The following is a re-post from Q. David Bowers’s “Bowers on Collecting” weekly column on Coin Update.
Let’s revisit artificial toning. Excuse me for repeating myself, but here goes. For starters, if an MS-65 Morgan dollar, for example, has beautiful rainbow toning it might sell for twice the price of a brilliant one. In a PCGS or NGC holder, such attract a lot of attention.
However, if the holder says “Uncirculated, artificially toned” it loses nearly all of its value. If it is a common date, say 1886, it becomes worth about melt!
Previously, I said this:
Many years ago David Hall and I were discussing the appearance of Morgan dollars rainbow-toned on both sides. Both of us had handled countless quantities of Morgan dollars from the 1962-1964 Treasury release and other early sources. Neither of us had seen a Morgan dollar toned on both sides. Colorful toning had been seen and admired on many coins, but on one side of the coin only. This was produced when the obverse or reverse of a dollar was directly in contact with the cloth of a 1,000-coin bag. Such bags became damp on occasion, and over a long period of years toning developed. Such sealed bags were kept in storage. To get toning on both sides a bag of coins would have to be emptied out and refilled, and a coin with toning on one side would have to be placed in contact with the canvas once again and spend many years gaining toning on the other side. I have never heard of this happening.
This is not to be confused with concentric toning gained by having a dollar stored for many years in a cardboard holder, such as a Raymond “National” album, that becomes colorfully toned.
I have said versions of this in print several times, and no one has ever challenged the comment. “Better coins through chemistry” is a given. A dealer no longer living told me he made a fortune in the late 20th century by buying AU silver coins, dipping them to be brilliant, and then carefully toning them in colorful hues, after which they were certified without question.
Also, what is artificial? I also mentioned that I put a bright freshly-minted medal on an oak surface, and in a short time it gained gorgeous electric blue toning. This was unintentional, as I had left it in the drawer of a new table I had recently purchased. Is this natural toning or artificial toning?
What about restoring brightly-dipped copper to a rich chocolate color as outlined by Dr. William H. Sheldon in this 1949 Penny Whimsy. Such restored/conserved coins abound and are certified without negative commentary, unless the work is blotchy.
One of the respondents to an earlier column, J.S., sent extensive comments, including wondering why modern Silver Eagles with colorful toning are not mentioned as “artificial,” concluding with this:
Perhaps collectors should just decide whether toning is appealing or not, and the third-party grading services just give the numerical grade. Cleaned coins could also be dealt with in the same way, but obvious impairments like whizzing or abrasive cleaning that greatly detract from a coin’s value and do not look like anything original could be mentioned. We should make problem coins more marketable, since other characteristics like history, art, and so on matter perhaps more than typical problems we focus on.
This to me would be a win-win situation. For the grading services, “problem coins” could be resubmitted and evaluated for numerical grade only, unless there was obvious impairment. For owners of coins, this would increase their value. For the grading services, this would mean more revenue.
The careful conserving of coins would be a great subject for study, drawing upon the talents of those who have conserved coins in the past. PCGS and NGC have both conserved coins recovered from the undersea wrecks of 19th-century treasure ships, carefully removing grime, rust, and stains to restore their original surfaces. Such coins from steamships such as the New York, Central America, Brother Jonathan, and Republic have been holdered without negativity by these services, while the fact that they have been conserved in a laboratory has been openly discussed as well.
Probably every Old Master painting in the great museums of the world has been conserved, usually by cleaning, often by retouching and repairing as well. The National Archives conserves documents by adding silk to strengthen the backs of some, to remove stains, and more. Just about every museum of history that I have ever visited has a conservation department.
There are some coins such as the aforementioned whizzing, not to overlook retooling and repairing (such as filling holes) that need to have these problems mentioned.
The J.S. suggestion that the services give the numerical grading only, with no negatives except for certain situations (to be specified so everyone understands) is a brilliant step in the right direction.
Less satisfactory would be a list of conservation, toning, and related practices that the certification services would accept without adding negative wording.
I have other letters from readers on this subject, and in a future column will pick up the subject. In the meantime, if you have any ideas to share, send them along.