Color makes a difference

Have you ever wondered why the color is listed when looking up the values of your copper coins? Do you know how to determined all of the color varieties? If not, or if you just need a refresher, Paul Gilkes of Coin World has a useful article on the subject.

Just how much original color still remains on a United States copper coin – specifically, half cents, large cents, small cents and 2-cent coins – plays an important part in a coin’s grade and its ultimate value.

U.S. copper coins, regardless of whether they are graded and encapsulated by a third-party grading service or are “raw,” often have a superlative after the grade that addresses the coin’s color: “red,” “red and brown” and “brown.” Any one of these adjectival attributions reflects the general amount of the original Mint red color remaining on a coin and whether any brown toning is visible.

A coin classified as “red” has all or virtually all of the original red, meaning it features no toning; some red remains on a “red-brown” coin, meaning the coin has partially toned to brown; a coin classified as “brown” is one that has completely toned to a natural brown.

Collectors will often see the terms abbreviated in advertisements, price guides and other places where space is limited (“R” for red, “RB” for red-brown and “B” for brown). A copper coin with no color designation as part of the grade, especially in the lower Mint State range and all circulated grades, is probably fully brown.

Collectors will often see the designations primarily assigned to the half cent series (Liberty Cap, Draped Bust, Classic Head, and Coronet); large cents (Flowing Hair, Liberty Cap, Draped Bust, Classic Head and Coronet); Indian Head and Lincoln cents; and 2-cent coins.

The designations may also be seen used less frequently for copper patterns and tokens.

The designations are reserved for Mint State and Proof issues, and appear as, for example, MS-65 red or Proof 65 red.

Color affects value. A coin graded MS-65 red (or MS-65R) will be valued more than an MS-65RB piece of the same date and Mint.

A coin grading MS-63RB is worth more than a coin grading MS-63B. In many cases, a fully red coin in a lower grade is worth more than a coin that is one grade higher, but red-brown in color (for example, an MS-64R Lincoln cent is likely more expensive than an MS-65RB Lincoln cent of the same date and Mint).

The exact designation of color will differ from series to series, as the color of the copper used for coin blanks will be different depending on the source of the metal.

According to The Official American Numismatic Association Grading Standards for United States Coins, edited by Kenneth Bressett, “Copper is the among the most chemically reactive of all coinage metals. Half cents and large cents of 1793 to 1857 were made of nearly pure copper. Later ‘copper’ coins are actually bronze (copper combined with other elements, usually zinc and tin).

“When a copper coin is first struck, it emerges from the dies with a brilliant red-orange surface, similar to a newly minted modern Lincoln cent (copper-plated zinc).

“There are some exceptions in the early years among half cents and large cents. Copper was obtained from many different sources, traces of impurities varied from shipment to shipment, and some newly minted coins had a subdued brilliance (sometimes with a brownish or grayish cast).

“Once a freshly minted copper coin enters the atmosphere, it immediately begins to oxidize. Over a period of years, especially if exposed to actively circulating air or placed in contact with sulfur-content materials (such as most paper or cardboard), the coin will acquire a glossy brown surface. In between the brilliant and glossy brown stages it will be part red and part brown.”

Read the entire article.

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