By F. Michael Fazzari
I’ll remind you of the puzzle regarding a tree falling in a remote, deserted forest. Does it make a sound when it falls? You might think, here he goes, what the heck does this have to do with grading coins? You’ll see.
Very often while grading a coin I’ll see something detracting enough that I must determine how much should be deducted from its grade. Is it obvious? Does it matter enough to be seen by the average collector? Is it “market acceptable?” Would I be pleased with it if I had purchased the coin from just a description and then saw something I didn’t like that was not mentioned?
In a previous column, I wrote about phony surface alterations done to coins as a way to make them more attractive. Some of the methods employed can be very hard for most of us to detect without the aid of a stereo-microscope and florescent light – a method of examination probably confined to less than two dozen people in the world! That being the case, what is a coin worth and what does it grade, if you do not see the alteration or a repair?
All of us have looked at a coin and missed something in the past. In the best case, we never realized our mistake, and it went undetected through several transactions down the line until, as with a game of musical chairs, someone is left without a seat.
Hopefully, in most cases, it was not something serious like an added mintmark or repaired field. In this column, I’ll limit the discussion to the alterations that are considered to be repairs made to a genuine coin.
Coins are repaired to make them more presentable. On one hand, a hole through a coin looks silly and kills its value to a collector. On the other, an expertly made repair allows the coin to be placed into a collection. In between, who knows? From what I’ve seen, I should think that leaving the holed coin alone is the better choice than many of the unsightly, blotched attempts I’ve seen that are done to fill it.
Your job, and mine, is to be able to detect any type of repair so that we can make an informed decision whether to purchase it and what to pay. Inattention is our enemy. Collectors should adopt the habit of examining a coin methodically.
A proper examination requires you to tilt the coin back and forth while rotating it at the same time in good light using some type of magnification. Develop a method of observation that allows all parts of the coin to be seen – including its edge. Some of the commonly seen repairs are made to hide or eliminate holes, scratches, graffiti, chop marks, rim damage, mount removal, and carbon spots. The effectiveness of the repair depends on the skill of the “technician.” If he/she is an expert at his craft, many collectors/dealers will miss the “work” much of the time.
In my experience, I like to think that there is virtually no artisan whose work can pass a thorough examination done using a high power stereo-microscope and florescent light – except for the one who can! Take that as a warning to be vigilant. Every so often, a new technique is discovered. As far as I know, a method called “laser ablation” to smooth out the surface of gold coins is the latest example.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to image an extremely well-done, very deceptive repair and get it to transfer to the printed page. I am constantly frustrated when something I can easily see under the scope cannot be successfully duplicated in an image for instruction at a later date! For that reason, the repair I’ll illustrate here should be fairly obvious if you know some of the characteristics to look for, including both smooth or uneven surfaces and areas of distinct textural differences.
You should be watchful for any change of color or surface texture, as the majority of repairs can be detected by just those two clues alone. Figure 1 above shows such a repair to a Trade dollar at 20X that is somewhat deceptive. The florescent light exacerbates the color change.
Disturbances to the natural flow lines found on higher-grade coins may indicate the location of a repair. Most coins show metal flow in a radial direction. If present, start from the rim, where it is easier to see, and follow them inward. Look for alterations if they abruptly stop in the middle of the field, as on the repaired $10 Indian in Figure 2 at left. Very often, a coin is cleaned to hide evidence of a repair. Less often, they are artificially toned.
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