In March I read a letter to the editor in Numismatic News about cleaning and conservation done by a collector versus a professional conservator. I don’t know who is responsible for writing the heading for the letter, but in this case, the heading put on the letter contained the answer: [There is a] “Fine line between cleaning, conserving a coin.”
There would be less problem telling the difference between cleaning and conservation if we all possessed good eyesight and lighting plus the training, knowledge, and experience of a professional conservator.
In actuality, it wouldn’t matter who did the conservation as long as it was done properly. When working on coins, there is a line to be approached and not crossed – once crossed, a coin can be said to be altered or improperly cleaned. It does not matter whether a professional conservator or “average Joe” collector crossed the line and went too far in an attempt to “pretty-up” a coin.
One reason an inexperienced person should not try to improve, clean, or conserve a coin is that in most cases – let’s say 97 percent of the time for argument – they will ruin it. While the odds that a professional may have less than perfect results might fall in the 3 percent range. On occasion it can be like throwing dice. For example, one quick “dip” in a universally used, non-acidic chemical that works virtually “all-the-time” can inexplicably “fog” a proof coin.
Professionals examine the surfaces of a coin closely using their past experience before deciding that it can be conserved without problems. Still, the final result might not be perfect. The opposite, a good result, is more often the case.
Longtime collectors have heard the story about the time James Halperin turned an expensive, unattractive Flowing Hair dollar into a blazing gem. During the infancy of the Numismatic Conservation Service, I can remember on two occasions I suggested to Mark Salzberg that a particular unattractive spot could not be removed from a coin, yet final results proved that his recommendations and decisions were correct with excellent results. Such is the value of the knowledge possessed by top professionals.
Conservation is a good thing. It protects the coin from further deterioration, while improving its eye appeal and value. So please, let professionals decide where to draw the line and how close to approach it.
This Viewpoint was written by F. Michael Fazzari, a professional grader and a columnist for Numismatic News. Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.