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Toning and Tarnishing on Coins Click to return to Coin FAQsChard 24 Carat Home Page

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Obverse of 1671 Charles II Halfcrown
Obverse of 1671 Charles II Halfcrown
with Oil Effect toning

Obverse of 2004 Silver Britannia - Toned
Obverse of 2004 Silver Britannia - Toned
Obverse of 2004 Silver Britannia - Toned
Reverse of 2004 Silver Britannia - Toned
Obverse of 2004 Silver Britannia - After Being Silver-Dipped
Obverse of 2004 Silver Britannia - After Being Silver-Dipped
Obverse of 2004 Silver Britannia - After Being Silver-Dipped
Reverse of 2004 Silver Britannia - After Being Silver-Dipped
Toning and Tarnishing on Coins

What is toning?, what causes it?, should collectors worry?, can anything be done to stop or remove it?

Tone and Tarnish - The Same Only Different
Essentially, the two words mean the same, but with a positive or negative implication respectively.
Many experienced coin collectors realise and believe that an old coin which has acquired a beautiful rainbow toning over a long period of time, looks better, and appears more natural than one which still looks as bright and shiny as the day it was minted.
Different coinage metals tone differently, so at this point, we will provide a brief analysis of the different main coinage metals:

Toning on Silver Coins
We hear more comment about toning or tarnish on silver coins than on any other metal. There are a number of reasons for this.
In its normal elemental state, silver is highly reflective, having a brilliant white metallic lustre. Because of this, when it does tone, as it always does, the contrast and difference is more noticeable than with most other metals. Collectors who are ignorant of this fact will often complain that their coin is tarnished, applying a negative spin to the facts.
The best way to avoid being disappointed by having bought a toned silver coin, or finding the a coin you already own has tarnished is to realise that silver does and will react with atmospheric gases and other chemicals, and therefore will tone.
There are ways to slow the development of toning, such as storing the coins in a dry inert atmosphere, storing them in tight fitting capsules, or both. Real coins, the sort which were originally issued for use in circulation as money, were never issued or stored in capsules, and were generally stored in a safe place, with little regard to the almost irrelevant and unimportant fact that they would tone. Modern coins, many of which are designed, made, and marketed for and to collectors or investors, are usually packaged in such a way as to protect them from casual handling, and this protection often takes the form of a plastic capsule, which, as explained above, usually helps to reduct the rate of toning, but seldom, if ever, eliminates it. The encapsulation used buy most Professional Coin Grading Companies probably eliminates further toning, although most plastics are slightly unstable, and we in the course of time, actually damage the surface of the coins they are intended to protect.
Coin collectors who expect all their silver coins to arrive bright and shiny, and for them to stay that way, are like people who prefer silicon breast implants compared with the real thing.

Removing Toning or Tarnish
We would always to prefer, and recommend, to leave most coins as they are, and refrain from cleaning them. More coins are ruined by careless cleaning than any other cause. Sometimes we will silver dip coins which we think may benefit from the removal of over-dark or very uneven toning. Mostly we try to leave toning where when it looks natural and enhances the appearance of a coin. Remember that the toning actually helps to prevent further toning.
We we do decide to "dip" a silver coin, we normally use "Goddard's Silver Dip", a proprietary product which states that it contains thiourea (an organosulfur compound with the formula SC(NH2)2). We have never seen a fully detailed explanation of the reaction which takes place, but we suspect that each use removes a slight amount of silver from the surface as opposed to restoring it. Another method which we really should get around to trying, is to use aluminium foil in a baking powder solution, which is stated to reverse toning action, but we doubt that all of the original surface is restored to precisely the same original location and state.

Cleaning Coins
Generally don't, but... Cleaning Silver Coins.
Silver acquires a tone through tarnishing. A pleasant, even tone can enhance the appearance and desirability of an old silver coin. Some toning has rich blue, green, indigo, and violet "oil effects", toning like this will be appreciated by most connoisseurs. Do not clean any silver coin with this type of toning.
If a silver coin is so dark brown or black that its design can hardly be seen, then it may, be worth dipping, usually in a proprietary solution, such as Goddard's Silver Dip. If in any doubt, don't!
Whatever you do, do not use any abrasive paste or cloth.
Warm soapy water may also be used.
Even if silver coins are carefully cleaned, they end up looking artificially bright and silvery. Many collectors will not buy a silver coins which looks as though it has been cleaned.

Cleaning Coins Spoils the Toning
As we have said for silver coins, it is easy to spoil a pleasing tone, which may have taken centuries to be acquired. Copper and bronze coins will almost always end up looking a brassy unpleasant colour after cleaning. Even gold coins can sometimes be ruined by removing a rich tone which has built up over a long period of time.

Buying Coins
We also buy coins, please see our We Buy Coins page. the Lowest Possible Price

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