What is a "cleaned" coin?

I had a few as a kid. Now I’m looking at some listings on the web and there’s a lot to absorb.

But I’m curious what it means to clean one.

I just did a baking soda and boiling water treatment for some 20th century silver coins that I just wanted to see shine.

In doing this though I probably didn’t make it more valuable even if there was no damage from my pressure. It looks like patina is ok now and sought after, even oxidation, rainbows, colors and patterns.

Maybe I blew it on a 3 mark coin, but is that cleaning a coin for the purposes of professional coin graders?

I did a saliva and tinfoil treatment on a silver dollar. I wonder if that’s cleaning.

I’m going to send a few in to be graded just for the experience. The market has become about small flaws and chemical interruptions in the surface of a soft metal. the highest possible level of perfecton is sought.

My understanding is that if it is “cleaned” it means it gets a relative grade and will be noted on the cert, etc. So it can be important.

You seem well informed. What do your coin cronies think?

See this. Sending in a cleaned coin to be graded is a pointless waste of your money.

If you want to ever be able to sell them, leave your coins absolutely untouched, no matter what your opinion of them is.

If you just like to look at them and don’t care if they’re worth zero, then do what you like.

Well informed? You jest. I got a gold coin as a gift and it’s the first time I considered the issue of modern precision grading. I have 30 or 40 US and foreign coins from the youth. The patina thing is very new to my thinking about it.

Ah but we still need to define “cleaned”. It seems like a baking soda dip is allowed, by the citation.

I used q tips to rub the coin. Is this abrasive? You start to really appreciate the idea of the untouched surface, in looking at 100 year old gold coins, and what almost any contact can do.

The patina thing is not THAT important in itself. The point is, anything you do to “improve” your coins is now viewed simply as tampering.

Again, not the case if they are for your own pleasure in collecting - but if you might want money for them ever, then hands off.

PS: I guess other collectors would think it a crying shame if you had some rare expensive item and cleaned it up or whatever. But things that are just nice, just interesting… Why not?

I tried to clean an old coin once. Queen Victoria ended up looking like this.

If you want to sell the coins as collectibles, there is nothing you can do to them that will improve their value. All you can do is lower their value, or do nothing to their value.

If you want a shiny silver coin because you think it looks better that way, then great, what other people think doesn’t matter. If the coins only have value for their silver content, then their condition doesn’t matter. But if all you care about is the silver value, then cleaning them doesn’t help either.

But if any of the coins have collectible value, then “improving” them can only lower that value. Not saying that it will definitely lower that value, it might not, just that it can’t increase the value.

How many coins have a value significantly greater than their bullion value, anyway? An ounce of silver is still going to be an ounce of silver, no matter how you clean it.

Quite a few of them are worth more than their melt value. Perhaps not as many gold and silver coins, but most others have limited melt value and can be worth considerable coin (ha!) to a collector.

The objection to cleaned coins is nothing new. I collected coins when I was a kid and was told in no uncertain terms that cleaning a coin destroys its value. This was almost fifty years ago. And not until after I had seen the Tarn-X commercial on TV and cleaned all my coins…

Oh, and
Not really an art form. Off to IMHO.

Reading these links confirms just how ridiculously arbitrary the collector’s market can be. Exactly why does cleaning a coin destroy its value? I dunno, it just does, 'cause these folks say so.

The monetary value of anything is precisely what you can get someone to pay for it, so in that sense, yeah, it makes sense to play by the rules. But it all seems rather silly to me.

Almost all coins have a value above scrap.

If you have a coin where it’s an issue to you that you need to decide whether to clean it or not, then the “issues” are the aesthetic/personal value of the coin, and the value it has above scrap.

The coins that get hurt by being cleaned are losing their collectible value which in very high grades these days can be a fortune. Since I was a kid there are grading services certifying slabbed coins, and collectors compete for the most perfect specimens in existence.

But coins that aren’t in the competition, that are circulated and worn, don’t need certification to be considered their proper grade. Each hairline is not critical for those coins.

Cleaning actually can remove metal from the coin. It may not be much to us here, but it seems that a coin has a chemical consistency to it’s surface, and if you clean, buff, or shine it you lose the mint “lustre.” That would be the most valuable molecules there were. Once that is gone it’s gone forever.

If you try cleaning a coin you will notice that it loses appeal. It’s like losing its virginity in a way. Some cleaned coins are noticed and some I’m sure just get away with it. But buffing will make it very unappealing to a collector.

I kind of agree and I used to be an amateur coin collector when I was young.

My personal theory why collectors don’t like it is that it undermines the system. The whole point of these high coin grades is that someone has had to take care and preserve that coin from damage for a long long time. Because of this it is rare. Coin collectors want these to be very rare.

Keep in mind every hobby or skill enjoys the benefit of stratification to some degree. If any old schmuck could pick up a guitar and play like Jimmy Hendrix in a few weeks, then playing a guitar well wouldn’t be special.

What if tomorrow some magical solution was developed and you could just pour it on any mistreated corroded coin and the result would be a wonderful looking high grade coin with no side effects at all? Then everyone could have high grade coins and the system of grading would collapse. There is nothing special anymore.

Cleaning a coin is sort of like that. Even if you do a really good job cleaning a coin so that a regular person off the street would give it a high grade, the experts will be able to detect it and downgrade it. They don’t want to let in “shortcuts.” They want to keep the special coins special.

The whole thing against cleaning (defined short and fast as doing anything other than removing loose surface dirt) started long ago but from having read through publications going back to the 1800s it doesn’t seem to have become a real thing until the 1960s and later. Most put it down as preference but there is a reasoning as well. As collecting got bigger and more money involved it becomes real tough to detect a doctored coin (one where someone had artificially added details once worn away thus raising the grade and possible value) or outright fake (where someone has added or removed a mintmark) once a coin has been cleaned. If I’m shelling out Big Bucks I don’t want something tampered with in any way because chances are that when I sell it someone is going to hammer the offer because of it.

Dip; yes. Q-tip ----- bad.

I worked for a professional shop/dealer for years and one employee was known as “The Whiz Kid” (don’t ask — it relates to a particular hard-to-detect cleaning method that enhances design elements) who was able to do things to improve coins that usually made it past the various grading services. Could you learn to do the same things or stumble into them by accident? Sure! But it would take time and effort not worth it to you.

To be fair, the coin communities are a bit absurd about it; Out of curiosity inspired by this thread, I was just looking at some of the forums that are out there, and I ran across more than one person saying that tap water was too sketchy to be used to rinse dirt off of coins.


I have to say that looking at coins on the net for the last week or so I do appreciate the idea of the coins surface being original, and that it is very fragile. It’s just a thin layer of moleciules and it will disappear with cleaning. If you see a coin with lustre then it was not cleaned. It’s visible to anyone, not just dealers.

With pro grading you have to put the uncirculated grades in a precise definition because of the money involved. It’s like that in comics too.