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Long Beard's Blog

13 Jun 2020

Toned Coinage Explained

Coins | Long Beard

The subject of toning has long been a highly debated and hot button topic. This weeks blog will explain the process, both natural and artificial, through a week worth of research. Before proceeding any further, on the subject of artificial toning, as a serious numismatist I strongly discourage any use of the methods which are used as explained herein. It is my sole intent to educate and how to distinguish the difference, not to teach one how to do so. The harsh reality, while beautiful in their natural state, toning is the death of coinage. Enjoy!


For as many years as there have been collectors there are those who seek out toned coinage. For silver and nickel, toning may vary from a slight golden color to explosive rainbow shades. Copper may exhibit stunning purples and blues, while gold turns vivid orange to red. The colors and overall appeal has seen many setting record amounts at auctions or through private transactions. With this known, and of my own opinion, artificially toned coins are a form of counterfeiting aimed at capitalizing on an uneducated market. This would be why I strongly recommend buying only third party graded coins. Where toning is concerned, I myself am captivated by silver with an aged "album" look. A golden ring darkening around the outer circumference if you will. Or a nickel in stunning shades of blue and light violet. While these as of mine, many prefer the vibrant "monster-toned" as they are called.


So, what isnatural toning versus artificial? As a short visual reference the Pictured Morgan Dollar, graded NGC MS63*, is naturally toned while the Kennedy half is artificial.To explain the difference we'll beginwith the scientific definition. 4Ag + 2H2S +O2= 2Ag2S + 2H2O.

Ag2S beingsilver-sulfide, the layer formed on the surface of metal. O2 being oxygen and H2S hydrogen-sulfide which are present in the atmosphere. While black in nature, silver-sulfide forms in layers of various thicknesses which creates the colors seen through human eyes. A process called Thin Film Interference Effect (TFIE). A perfect example of what this means is that rainbow seen in a soap bubble and based on the angle in which it is viewed. TFIE ranges in scale fromlight-yellow through green. To avoid becoming confusing, this is the scale used for silver-sulfide thickness and not the wave length scale for human eye sight where red is at the end. Thereby, greenis the final stage before a coin looks black and ruined. Next in the necessaryrequirement for toning are the gases in the air. Specifically, sulfur combined with moisture which accelerates process. Forms of such might occurfrom cigarette smoke or appliances running on natural gas. In conjunction with the atmosphere,surface contamination by which the coin is in contact, is factored in.Materials which containhydrogen-sulfide and other chemicalssuch as paper, cardboard, tissue-paper, manila envelopes, canvas, ect. And finally, heat and humidity (2H2O). Simple prolonged sunlight may begin to show toning in as little as 6 months.


While the process explained is needed for naturally toned coins, the same would apply in speeding up artificial. Once again, I employ you to refrain from toning. While I could explain how easy it is, I will not. So for the discussion of artificial toninga look at how to tell the difference is all that will be mentioned. While it is rare, but not unheard of, toned coinsare not below a grade of mint state. Which makes this the easiest way to tell a natural from artificial. However, with the modern age we live in buying online and sight unseen this proves extremely difficult. If tilted at the right angle, the original mint luster can still be seen underneath toning. Notice how subtle the color change is on the Morgan and how the Kennedy lacksa smooth transitionfrom orange/violet to blue. Even though these are digital images, look closely at how the original luster is still visible. While the half may have been mint state before toning, the processusedto speed things up stripped it away leaving it dull. The comparative images chosen were to show how close some may get to looking genuine.However, a quick scroll through everyone's favorite website will provide many easily detectible examples of artificially toned coins. One of the easiest signs being a coin toned one or two colors, often blue and violet. It is extremely rare to find naturally toned examples bright and vivid, in any color shade.


Comments

I. R. Bama

Level 5

No coin that I inherited from either set of grandparents ever had toning. They weren't especially well cared for in terms of what info with coins I acquire now a days from circulated change or personally kept since I was a kid over 50 years plus. The only coins I have that are toned are lightly toned and bought from dealers. Only one was slabbed, the 1964 70 proof quarter (ICG). So this all makes me wonder beyond the well defined oxidation chemical process listed in the author's blog, what conditions promote the chemical reaction.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

This is very interesting to me. Recently I have acquired a few coins that have some toned areas but they aren't overwhelming like the Morgan you displayed in this article. I do understand that some toning can bring a premium but to me it diminishes the coin if overwhelming. This spring I bought a 1964 proof Washington quarter graded as proof 70 by ICG ( a whole 'nother topic by itself). It has a small area of toning at 4 o'clock on the obverse, and though I bought it with three other years of the same grade that actually do appear to be 70 proof, I'm saying to myself, "yeah right, the toning detracts from such a perfect grade." I'm by no means an expert or even experienced in grading mint state coins but I got to wonder if this really should be 65 or even lower due to the small spot of toning. The thoughts of the collective wisdom here are most appreciated.... Mike

Oobie

Level 4

I have debated on writing a blog on this subject before, but I decided not to. I am glad you did, though, as I learned quite a bit. I am, like you, not a fan of heavily toned coins at all. They look like they were drenched in oil or antifreeze for a long time. I do love lightly toned coins (especially proofs) when I come across them in coin rolls. Very interesting and intriguing post, sir!

Very informative and interesting blog. I learned a lot!

Mike

Level 7

I came back an enlarged this coin. It hides the details but not the scratches dings and wear mark. Just looking at it does seem great. Enlarge it . You will see.what I mean. .Take a look at the obverse . You don't have to look the close. You can see them with the naked eye. This coin did some traveling. The toning does not hide that. . Thanks.for a very interesting blog. Toning a coin by faking the toning to me is almost like stealing. . Thanks.for.a.very interesting blog. All my coins for the last 26 years silver I have one toned coin. I protect them from the elements.

Long Beard

Level 5

Greatly appreciate all the comments. I did my best refraining from airing my dislike of heavily toned coins. Not that I don't enjoy looking at them, so long as they are in someone else's possession. The purpose of the topic was education, so hopefully no one gets taken from buying an artificially toned one. However, if that's what you like who am I to say otherwise?

Mokie

Level 6

Thin Film Interference Effect, I have to find a way to work that into a sentence someday, but to add to the degree of difficulty, I must use it in a non-coin context. Wish me luck!!! Great and informative blog , Long Beard, Thank You!!!

Long Beard

Level 5

I used that one on the wife a few nights back, blocking the television.

user_9073

Level 5

Remember, "Toning is corrosion that we like" and "Corrosion is toning we don't like."

Toning is nature's way of having fun.

Golfer

Level 5

Always thought toned coins were less valuable. But I think things have changed over the years. I don't like the heavily toned coins with dark color, or bright colors. A little toning is nice on some coins. I don't find heavily toned coins attractive. I also don't understand coins that look crusty from toning, but graded high. Why wouldn't toning be considered environmental damage? Especially the toned coins that look like they have been at the bottom of the ocean and have some kind of appearance that look's like crust. I avoid toned coins.

"SUN"

Level 5

A well done blog. To me artificial toning does not benefit the coins.

Mike

Level 7

I am not a fan of toned coins. Mostly tones that you would find in a matte coin a lite blue or light gold. A lite Hue. Artificial don't even mention it. . I simply believe the coin i buy remain with the original luster that I bought it for. . Others wise they would make them that way.. I don't find it attractive it hides details and some like the Peace dollar tone terribly. I want my silver coin silver . Not silver with five different colors.. Thanks I enjoyed it very much.

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