BY BRIAN CORNWELL
Inspect your coins regularly for signs of deterioration. Far too many collectors think this to be unnecessary. However, it is one of the many collector-oriented tasks that truly needs attention, especially since most collectors intend owning their coins for very long periods of time. The advice still applies even if you consider your coins already stored in a “safe” holder. Why? The holder itself might become physically damaged, thereby “owing the coin to be exposed to harmful contaminants. Consider also that the coin might have some unknown and invisible contaminant on its surface before being placed in the holder. The most inert holder in the world will not stop a contaminated coin from potentially undergoing some kind of change if left unchecked. For example, the skin oil from someone’s fingerprint on the coin may not result in a visible fingerprint discolouration for years. It may not even he a fingerprint of your own doing but rather that of a previous and careless owner. A speck of dirt combined with a bit of grease or other oil may not develop a stain or carbon spot on a copper coin for years. There are many other reasons why a coin can undergo change and damage, all the while stored in an accredited safe holder. In short, it pays to pay attention.
Now the point of all this is not to alarm you but simply to indicate that selecting a safe holder is only part of the job in protecting your coins over long periods. Complement your safe storage selection with a regular coin inspection program as well. Either that or guarantee that you decontaminate the coin before storing it. The latter might not be straightforward and is something left to those with expert knowledge in the area.
The regular inspection program is an activity that all collectors can easily perform. It involves a detailed examination of each coin twice a year. The following steps will help you perform a consistent check year after year. First of all make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to inspect each coin. If you rush matters, you won’t see the things you’re trying to find. Make sure the viewing set-up is as good as if you were grading coins. You’ll need access to good lighting, a magnifier and no outside interruptions. Before you start, devise a record keeping scheme so that you can note the things you see on each coin that concerns you. Of primary interest will be spots, stains and other discolourations. Record size and location data for all that you detect. It is one thing to record a potential problem on a first inspection, but more important to have this data to decide whether a change has occurred on subsequent cheeks. Don’t he alarmed if you find a curious spot. It may have always been there while you’ve owned the coin. You have cause for alarm if you detect a change in size or colour at a later inspection. If you are convinced a change has occurred, set this coin into a special group to be inspected more frequently than your normal collection review. Track the problem for a few inspection cycles. Try to understand what is happening on the coin’s surface. You may have to consult with an expert in this area. Don’t be too quick to remedy the situation by using the first fix-it scheme that someone offers. The corrective procedure could be disaster for your coin.
Once you have completed your regular inspection of each coin, take a few minutes to inspect each of your coin holders. Are they all of the safe kind? Are any damaged? If so, then replace them. This includes coins packaged by third party grading companies. Most of the grading company’s will do this for a nominal charge.
You might also give some thought to establishing a more general holder replacement program, whether the holder is damaged or not. Once every five years may seem like overkill, but then it could just be an added measure of safety to guarantee the safekeeping of your coins for the many years you intend to own them. Whatever you do, don’t totally ignore the packaging issue.
Canadian Coin News: Volume 32, Number 9 Aug. 30, 1994