comments:

1) Coins that exhibit spotted toning no matter the colors are most likely artificially produced. These spots are normally mistakes that cannot be erased or diffed off so the doctor leaves them, He normally changes his method at this point to accentuate his error in order to salvage the coin. As one might expect, coins of higher value usually are the focus of such meticulous efforts. Let's go back to the spots. The chemicals used in producing the spots are normally mixed in crucibles and oftentimes heated to give the drying effort and time lapse normally needed. A small Bunsen burner is employed to keep the mixture thinned and homogenous. Q-tips and sometimes swabs or gauze are also part of the painting process. After the coin has been chemically treated, light heat is sometimes applied to give the appearance of age.

2) One of the most difficult colors to duplicate is the "sea green" that many dealers feel is the most sought after "toned effect". If the green is too dark, forget it.. .you probably have an artificial color. In many cases, the mixture of colors will actually change from light green (sea green) to a darker olive color simply from the interaction of oxygen and the cooling effect. At this point, the doctor will normally try to lighten up the unaltered areas of the coin with a light painting of green residue. This process normally fools the observer in thinking that the coin has been in an environmental atmosphere where the residue is perfectly a natural consequence. And because of this thought process, the observer feels confident that the toning is perfectly natural.

3) Target toning is another method you can use to determine of a color is genuine or not. The doctor pointed out for example on a proof Morgan dollar that he had processed how you do this. The dollar in question, he explained, had been a near white Proof 63 (slabbed) that he wanted to resubmit for a possible 64 or shot '65'. However, the coin had some small hairlines between the outer devices and Miss Liberty. The problem therefore was to hide these marks and simultaneously enhance the eye appeal. One of the best methods explained was the "target effect". Here's how it works.. The doctor has 2 problems. First, hide the hairlines. But to do this would involve spot toning or chemical arcing chat could possibly lower the value of the proof Morgan. Also, it could be too obvious that the problem area was also located in the same vicinity. The doctor surmises that the only natural- looking thing to do is give the coin a cameo look by producing a target appearance on the obverse. A target effect is accomplished by painting concentric circles on the outer periphery of the coin and continuing the circles inward, stopping at or near Miss Liberty's face. The toned circles are accented with the white face that is not painted. Colors usually include light blue and a tinge of purple until the toning begins to fade into the white area. As the doctor explained to us, natural coin toning does not happen this way. When you see a target toned coin ... be cautious. The coin should tone somewhat throughout the entire area although in very limited circumstances such an effect could occur naturally.

 The coin doctor we interviewed relayed some real stories about the kind of treatments possible in changing a coin from one color to another. The apparent best safeguard that you can take as a coin buyer is to know the dealer you buy from. Also, look for coins that exhibit continuous tone or those that do not hide marks or scratches. Use a good 3-X or l0-X glass to examine the surface of the coin. If, after you purchase the coin you are still apprehensive, send it off to our grading service. Beautifully toned coins nearly always bring more money so it's very important that the surface is natural and environmentally undamaged.

C. Toning is Not a Grading Factor

 Unlike popular belief, the toning that might be present on a coin and which might add considerably to the coin's overall eye appeal is not to be considered one of the grading elements. Toning is an enhancing feature that might affect the coin's final price but not it's grade. Coins that are toned are best graded as if they were fully brilliant. Toning, if present is described separately from the grade with such adjectives as "attractive rainbow toning" and so on. We will tell you that all of the grading services, however, do consider toning in their subjective eye appeal although maybe not in the technical point system of the final grade. It's just natural that anyone who sees an attractively toned coin, gives special attention to that eye appealing quality. Attractive, natural toning will enhance the grade if it adds to the eye appeal of the coin.

D. Toning Means Unique Collectibles

 Beautifully toned Morgan and Peace dollars are one of the most diverse and collectible areas in numismatics. Indeed, many collectors consider each silver dollar with bright toning to be a unique work of art. While some individuals prefer to include only white coins in their collections, a growing number of numismatists have acquired a fondness for undipped, brightly toned specimens. An exploration of the aesthetic and technical benefits of beautiful toning can help equip collectors with the knowledge to avoid any pitfalls which we may encounter.

 Toning may be defined as a thin layer or film which develops on the surface of a coin over an extended period of time. Thin film interference, the phenomenon which causes us to view different colors on a coin s surface, involves the reflection and cancellation of light at different wavelengths. (For an excellent explanation of the chemistry and optics associated with thin film interference, you may wish to consult Pages 43-44 of Wayne Miller's Morgan and Peace Dollar Textbook).

 Silver dollars may acquire beautiful toning for any number of reasons. First, if a coin rests against the side of a U.S. Mint bag for many years, the sulfur used as a preservative in the canvas may react with the silver oxide patina on the coin to form bright iridescent toning. The intensity of the colors depends to a large extent upon the humidity of the environment in which the bag was stored, the length of time that the bag remained undisturbed and the exact location of the coin within the bag.

 If the Mint bag has remained untouched in a damp basement for many decades, numerous brightly toned coins may emerge from the depths of the bag. Moreover, since a bag of silver dollars weighs more than 60 pounds, we would expect a fair number of brightly toned specimens to form near the bottom, since these coins are in strong contact with the canvas. The important point to remember is that toning develops only if a coin remains in constant contact with the canvas. Therefore, if the coins have been jostled around within the Mint bag (i.e. if the bag has been repeatedly opened or moved), fewer toned coins will result.

 Superbly bright red, magenta, emerald green, electric blue and other rainbow hues are the hallmark of Mint bag toning. The coloration may be monochromatic, multicolored or lightly mottled. An arc of rainbow toning forms if a coin rests partially atop another, thus blocking the lower coin from complete contact with the canvas.

 One of the most spectacular forms of Mint bag toning shows the intricate textile pattern of the canvas as a multicolored pattern on the surface of a coin, In such cases, a coin has remained absolutely immobile for decades, so the actual weave of the cloth has transferred to the toning scheme on the coin.

 Extended enclosure within an original paper roll may also elicit iridescent toning. Since a small amount of sulfur was commonly used to preserve paper, old-time rolls of Morgan dollars may display bright peripheral toning or concentric rings of coloration.

 Unlike Mint bag toning, which usually forms on only one side of a coin (since only one side is in contact with the canvas), original roll toning may be present on both the obverse and reverse of the same specimen. Since the paper in an original roll touches only the edge of the coin, the toning tends to develop on the edge and slowly spreads toward the center of both sides, thus allowing for two-side coloration.

 Smooth, pastel shades of violet, sky blue, sea-green, lavender and light yellow are produced by long-term storage within original rolls. Seldom are the colors as intense as Mint bag toning, since the surfaces of original roll specimens do not come in direct contact with the paper. However, end roll coins may display bright, irregular toning as a result of the folding paper which covers the end of the roll.

 Paper envelopes also act to produce light toning. Many of the beautifully toned coins in famous old-time collections (such as the Garrett and Norweb collections) reposed for generations in paper envelopes. While light golden or russett toning generally forms as a result of this method of storage, other brighter colors may result, depending upon other factors such as humidity, heat and handling the three H's.

 Old-time albums constitute the final method of storage which regularly produces toning. The "National" albums issued by Wayte Raymond yield bright blue, gold and red toning, although the colors may be either mottled or smooth. Whitman albums yield similar shades of deep gold, lavender, and red.

 There are several distinct benefits of purchasing beautifully toned silver dollars versus their un-toned counterparts. Generally speaking, most nicely toned dollars have never been cleaned, since even the mildest dipping removes a coin s natural coloration. Next, many toned coins boast absolutely fabulous eye appeal; viewing the interplay of bright, natural colors atop intensely lustrous surfaces has often been described as an emotional experience. Indeed, many collectors routinely express genuine emotion when viewing a toned dollar. They say that they "Love the color''!

 Because the patination on every toned silver dollar is unique, such coins are extremely collectible - each is different from another.

 Finally, because deep toning may de-emphasize hairlines or other surface abrasions, purchasing toned dollars sharpens our grading skills, for we must carefully look beneath the toning to accurately grade the coin.

 Although the majority of toned silver dollars on the market have acquired their coloration over a long period of time, the beginning collector must beware of artificially toned coins.

 The parameters which determine a coin to be artificially toned remain a topic of hot debate, but for the purpose of the present discussion, we shall define artificial toning as any rapid chemical, electrical or otherwise unorthodox process which produces or induces coloration on one or more surface of a coin. Since storing silver dollars in a Mint bag, an original roll, a paper envelope or an album allows toning to form over a period of many years, such toning must be considered natural.

 Artificial toning frequently yields intensely fluorescent purple, blue or red toning. Furthermore, coins which have been literally "baked" display brown or deep gold coloration.

 Other artificially toned dollars show a hazy or smoky patina on the surface. Simply smelling your coin is an excellent way to detect spurious coloration, If your coin smells electrical, burned, or generally "cooked", beware! If you have any questions concerning the veracity of a toned coin, consult your local professional numismatist.

 Certification of toned silver dollars a third-party grading service remains the best method of weeding out artificially toned coins. Since none of the major grading services will encapsulate specimens with even "questionable" toning, collecting only "slabbed" coins may be your best insurance policy.

 Furthermore, certification provides an excellent method of storage, since encapsulation protects coins from mishandling and environmental damage. Since beautiful toning adds tremendous eye-appeal to a coin, several of the grading services occasionally upgrade the most attractive specimens. If nothing else, toned dollars look good and are easily handled in the compact plastic holders.

 Attractively toned common-date silver dollars routinely trade for more than their un-toned counterparts. The most spectacularly toned specimens often sell for more than twice the price of their white counterparts. Moreover, toned Morgan dollars remain relatively unaffected by the wildly fluctuating rare coin market.

 Since the toning on each of these coins is unique, many toned dollar collectors do not concern themselves with sight-unseen generic price levels. Therefore, one may conclude that toned dollars remain one of the last stable areas in numismatics !

 Beautifully toned Morgan dollars offer tremendous collect ability and a genuine degree of uniqueness with each coin. The guarantee of originality which accompanies brightly toned certified dollars will please those who insist upon un-cleaned, problem-free coins. If you possess a taste for the aesthetically beautiful, and if you appreciate the diversity of color which Mother Nature paints on each piece, you will enjoy exploring the world of beautifully toned Morgan dollars.


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