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Spring cleaning your coin collection #2

by Mike Thorne, Ph.D. 

In the previous segment, I discussed the desirability of creating an inventory of your coins if you don't already have one. At the risk of belaboring the point, let me tell you briefly about the "collection" I'm currently helping with.

Coin Collection on the table

Non-collectors usually won't know the difference between the valuable and valueless items in your accumulation.

Not long ago, a man my wife had worked with died following a brief illness. I had talked to him a time or two after church and knew that he was a big accumulator of all manner of things, including coins. His widow asked me if I would take a look at the coins and advise her about what to do with them.

As you could probably guess, he didn't have an inventory. Worse, there was no organization to the coins whatsoever. Coins of different denominations, different countries, different metals, and different ages were all mixed together. Junk coins nestled beside coins with value.

As I write this, she's just shown me a plastic box of coins that she discovered more recently than the first batch I had seen. If anything, this new accumulation is even more helter-skelter than the first batch.

As I indicated, there's some wheat among the chaff, and I've had a bit of fun with the coins by offering some of the better pieces on eBay. Still, it would have been a lot easier for me, or any other appraiser/buyer, if the coins had had even the most basic organization: for example, by country, and within a country by denomination, and within a denomination by date.

Also, it's a good idea to set aside the "spenders," the coins worth no more than face value. The reason I stress this is that non-collectors usually won't know the difference between the valuable and valueless items in your accumulation. Worse, because they know you were a collector, they're likely to think that all the coins you saved have some numismatic value.

My advice: Spend the spenders. That way your heirs won't waste time trying to figure out how much each Ike dollar or clad dime or "gold" dollar is worth. You know the coins I mean, but your heirs won't. Do them a favor and cull out the culls.

But enough of all this talk about organization and inventory. I have some additional tips for "spring cleaning" your collection.

Do you have any duplicates? From my experience, you would be a rare collector indeed if you don't have duplicates. If you're like me as a collector, your philosophy is probably something like, if one rare coin is worth having, why not get more?

At any rate, if you have some duplicates of coins you've upgraded, now might be a good time to get rid of them. You'll accomplish at least two things by selling your duplicates. One is that you'll free up some money to buy other things of interest. Another is that you'll get an idea of how easy or difficult it's going to be to dispose of your collection when the time comes.

Over the years, I've run into a lot of collectors who are proud to say, "I've kept every coin I ever acquired." If you fall into that category, you may not have an accurate idea of what your coins are really worth, meaning what you can get for them. I think that selling some of your coins from time to time is a good idea, if only to get an idea of their true market value.

Do you have partial collections that you started but lost interest in? The accumulation I'm handling for the woman mentioned earlier includes a partial set of Buffalo nickels.

If I had talked to her husband, who bought all the coins I've seen, this partial set is something I would have advised him to either sell or complete. Again, selling it would have freed up funds so that he could have concentrated on other items. Alternatively, most of the coins in the set are relatively high-grade circulated pieces (F-XF), so the set could have provided the nucleus of a nice set of circulated Buffalo nickels.

What about "orphan" coins? These are coins that really don't fit into your collecting interests. For example, you might have a low-grade 2c piece that came with some other coins you bought, but you're not really interested in either a 19th-century type set or a complete collection of 2c pieces. It might be time to dispose of this coin and other orphan coins.

Or what about really low-grade coins, or perhaps even coins with terminal damage (e.g., a hole)? These are obviously coins that could be slated for disposal. The accumulation I'm working on has lots of hole-y coins.

Another major thing to consider is how you're storing your coins. Obviously, some storage methods are better than others, and some are really bad.

As an example of the latter, I once had a collection of circulated Barber quarters that was complete except for the 1901-S. I had them in an album with plastic pages with slots into which you put each coin. I really liked the album and thought I had a perfect solution to the housing question.

However, when I looked at the coins after they had been in the album for a few years, I realized that most coins were developing a green tinge. The problem, as I discovered later, was that I live in a hot and humid climate. Under these conditions, the plasticizer in the album's pages had begun to leach out onto the coins. Fortunately, I caught this condition in time to wash away the green slime with a chemical I had purchased earlier, which is probably banned today. Acetone can also be used for this purpose.

If you have coins that are housed in nice, soft, supple plastic flips, you need to put them into holders that won't coat them in green slime over time. A better type of coin holder is made of inert polyethylene terephthalate. The brand name is SAFLIP, which you can find advertised through a Google search. You'll also find a similar holder for sale at, which advertises in this magazine. I'll have more to say about coin storage in the next installment.

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine. >> Subscribe today.

You can read the first part here >