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  #1  
Old 08-05-2010, 12:26 PM
Ronald C. Semone Ronald C. Semone is offline
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Should I polish old silver dollars before selling them?

I've got some old U.S. silver dollars (1880s) that I am planning to sell. Should I polish them with silver polish or should I just leave them alone. I know ancient Roman coins are more valuable with the patina left on, but I don't know about 19th century U.S. coins.
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  #2  
Old 08-05-2010, 12:31 PM
Mr. Excellent Mr. Excellent is offline
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I'm not a coin collector or antiquarian, nor any sort of expert in the field. But when in doubt, my inclination would be to leave the coins as-is - store them in a cool, dry place and leave them be. Not only because I wouldn't be sure if cleaning them would increase their value, but because I'd be concerned that improper cleaning might damage them.
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  #3  
Old 08-05-2010, 12:46 PM
Yorikke Yorikke is offline
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NOOOOOOO! Absolutely not! You WILL devalue them.

Joe
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  #4  
Old 08-05-2010, 01:26 PM
The Second Stone The Second Stone is offline
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Do not polish them!
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  #5  
Old 08-05-2010, 01:28 PM
Alpha Twit Alpha Twit is offline
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Originally Posted by wheresgeorge04 View Post
NOOOOOOO! Absolutely not! You WILL devalue them.

Joe
Seconded but with a query. I've heard this advice many times and I accept it as true, but it seems counter-intuitive to my way of thinking. WHY is this true?
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  #6  
Old 08-05-2010, 02:02 PM
cckerberos cckerberos is offline
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Seconded but with a query. I've heard this advice many times and I accept it as true, but it seems counter-intuitive to my way of thinking. WHY is this true?
I think it's true of virtually any collectible... people generally prefer anything to be as "original" as possible.

For coins the original reason was because you'll almost certainly do some amount of damage to the surface of the coin. But now it's just one of the arbitrary rules that any hobby has... even if you were to manage to avoid causing any damage at all nobody would pay full price because "everyone knows that polished coins are worth less."
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  #7  
Old 08-05-2010, 02:11 PM
Chefguy Chefguy is online now
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Originally Posted by Alpha Twit View Post
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Originally Posted by wheresgeorge04 View Post
NOOOOOOO! Absolutely not! You WILL devalue them.

Joe
Seconded but with a query. I've heard this advice many times and I accept it as true, but it seems counter-intuitive to my way of thinking. WHY is this true?
Patina sells, particularly for "rainbow" discoloration on coins. Polishing (or even cleaning) coins makes it look like you're trying to pass the coin off as a better grade than it is. Also, most polishes will scratch silver or gold, which devalues its grade. Old, encrusted Roman coins and the like are usually soaked in a water/Calgon solution to remove encrustation.
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  #8  
Old 08-05-2010, 02:13 PM
Skammer Skammer is online now
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Old, encrusted Roman coins and the like are usually soaked in a water/Calgon solution to remove encrustation.
Ancient Chinese secret, eh?
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  #9  
Old 08-05-2010, 02:13 PM
qpw3141 qpw3141 is offline
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Seconded but with a query. I've heard this advice many times and I accept it as true, but it seems counter-intuitive to my way of thinking. WHY is this true?
I think it's true of virtually any collectible... people generally prefer anything to be as "original" as possible.

For coins the original reason was because you'll almost certainly do some amount of damage to the surface of the coin. But now it's just one of the arbitrary rules that any hobby has... even if you were to manage to avoid causing any damage at all nobody would pay full price because "everyone knows that polished coins are worth less."
This is undoubtedly true but there is a very logical reason as well.

Some people may prefer their coins cleaned and polished and some may prefer them with patina. If you are going to sell some, cleaning and polishing them clearly restricts the market to the first group.

People certainly do clean coins, though, because I have seen the equipment and chemicals to do so in a numismatic catalogue that I sometimes see as it is printed together with a philatelic catalogue I receive.
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  #10  
Old 08-05-2010, 02:22 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is online now
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Also because you (plural, generic you) ae obviously a total amateur. Professionals hate it when amateurs mess with their toys. Usually for the very good reason that amateurs destroy them with ignorance.
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  #11  
Old 08-05-2010, 02:23 PM
scr4 scr4 is offline
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Originally Posted by qpw3141 View Post
People certainly do clean coins, though, because I have seen the equipment and chemicals to do so in a numismatic catalogue that I sometimes see as it is printed together with a philatelic catalogue I receive.
There's a huge difference between polishing and cleaning. Polishing means using abrasives to remove a thin layer of material and leave the surface smoother than before. Obviously undesirable for any antiques and artifacts. "Cleaning" can mean removing any contaminants that have accumulated on the surface; this can be done without damaging the original material, if done properly.

Last edited by scr4; 08-05-2010 at 02:23 PM..
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  #12  
Old 08-05-2010, 02:36 PM
notsoheavyd3 notsoheavyd3 is offline
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Originally Posted by qpw3141 View Post
People certainly do clean coins, though, because I have seen the equipment and chemicals to do so in a numismatic catalogue that I sometimes see as it is printed together with a philatelic catalogue I receive.
There's a huge difference between polishing and cleaning. Polishing means using abrasives to remove a thin layer of material and leave the surface smoother than before. Obviously undesirable for any antiques and artifacts. "Cleaning" can mean removing any contaminants that have accumulated on the surface; this can be done without damaging the original material, if done properly.
You mean like that trick where you use aluminum foil and a solution of baking soda to convert the tarnish back to silver?
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  #13  
Old 08-05-2010, 02:41 PM
Oakminster Oakminster is offline
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My source is Pawn Stars on the History Channel, so discount as you deem appropriate, but they almost always say not to clean something like that up before trying to sell it.
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  #14  
Old 08-05-2010, 02:49 PM
dracoi dracoi is offline
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My grandparents owned a coin shop and so I had this drilled into me from a very young age:

NEVER clean a coin! If you feel that you must clean a coin, use a dry cotton cloth and absolutely nothing else. No polish, no soap, not even water. If the dry cloth can't get the "dirt" off, then it's meant to be there.
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  #15  
Old 08-05-2010, 04:56 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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The patina is part of the surface of the coin. Well, actually it IS the surface. By removing it you are removing the surface of the coin. How can that be a good thing? Also, if you're using "silver polish" that you rub on, you're covering the entire surface with tiny scratches.

And never touch the front or back surface of a coin with your fingers. Always hold it gently by the edges.
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  #16  
Old 08-05-2010, 05:46 PM
Spoke Spoke is offline
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I know this is a hard and fast rule with coin collectors, but really it strikes me as an arbitrary and silly rule. The amount of a coin's surface removed by a typical polishing is so negligible as to be insignificant to any sane person.
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  #17  
Old 08-05-2010, 05:50 PM
Oakminster Oakminster is offline
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Isn't one of the mods a dealer in coins and such? Maybe Tomndebb? Samclem? Whoever it is can likely provide a definitive response.
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  #18  
Old 08-05-2010, 05:56 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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Surely, even if it is a good thing to clean a coin, the dealer can do so with minimal effort and do a better job than you would.
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  #19  
Old 08-05-2010, 06:00 PM
SeaCanary SeaCanary is offline
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Originally Posted by Spoke View Post
I know this is a hard and fast rule with coin collectors, but really it strikes me as an arbitrary and silly rule. The amount of a coin's surface removed by a typical polishing is so negligible as to be insignificant to any sane person.
If your purpose is to make the coin pretty to you then, by all means, polish it.

But I'm curious. What do you imagine happens after you offer it for sale and the potential buyer says, "This has been polished. If it'd been left in its original state I'd have offered X. Now it's worth X - Y."

What's the next thing that happens?
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  #20  
Old 08-05-2010, 06:00 PM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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Samclem is the dealer. And, to reiterate what's been said and resaid, most serious collectors -- the people who will pay above bullion price, along with dealers selling to them, for rarer coins -- will not pay as much for a cleaned coin. Period.

Yes there are exceptions, and someone buying coins as an investment may see things otherwise, but the bottom line is -- you may diminish your coin's saleability value, and are very unlikely to improve it -- so why do it? (Other than for personal aesthetic reasons -- "I like having a bright, shiny coin in this frame", of course.)
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  #21  
Old 08-05-2010, 06:02 PM
Morbo Morbo is offline
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destroy them with ignorance.
I now fully intend to start this meme, ala "kill it with fire."

A few posters come to mind immediately that appear to have adopted this strategy.
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  #22  
Old 08-05-2010, 06:20 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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If you had 20 old U.S. silver dollars left to you from your parents, most of the time you won't devalue them(at least not very much) by taking off the tarnish. But, and that's a big but, if depends on how you take off the tarnish. We use, on silver coins that are ugly, a liquid silver cleaner, but nothing abrasive. On an absolutely common silver coin, you can use something like baking soda and water as a paste, rubbing the dirt and grime off the coin. It won't make it any more valuable, but it won't hurt the value.

Examples: silver dollars dated 1921-26 are about the most common. If you had a random mix of these, we'd pay you $15 each right now. If you had an original roll of 1922 dollars, still in a paper wrapper where someone got a new roll from the bank in the pre-1964 days, we'd pay $16-18 each. If you polished your dollars with paste polish before you brought them in(abrasive) we'd probably pay you $13. each

Extreme example--You have a collection of uncirculated silver dollars by date and mint, left to you by a relative. They've picked up toning(tarnish) over the years. If you left them just like you found them, we'd pay you $3000. for your 1884-S dollar in uncirculated. If you paste polished it before bringing it in--$300. Again, extreme example.
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  #23  
Old 08-05-2010, 06:30 PM
Spoke Spoke is offline
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Originally Posted by SeaCanary View Post
But I'm curious. What do you imagine happens after you offer it for sale and the potential buyer says, "This has been polished. If it'd been left in its original state I'd have offered X. Now it's worth X - Y."

What's the next thing that happens?
Its value has been reduced, obviously. But I am saying it's been reduced for an arbitrary and silly reason. There's a lot of OCD among collectors.

Last edited by Spoke; 08-05-2010 at 06:33 PM..
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  #24  
Old 08-05-2010, 06:39 PM
Khadaji Khadaji is offline
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Sam, would it be OK to PM you? I have some questions about selling a collection.
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  #25  
Old 08-05-2010, 07:50 PM
srzss05 srzss05 is offline
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Its value has been reduced, obviously. But I am saying it's been reduced for an arbitrary and silly reason. There's a lot of OCD among collectors.
All collectibles are like that...they are worth whatever the buyer will pay, and that is always arbitrary. If they are giving you the money, they are the ones who get to make up the rules.
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  #26  
Old 08-05-2010, 08:08 PM
notsoheavyd3 notsoheavyd3 is offline
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If you had 20 old U.S. silver dollars left to you from your parents, most of the time you won't devalue them(at least not very much) by taking off the tarnish. But, and that's a big but, if depends on how you take off the tarnish. We use, on silver coins that are ugly, a liquid silver cleaner, but nothing abrasive. On an absolutely common silver coin, you can use something like baking soda and water as a paste, rubbing the dirt and grime off the coin. It won't make it any more valuable, but it won't hurt the value.

Examples: silver dollars dated 1921-26 are about the most common. If you had a random mix of these, we'd pay you $15 each right now. If you had an original roll of 1922 dollars, still in a paper wrapper where someone got a new roll from the bank in the pre-1964 days, we'd pay $16-18 each. If you polished your dollars with paste polish before you brought them in(abrasive) we'd probably pay you $13. each

Extreme example--You have a collection of uncirculated silver dollars by date and mint, left to you by a relative. They've picked up toning(tarnish) over the years. If you left them just like you found them, we'd pay you $3000. for your 1884-S dollar in uncirculated. If you paste polished it before bringing it in--$300. Again, extreme example.
So you'd also pay less if you used a baking soda solution and aluminum foil to convert the tarnish (silver sulfide) back to pure silver? (Come on, I can't have been the only one that saw Mr. Wizard do that to a silver spoon.)
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  #27  
Old 08-05-2010, 09:03 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Originally Posted by notsoheavyd3

So you'd also pay less if you used a baking soda solution and aluminum foil to convert the tarnish (silver sulfide) back to pure silver? (Come on, I can't have been the only one that saw Mr. Wizard do that to a silver spoon.)
Probably. While it's an interesting thought question(the chemical reaction), my guess is that the atmospheric reaction over 25-100 years of the sulfur combining with the silver(and copper) in a silver dollar, and THEN the reversal, chemically, would alter the original surface enough that a skilled coin dealer/collector could tell that it wasn't totally an original surface. Thus the price differential.
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Old 08-05-2010, 09:35 PM
gotpasswords gotpasswords is online now
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Is it safe to assume that if someone was selling a batch of old silver coins for melt, that it would make no difference if they were washed, poilished, buffed or whatever?
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  #29  
Old 08-05-2010, 09:42 PM
DrDeth DrDeth is online now
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Is it safe to assume that if someone was selling a batch of old silver coins for melt, that it would make no difference if they were washed, poilished, buffed or whatever?
Why would anyone melt old silver coins? Silver coins are almost always worth more than scrap silver.
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  #30  
Old 08-05-2010, 11:12 PM
In Winnipeg In Winnipeg is offline
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Is it safe to assume that if someone was selling a batch of old silver coins for melt, that it would make no difference if they were washed, poilished, buffed or whatever?
Why would anyone melt old silver coins? Silver coins are almost always worth more than scrap silver.
As to whether you should polish any coin, the answer is definitely not. Leave the patina as is. It attests to the age of the coin. Polishing will remove it; as well, even the gentlest silver polishes scratch and mar the finish. You may not be able to see it, but under a microscope it can be obvious. In some situations, I've seen polished coins that were perfect save for one or two scratches caused by polishing go for half the price they would have if they were left alone.

As to melt silver, it is also referred to as "junk silver" -- coins so worn, they're worth only their silver melt value.
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  #31  
Old 08-05-2010, 11:14 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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Originally Posted by Spoke View Post
I know this is a hard and fast rule with coin collectors, but really it strikes me as an arbitrary and silly rule. The amount of a coin's surface removed by a typical polishing is so negligible as to be insignificant to any sane person.
It has nothing to do with the "amount" that's been removed. Not all coins, direct from the Mint, are equal. They can have a variety of surfaces, e.g mirror-like, satin, dull, etc., and there's a niche of collectors for each type. For example, I prefer a coin that has a "satin" surface. I think satin coins have a richness that's not apparent (to me) in other types of surfaces. But polishing the coin and removing just the surface ruins the appearance of the coin. Of course the amount removed is negligible, but it's the layer that gives the coin its appearance.
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  #32  
Old 08-06-2010, 08:22 AM
Spoke Spoke is offline
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You may not be able to see it, but under a microscope it can be obvious.
To me, this says it all. Any "flaw" that you have to break out a microscope to find seems like not much of a flaw. Rather, it seems like an arbitrary reason to devalue a coin. After all, we're talking about objects that clanked around in people's pockets for years, banging up against each other and whatever other objects were around. How much "damage" is a little polish really doing?

Yeah I know I'm a lone voice crying in the wilderness on this one, but it all seems so silly. Like something cooked up to justify the existence of professional graders.

ETA: panache45, if you are talking about otherwise mint coins that's one thing, but if you are talking about previously circulated coins, the "No polish!" proscription seems ridiculous.

Last edited by Spoke; 08-06-2010 at 08:25 AM..
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  #33  
Old 08-06-2010, 09:12 AM
samclem samclem is offline
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Originally Posted by DrDeth

Why would anyone melt old silver coins? Silver coins are almost always worth more than scrap silver.
Not true. Take quarters from 1932-1964. Circulated coins from that period of time have a value related only to the silver. There are only two coins in that run that have a value over silver in circulated condition--the 1932-D and the 1932-S.
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  #34  
Old 08-06-2010, 11:24 AM
Cheshire Human Cheshire Human is offline
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You may not be able to see it, but under a microscope it can be obvious.
To me, this says it all. Any "flaw" that you have to break out a microscope to find seems like not much of a flaw. Rather, it seems like an arbitrary reason to devalue a coin. After all, we're talking about objects that clanked around in people's pockets for years, banging up against each other and whatever other objects were around. How much "damage" is a little polish really doing?

Yeah I know I'm a lone voice crying in the wilderness on this one, but it all seems so silly. Like something cooked up to justify the existence of professional graders.

ETA: panache45, if you are talking about otherwise mint coins that's one thing, but if you are talking about previously circulated coins, the "No polish!" proscription seems ridiculous.
It's a matter of "how many are available" vs. "how many people want them". If ones with no scratches are extremely rare, and ones with microscopic scratches are rather common, then you just turned something rare (and thus very valuable to a collector) into something much more common, and thus easy to obtain. On most coins, that would make no difference, since they are already fairly worn, but if you are not a collector, how do you know this is just one of the run-of-the-mill ones, and not one of the extremely rare (in present condition) ones? You don't.

Collectors want the item they are collecting to be in the best possible condition they can afford. If those microscopic scratches are all that make the difference between something common and something rare, you can damn well bet they want the scratchless one if they can get it. Your polishing it may not seem to make much difference to you, but in terms of rarity of unpolished ones, that tiny difference in condition could make a profound difference in number available, and thus a profound difference in price.

Since you don't know, not being a collector, about the relative rarity of polished vs unpolished ones of that particular date, you are taking a small risk (it probably won't matter much) of making a very large price mistake.
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  #35  
Old 08-06-2010, 11:43 AM
dracoi dracoi is offline
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Yeah I know I'm a lone voice crying in the wilderness on this one, but it all seems so silly. Like something cooked up to justify the existence of professional graders.
But isn't the whole idea of collecting coins inherently silly? In fact, most collectors of most things seem pretty silly. But what collectors of all types want is the best possible original object, not an improved version and not a reproduction. If you allowed improvements and reproductions, you'd have no real scarcity and no basis for collector value.
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  #36  
Old 08-06-2010, 09:05 PM
DrDeth DrDeth is online now
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Originally Posted by DrDeth

Why would anyone melt old silver coins? Silver coins are almost always worth more than scrap silver.
Not true. Take quarters from 1932-1964. Circulated coins from that period of time have a value related only to the silver. There are only two coins in that run that have a value over silver in circulated condition--the 1932-D and the 1932-S.
That's true if we're talking collector value. But silver coins as bullion are slightly more valuable than scrap silver by the OZ. They sell worn US silver coins as bullion all the time.
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  #37  
Old 08-06-2010, 09:10 PM
Guinastasia Guinastasia is offline
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I have a question that isn't about coins, but about polishing silver: I have an antique silver hand mirror that belonged to my great-great grandmother. It's absolutely beautiful (Art Nouveau), but it's covered in tarnish, and not the beautiful, rainbow patina, but a kind of filthy-looking pale greyish. I would love to set it out on my shelf, but it looks absolutely horrible as it is.

Would it be a sin to polish it, using silver polish and a very soft cloth? There's no way I'm going to sell it (my grandmother gave it to me -- her grandmother gave it to her). Like I said, it's beautiful, but so filthy looking.
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