It's happened yet again. Last night, somewhere in the United States, another of Grandpa's Morgan dollars was scrubbed with baking soda, and those old Lincoln wheat cents that turned up in change at the grocery store were dropped in a vinegar bath.
Oh, this didn't just happen to me, but I've seen it all before.
A lot of folks ask me about their old coins and what they're worth. Inevitably, many of these folks show me coins that have clearly just been cleaned. I suppose their owners didn't mean any harm. They see a dirty old coin, and they want to clean it up. And, really, who can blame these newbies? Most of who have no idea that cleaning coins is one of the very worst things you can do to them.
Unfortunately, this is one of the most important lessons that must be taught to all new collectors – and even those who don't self-identify as coin collectors. It isn't being taught widely enough. While many folks seem curious about what their coins are worth, they need to understand those coin values are only valid on uncleaned, undamaged coins. I wonder how many folks would put away their silver polishes and vinegar if they knew their coins, after being cleaned, would be worth only half of what the price guides say here. I bet a lot of people would shy away from ever even thinking about cleaning those coins again.
Unless this post is shared across every social media platform out there today, only a small fraction of those who own collectible coins will actually read this. And that is precisely why it's important for all individuals involved in the hobby to get the word out and get it out as early as possible – stop cleaning coins!
I believe it's jolting enough to say that a harsh cleaning will permanently ruin the surfaces of any good coin, rendering it subpar as a collectible for generations to come. But that's sadly not the message that resonates with everybody.
For those who care primarily about how much cash they'll get when they flip their coins at the nearest coin dealer, they need to know that they're going to be losing potentially big money if they try cleaning their coins. Maybe, just maybe, some of these people will also care about the long-term drawback of cleaning their coins and responsibility they bear as stewards of their numismatic treasures and withhold from damaging their coins for the sake of future preservation.
If this message touches even just one coin collector, especially a newbie who otherwise has no idea about the dangers of cleaning their coins, then my mission for this post is complete. But for the love of all things numismatic, we collectors must continue doing a better job of spreading the word far and wide: cleaning your coins is bad, bad, bad!