Cleaning coins damaged by water
What do you do when your collection suffers water or moisture damage? This is a serious problem for collectors who were unfortunate enough to be in the path of the two devastating hurricanes that made landfall recently in the region of Louisiana and Texas, but it is a problem for all of us as well.
Triage is an immediate requirement. Try to salvage the valuable stuff first. Ignore the low-value stuff and recognize that paper and cardboard packaging material can never be restored.
Remember also that coins and paper-related numismatic items (paper money, souvenir cards, etc.) that have suffered water or moisture damage can never be quite fully restored to their original state. They may, however, be salvageable to a point where only a professional can tell something was done, depending on the amount of damage, the extent to which the collector is willing to go to restore the damaged items, and the extent to which the collector is willing to absorb costs relating to restoration.
The former value of the collectibles is paramount, as is the potential value of the items if restored versus if they are not restored. Coins and paper money of low value are likely not worth considering for restoration, whereas a coin or paper numismatic item of some significant value may be worth rescuing.
If you have a complete collection of Lincoln cents that is now waterlogged following a recent hurricane your concentration should logically focus on the key date coins. Those 1909-S, 1909-S VDB, 1914-D, and 1922 No “D” cents are going to be a lot more costly to replace than are the common dates that complete the set. Common sense should tell you that the 1909-S VDB should be assessed for damage and restoration first.
If any of the key coins have been graded by third-party services, contacting the service is a good place to start. Ask their advice regarding at the very least having them re-examine the coins and their encapsulations. In some situations the coins may be fine. In other cases it may be safer to have the coins reslabbed. Let the professionals make this decision. They know what they are looking for. You don’t want your Mint State 65 Red 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent to turn brown and perhaps become spotty at some later date.
Professional restoration may be the logical option at this point. Cleaning is a dangerous task, especially when it is done by persons who do not know how to do it properly. More value can be lost than restored by an improper cleaning.
If you are like most collectors, most or all of your coins are in their raw unslabbed state. That means you might feel you are pretty much on your own. Whereas under normal circumstances cleaning is a no-no, it may become the only option following a disaster, but remember that this is not a riskless task. If you are inexperienced and unsure, but still determined to go ahead and try cleaning, perhaps reverse triage should be your goal. Experiment first on the low value coins to see how you do. You may at that point then reconsider your decision not to pay professionals to do it for you.
If your collection appears to have been exposed to water or to excessive moisture, the first thing that must be considered is the composition of the damaged collection. Do you have gold, silver, or base metal composition coins? Do you have paper money? Do you have proof and mint sets, or something else in which the paper composition original packaging is important to the value of the collectible itself? Was your collection housed in a paper-composition coin album?
Each of these four substances requires a different form of restoration, assuming the collectible will be subjected to restoration.
Gold is amazing. It is treasured for its colorful beauty, but it is also prized because of its durability. You can bury it in the ground and dig it up at a much later date only to find it has survived unscathed by the foreign elements around it. It is a noble metal, that is, it is unlikely to discolor.
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