A good coin doctor can repair just about anything. Ron once saw a very valuable coin that had broken into two pieces, rendering it almost worthless. The two pieces were soldered together and the surface details reengraved with incredible skill. Had he not known what was done, he doubts whether he ever would have detected the repair work. We’ve seen holes filled, surfaces smoothed, scratches removed, rim dents hammered out, and details reworked.
Coin repairs that require the addition, removal, or movement of metal from one area to another are criminal fraud. In many cases, a coin must be softened by heat to make the repair work easier. Destroying the natural luster and appearance of the surfaces of a coin is very easy. Because most coin repairs are localized, coin doctors try to cover up their work by cleaning and recoloring the entire coin. We’ve even seen repaired coins that were distressed to create natural-looking marks and nicks.
Be smart. Stay away from cleaned and recolored coins — they may be hiding a host of problems.
Recolored coins come in two categories:
- Coins that have been stripped of color and retoned
- Coins that were original but have had color added to make them more attractive
The difference between the two categories is subtle but important. Stripping destroys the natural quality of a coin’s surface, whereas the color on an artificially toned coin can usually be taken off and the coin underneath will still have original-looking surfaces.
Recoloring is most obvious on copper coins, where the original color has been dipped or stripped away, leaving a bright, unnatural orange-red color. Copper coins are usually stripped because their color is ugly to begin with or because of corrosion spots on the surfaces. About Uncirculated coins are often stripped to make them look like full red Uncirculated examples. Given time, this bright, unnatural color will tone down to a more pleasant brown color; such a process takes many, many years, and if you follow our recommendations for properly storing your coins, it may take forever. As a result, coin doctors speed up the process by applying a salve of pure sulfur powder mixed in petroleum jelly to the surfaces of the coin until the desired brown color is achieved. As you may suspect, a lot of chemical activity takes place on the surfaces of a recolored coin. And chemical activity on a coin is always bad.
Under the right circumstances, a silver coin acquires the most incredible rainbow of iridescent colors. You’ll see mouthwatering descriptions of these coins in auction catalogs and sales brochures (we’ve used ‚em ourselves) — crystalline, sea-green hues, pearlescent luster, pale shades of lilac and gold, killer toning, and so on. A coin with the right color can fetch a huge premium over an untoned version of the same coin; so there is considerable profit awaiting the coin doctor who can duplicate such a color. However, as hard as they try, no one that we know about has ever been able to duplicate killer toning on a coin. Usually, the results will fool new collectors and sometimes even those who have been around coins for a very long time.
Differentiating between real and artificial toning is difficult and requires the examination of lots and lots of coins and years of experience. However, in the meantime, protect yourself either by staying away from toned coins entirely or by purchasing only coins that have been encapsulated by reputable grading services (who can discover and reject fake toning).
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