How To Take Care Of Old Coins

One part of a successful coin collection is proper coin care. Without it, coins can become damaged and even destroyed. With proper care, however, a coin collection can be preserved for the long-term. The trick is to learn and understand how to take care of old coins.

To take care of old coins:

  1. Use the right tools and resources
  2. Establish a coin review space
  3. Sterilize your hands
  4. Wear gloves
  5. Use the right holding technique
  6. Use a cloth
  7. Wear a mask
  8. Have no food or drink around the coins
  9. Use official coin holders
  10. Standardize the rules

Coin care is more complex than just throwing your collection in a coin booklet and calling it a day. Each of the steps above includes specialized care that can help preserve any coin collection for generations. Read on to see how to implement each of those steps in the most effective manner.

General Advice For Taking Care Of Old Coins

A coin collection has unique needs. Coins are not as fragile as stamps, but still need specialized care. If neglected, coins will hang around, but in a much less lustrous state than if cared for properly. The following is general advice that will play a role in implementing the specific steps mentioned above.

Do Not Clean Your Old Coins

For the most part, old coins that reflect a life lived are the most desirable in their current state. That includes the dirt and grime and occasionally even discoloration that comes with being in circulation. Most collectors want that “lived” look.

Eye Appeal

Coins that look brand new or are actually in mint condition are attractive but lack a certain character in the eyes of most collectors. What the collectors want is called “eye appeal.”

Eye appeal is best described as the visual attraction a coin possesses for other collectors and even the casual observer. With some coins, the design on the coin has eye appeal. With others, the condition of the coin creates eye appeal. In some cases, it is a mix of both.


The foundation of eye appeal is that the grit that affects the appearance of a coin gives that coin authenticity. It shows that the coin has been in circulation. It also shows that the coin is a survivor, having endured a life exposed to an array of dirt, grit and grime.

Authenticity, along with eye appeal, is, of course, subjective. There is no discernible difference except for the condition of the coin between one that has never been outside of a collector’s pouch once it left the mint and one that has traveled the country (or world) collecting grime.

What matters with the coin’s condition, however, is how it is perceived. That’s why if you have a coin that has been in circulation, unless you can’t tell what type of coin you have without cleaning it up, you should leave it as it is.

Have The Right Tools

Possessing the right tools is the only way to ensure your coins are treated as they should be. All these tools are easily procured. In fact, most people already have them in their homes.

Make sure your coin collection management kit includes:

  • Magnifying glass sufficiently powered to see minute details
  • Cloth to catch coins if you drop them while inspecting them
  • Plastic ruler, as a metal ruler can damage coins
  • Cotton gloves for handling coins
  • Coin pouches or albums for the proper storage of coins
  • Coin collection reference material that will help you find information on dates, varieties, grading, pricing, specialized markings and circulation numbers

With this list of equipment and reference materials, you have all you need to safely take care of your coins while informing yourself about each coin’s unique history.

How To Take Care Of Old Coins

1. Use The Right Tools And Resources

Make sure you are prepared before you pull a single coin out to examine it. This includes everything on the list above. If you are lacking one item or more, delay looking at your coins until you can rectify the situation.

The reason for this is that you will need everything on that list. If you must go look for it mid-examination, the chances of the coin getting damaged or lost rise considerably.

Use the list above as a checklist and run through it each time you are preparing to inspect your collection or to evaluate a specific coin. Do not make exceptions as it is asking for trouble!

2. Establish A Coin Review Space

Pick a room or section of your home that is only used to review coins. Make it clear that no other activities are to go on in this space. The space should include:

  • A table
  • A chair
  • Tools for inspecting coins

Make sure that the table is the right height to work on for long periods of time. Pick a chair that is comfortable but also allows for some mobility. Position any coins, coin holders or resources near enough to be easily accessed but separated from the table.

Finally, only have what you need on the table when you are looking at coins. This way, no coins will get lost among any other articles on the table.

3. Sterilize Your Hands

Before you handle any coins, wash and sterilize your hands. Oil, acid, food, dirt, etc. can damage a coin’s surface and increase the wear on a coin. Each one can have a chemical reaction with the coin and can deface it.

You may not notice it has happened, but the damage can be minute and beyond the capabilities of the human eye. Nonetheless, even miniscule exposure to hands can harm a coin, at least in the long-term.

4. Wear Gloves

Gloves do no one any good if they sit in packaging or you do not wear them when inspecting your coin collection. Not wearing them, however, can damage a coin or add to the grime on a coin if your hands are not sterilized.

While some collectors wear cotton gloves no matter what, if your hands are clean, you can get away with not wearing gloves when you handle your coins. However, you should always wear cotton gloves when handling extremely rare or valuable coins.

5. Use The Right Holding Technique

The proper technique for holding your coins is to use your index finger and thumb and hold the coin along the top and bottom ridge. This prevents you from shedding any body oils, food or dirt onto the face of the coin. Not all coins need to be handled like this, but the more using this technique becomes a habit, the better off your coins will be.

If you are handling a proof or uncirculated coin, you must hold it by the ridge. Any debris coming off your hands can smudge and even stain the face of an uncirculated coin, wrecking its status as “Mint.”

6. Use A Cloth

If you need to put the coin down, use the cloth you have in your coin collection management kit. Make sure the cloth is clean. If you are leaving the coin for a while, use a velvet pad to place the coin on.

Make sure you avoid putting the coin on any hard surfaces as it can become scratched.

7. Wear A Mask

Even the slightest exposure to breath can leave a moisture imprint on a coin. That can lead do discoloration. The chances of that happening are slim, but do you really want to risk it? Always wear a mask when you are around unprotected coins.

8. Have No Food Or Drink Around The Coins

Establish a strict policy of not allowing any food or drinks in the room or area in which you inspect your coins. Even a minute amount of food can stain a coin and devalue it.

9. Use Official Coin Holders

Never put your coins in a box with other, unprotected coins. Use an official coin collection pouch or a coin collection booklet. When you take a coin out of the pouch, be very careful not to scratch the coin.

The same applies to any type of coin holder you use. While pouches and booklets are best, some coins come in a holder to commemorate them. If you have any stored in this fashion, make sure you show the utmost care when removing or putting the coin back in the holder.

10. Standardize The Rules

This includes wearing gloves and a mask, as well as leaving food and drink away from the review space. Make it clear that those rules are nonnegotiable and that if the person that wants to look at your collection cannot abide by them, the coin collection is off limits!

Final Thoughts

The more you adhere to these rules, the greater a chance your collection will remain in great condition. Make sure you have and use the right resources and tools, sterilize the entire space where you will be looking at coins and insist that everyone adheres to the same rules. Doing so will ensure you properly take care of your old coins.

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