How To Handle Silver Coins (14 Silver Coin Handling Tips)

Any precious metal requires special handling. If a precious metal is mishandled, the potential impact is more than just a smudge or scratch on a favorite coin. It can impact the overall value of the coin, which is why knowing how to handle your silver coins is key.

14 tips on how to handle silver coins are:

  1. Prepare your work area
  2. Hold coins by their edges
  3. Leave coins in their holders
  4. Keep your storage area cool and dry
  5. Do not clean your coins
  6. Wear gloves
  7. Take extra care with proof coins
  8. Go airtight for valuable coins
  9. Use a safe
  10. Consider other storage options
  11. Inventory your collection
  12. Treat 2x2s with care
  13. Monitor your copper coins
  14. Avoid paper envelopes

Handling silver coins is easy once you know how. There are some general rules, however, that must be followed, or you can end up devaluing your investment and not even knowing it until you go to sell your coins. Read on for more on these 14 tips for handling silver coins.

Why Proper Care Matters For Silver Coins

As far as metals go, silver is fairly durable. When properly taken care of, silver coins can be a centerpiece of any collection while requiring very little in the way of maintenance for years to come. If neglected, silver can very quickly take on an entirely different look, but more importantly can lose value if you ever try and sell it.

It’s difficult to say just how much value you can lose, because coin grading can be very subjective. If the coin in question had a high rating numerically on the Sheldon Scale but sustained significant damage from a scratch, it is not hard to imagine the coin dropping an entire grade.

If the silver in your collection is only worth a few bucks over face value, that value drop is not worth worrying about (but the loss in visual appeal might). If, though, you have coins in your collection that are worth thousands, a drop in grade could mean thousands to you in lost revenue if you ever try and sell the coin.

Some General Rules For Handling Silver Coins

Because a silver coin can be devalued and, in some cases, be devalued significantly, there are a few ground rules that you should always adhere to beyond any of the tips we will get to later in the article. These rules, it should be noted, should be followed regardless of whether you employ the tips, and they’re useful for handling any kind of coin.

Keep Your Work Area Uncluttered

This not only makes sense from the perspective that you can lose a coin in clutter, but it is also good advice to keep a coin from being damaged. Clutter restricts movement, reduces the overall work area, and can even lead to coins being damaged.

For example, if you use any type of solvent to clean coins and have some silver coins that you do not want to clean, clutter in your work area can lead to a spill, which could damage your coin. In most cases, the damage would be nonexistent or minimal. In some cases, however, the entire reason a coin is attractive could be altered and that coin’s value could be lost entirely.

No Food Or Drink In Your Coin Handling Area

One very easy way to damage a coin collection is to spill a drink or drop food on it. This is also a great reason to keep your work areas uncluttered. Cluttered areas seem to invite spills, no matter what activity you’re doing.

The best way to avoid a spill, however, even if your work area is “busy,” is to prohibit food and drink from the work area. Impose a strict no food, drink, eating or drinking rule in your work area and stick to it. If you must have food or drink in the general work area, have a designated place that it is allowed and never have any coins in that part.

Wash Your Hands

The third and final tip is the most basic (and is a good general practice for life). Wash your hands before you enter your work area, every time, with no exceptions. Use regular soap and avoid any additional substances like moisturizer as these can damage your coins.

The reason you need to do this without exception is that if you happen to leave a fingerprint on a coin, it is almost impossible to get off. The natural oils on your hand can etch a fingerprint into the surface of a silver coin in a matter of minutes. Once that happens, it is almost impossible to get it off the coin without damaging the coin further.

The best soap to use for removing dirt and leaving very little residue is a bar of soap. If you keep that as your “work area soap,” you will always ensure that dirt and grime are kept at bay.

Once you have washed with soap, use unscented hand sanitizer. That breaks down any oils that are left on your skin, and keeps them free from bacteria too.

Those are the general rules for handling coins. Let’s dive into our tips for handling silver coins in particular.

14 Tips On How To Handle Silver Coins

1. Prepare Your Work Area

Dropped coins bounce. If they bounce enough, they can end up on the floor and damaged. To address that risk, the initial surface the coin encounters needs to be both soft and absorbent for falling coins, as well as be able to keep it from rolling off the table.

The reason a dropped coin can sometimes bounce and make it to the floor is that it bounces off the hard surface of a table. By using a cushion, you take away the energy that would help propel the coin to the floor. Suggested cushions include:

  • Modified yoga mat
  • Thick, soft towel
  • Rubberized mat
  • Cloth tablecloth

Anything that will absorb the fall of a coin and prevent it from rolling is sufficient as a surface material.

A second preparatory measure is to clear any space you are working on and remove everything but the cushioned surface. You do not want to risk knocking over a drink and potentially staining your coins. Your examination or work area should be clear with sufficient workspace to complete whatever it is you are doing.

Cushion The Floor

If possible, you should also put cushioning on any hard floor around you. The purpose of this is to protect coins if they do reach the floor. Hitting a hard wood floor, for example, can dent precious metal coins as well as scratch them. A cushioned carpet is sufficient, but if your floor is hard wood or cement, place a thicker towel underneath the area in which you are working.

2. Hold Coins By Their Edges

As we mentioned earlier, the oils on your fingers and hands can damage a coin. To prevent that, restricting the areas that your fingers touch is key to keeping your coins in good condition. The only way to do that and still be able to examine or work with your coins is to hold them by their edges. Never handle them by touching the coin’s face.

Place your index finger and thumb on the edge of the coin. Hold it in that position. If you want to look at the other side of the coin, put it down and flip it over or, touching only the edges, maneuver it into position using the index finger and thumb grip. Do not touch any part of the coin’s reliefs or fields (the flat space with no inscription).

3. Leave Coins In Their Holders

If your coins came in holders or if you put them there yourself, leave them there unless you have no option but to remove them. Taking a coin out of a holder or putting it in, especially repeatedly, can damage a coin, particularly if it is in mint condition.

Coins are fairly rugged, but the better the condition they are in, the more fragile they are. A plastic sleeve or coin holder, for instance, can scratch the face of a mint condition coin. With precious metals like gold or silver, this risk is greater than with other coins.

Removal And Replacement

If you must remove the coin from a holder, follow the advice regarding your work area and slide your coin out of the holder onto the cushioned surface. Never use tweezers or tongs to pull the coin out as that can scratch the coin.

When putting the coin back into a holder, make sure the holder is opened as much as possible without jeopardizing its integrity. Carefully slide the coin in, being careful to avoid any of the holder’s edges. Once the coin is in place, seal the holder, whether it has a flap or a lid.

If your coin holder is a plastic tube, be particularly careful when removing more than one coin at a time. Do not slide them all out of the tube at the same time. This can lead to scratching and denting of the face of your coins. When putting them back, replace them one at a time. Do not drop several coins at once back into your tube.

Humidity Protection

Remember that your coin holders do more than just protect them from drops, scratches and dirt. They also play a role in controlling the moisture in the air, which helps ward off discoloration caused by humidity. Coin holders, if stored properly, can also help avoid oxidation of the silver from airborne sulfur compounds.

Watch Your Breath

When examining coins, it is almost everyone’s tendency to get very close to them. To the greatest extent possible, avoid doing this and examine your coins at a distance of about a foot to a foot and a half. The reason for this is that your breath can damage coins.

Human breath is vital to us for survival of course, but it has downsides for coins:

  • Your breath is very moist and can lead to coin oxidization
  • If you talk or breathe with your mouth open, you expel moisture that can land on the coin
  • Your breath may contain particles of substances that can damage coins, such as sulfur
  • The closer you are to your coins, the greater the risk that your skin will come into contact with the face of the coin

If you need to examine a coin close up, you should wear a surgical mask. That might seem like overkill, and for most coins it is. Mint condition coins, however, are fragile in terms of preserving their mint status. Anything that can deface, discolor, oxidize, scratch or dent a mint condition coin is a threat to its grading and value.

If you do not want to wear a mask, practicing “mindful breathing” can help you form a rhythm you can use to minimize exposing your coins to your breath. While examining a coin, even at a safe distance, try not to exhale onto the face of the coin.

Finally, it may be an old tradition, but never use saliva to “polish” your coins. It can actually damage your coins and reduce their value.

4. Keep Your Storage Area Cool And Dry

Humidity and temperature are enemies of coins, especially silver coins. Oxidation can discolor a coin and, while that will probably not affect its official grading, it can affect its aesthetic appeal, which is a factor in determining its value. Your coins should be stored in a temperature and humidity controlled environment.

Additionally, the room in which you store your coins, if possible, should not be humid or have access to a room that is. That means you should not store your coins in a room that has access to a bathroom, or any other source of liquid. It also means that basements are out unless you take measures to severely control humidity.

Regarding temperature, the room you keep your coins in should be between 55 and 70 degrees whenever possible. That rules out rooms that are not climate controlled and, in most cases, the attic. You should never store your coins in a room that is subject to temperature extremes, like a garage.

Watch For Certain Substances

Some substances react with silver over time. The following are the main culprits:

  • Paper
  • Aluminum foil
  • Plastics with PVC

Plastic sleeves and tubes are great storage devices for coins. They can, however, scratch coins if moved around a lot. Verify that the plastics you use are PVC-free as generally those plastics are softer and less abrasive.  

5. Do Not Clean Your Coins

Most coin cleaners and other cleansing solvents are abrasive. That can damage your coins. Additionally, many coin collectors like their coins to show a little wear and tear as it shows the coin has experienced more than just being minted and then sold.

Unless the details are obscured, do not clean your coins. If for some reason you must clean them, have them professionally cleaned.

6. Wear Gloves

Gloves are one way that you can safeguard your coins from damaging them by the oils on your hands. You need to ensure, however, that the gloves are safe for handling coins. Additionally, the following guidelines can help determine if you should wear gloves:

  • Circulation silver: Gloves are not needed
  • Circulation valuable silver: Should wear cotton gloves but not needed
  • Uncirculated but handled a lot: Should wear cotton gloves but not needed
  • Uncirculated in mint condition: Wear cotton gloves
  • All proof coins: Wear cotton gloves

Cotton contains some fibers that can damage the finish on some proof coins, but so can most other materials. You should avoid handling any coins while wearing gloves made of plastic, latex or rubber.

7. Take Extra Care With Proof Coins

Minted differently than coins destined for regular circulation, proof coins are delicate and have intricate detailing. They are often polished to a mirror-like surface. That makes them very susceptible to scratches, even from items you would not ordinarily associate with scratching. For example, some cloth can scratch a proof coin.

When you handle proof coins, you must:

  • Wear gloves that are approved to handle proof coins
  • Make sure the work area you use is thoroughly protected and free of any liquids
  • Keep the coin in the pouch it is stored in if possible

8. Go Airtight For Valuable Coins

Most coin storage products are designed to allow for viewing of the coin. However, coin storage products are usually not environmentally controlled, meaning what you experience in the room the coin is in is what the coin will be exposed to as well, even if to a lesser extent.

Since mint coins are fragile, at least in terms of their faces, the best storage method is an airtight case. If that is not possible but you can control the environment in some way, your next priority should be the security of the coin.

One suggestion is to never remove your coin from its original casing if that casing is airtight. This ensures that your coin will stay in the same condition it was in when it was packaged.

A Secondary Benefit

Keeping your coin in the original airtight packaging serves another purpose as a verification of grading tool. Provided you bought the coin from a reputable dealer that only sells certified coins or can officially grade and certify a coin, the label that states what your grade is at the point you purchased it is all the verification you need.

This can be helpful if you are ever selling single coins as you do not have to get the individual coin regraded and recertified. It also can be helpful if you are ever selling multiple coins as it allows you to quickly establish pricing by grade and verification.

The one time you may want to replace the original packaging is when you know the plastic packaging is not PVC-free or if it itself is damaged in some way. PVC manufactured plastic sleeves can be very tough on silver coins over the long-term. This is especially true if the coins are moved around a lot.

If your coins are secure in a fixed presentation location, you should be fine. But if there is a chance you may move the coins, you should replace the packaging. Even if it means sacrificing the airtight sleeve, you can have the coin recertified to verify its grade and then stored in a package that will not damage the coin.

9. Use A Safe

You might put your important papers in a safe. You may also put family heirlooms, firearms, and anything else that you feel is valuable enough to protect. Why would you treat your coin collection any differently?

Even if you are just getting started or only collect coins other collectors would consider “common,” these coins still have value, both to you as a collector and fiscally. Given that reality, why would you leave them out on a bookshelf or in a drawer?

Some people put their coins in presentation cases, which are ideal for displaying them. If a thief is intent on stealing your coins though, that display case is probably going to be easy to get into.

Some Safe Tips

There are a few rules to think about when selecting a safe:

  • You want one that can handle your collection in the future, so get a safe big enough for expansion of your collection
  • The safe should be dedicated to your collection, if possible – this alleviates potential conflicts or losing valuable space to other things
  • Get shelving if possible because it is easier to stack silver, coin packets and booklets
  • Have a hiding space and make sure your safe will fit before you buy it
  • Pick a hiding place that is not obvious to thieves – if possible, pick an unlikely location, like in the back of a linen closet
  • Make sure the safe is rated TL-15 or higher
  • Insure your collection and mention to your insurer that you store your collection in a safe as that will usually get you a discount
  • Make sure your safe is rated to withstand at least 30 minutes to 1 hour of exposure to fire
  • Buy a safe that has both a combination and key entrance system
  • Consider having an alarm added to the safe
  • If possible, go with a safe that is heavy, as that makes it more difficult to steal

If you follow these tips, you will have a secure holding area for your coin collection and can rest easy that your collection will be safe.

10. Consider Other Storage Options

If your collection is extremely valuable, you may want to consider options besides keeping it at your home.

Put It In A Bank

While you must work around the bank’s hours, and therefore cannot view your collection on a whim, this is a very secure option. Keep in mind that what you put in safety deposit boxes is not automatically insured, so you will need third party insurance.

Third Party Storage

There are also precious metal depositories that are an option for an extremely valuable collection. You must do your due diligence if you are considering this option, however. You must:

  • Inspect their physical security and ask to have it tested
  • Make sure they perform a regular inventory of your items
  • Verify that, if something does go missing, the depository has insurance (ask to see the policy and make sure it is kept up to date)
  • Research the business and ensure they are reputable
  • Get references for dealers or other collectors they work with

11. Inventory Your Collection

Part of “handling” your silver coin collection is making sure that it is present and accounted for; that means performing an inventory of your collection on a regular basis. To perform an inventory of your silver coin collection:

  • Create a master list of all your coins
  • Make sure the list includes any identifying data, like serial numbers and mint dates
  • Make three copies of the list and keep them in physically separate places, at least one place being off-site from where you house your collection
  • Perform an inventory update at regular intervals
  • Update your master list regularly

12. Treat 2x2s With Care

2×2 storage pouches are rough on coins. In fact, you should avoid buying any in 2x2s or shipping any in them if possible. What makes an already abrasive carboard container much worse, however, are staples. Staples are sometimes used to hold the 2×2 together and can do incredible damage to a coin if you are not careful.

When opening 2×2 pouches and removing coins:

  • Wear cotton gloves
  • Open them over a padded surface
  • Very carefully remove the staples
  • Pry the 2×2 open as a last resort if you cannot remove the staples

Another suggestion for 2×2 pouches is to use the self-sealing variety.

13. Monitor Your Copper Coins

Copper coins are highly reactive to environmental factors like light, heat, humidity, cold, and fumes. Watch your copper coins for changes in their appearance. If that happens, chances are you have an exposure problem that will eventually affect your silver coins.

Most often, the environmental factor will be humidity or heat. When you observe them, look for the source of either. If the cause is humidity, you may want to invest in a dehumidifier in the room your coin collection is stored in. If the issue is heat or cold, you should move your collection elsewhere.

Light also can be an enemy of coins. Avoid keeping your coins in a place exposed to direct sunlight. If your coins start to discolor and you can rule out the other environmental contributors, chance are the issue is too much sunlight.

14. Avoid Paper Envelopes

The paper used in envelopes often contains sulfur, which can damage silver. Use verified sulfur-free envelopes to store coins or avoid paper envelopes entirely.

Final Thoughts

Handling silver coins requires special care, and if you don’t follow the tips above, you may damage your silver coins. The most important tips are to handle them only by the edges, wear gloves when appropriate, and keep them away from potentially abrasive or damaging items and substances.

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