How to Store Coins
Tools for Coin Collecting & Storage
By Alan Herbert
Find a diverse selection of coin collecting supplies available from ShopNumismaster and reputable dealers, ranging from coin storage tubes, containers, and various other storage systems and supplies.
No matter what the job, you need tools and other equipment to get the job done. Coin collecting is no different. It’s much easier and more fun if you have the right tools.
A magnifier is rated by the increase in size of the image. A 1-power magnifier will show you a correctly sized image. A 10X magnifier will show the image 10 times larger than normal. “X” in this case means “times.”
Every Coin Collector Needs at Least One Magnifier
You should never examine a coin just with the unaided eye, whether buying or selling. The mark of the experienced collector is the magnifier hanging from a lanyard around his neck.
Magnifiers come with glass or plastic lenses. It’s quite worthwhile to spend the extra money on glass, a good lens will last you a lifetime.
As a collector, you need a low power lens for looking at multiple coins, plus a stronger lens to investigate something you spotted. A low power usually lets you see all of the coin, while a high power may only show you something the size of the date.
Obviously, a lens allows you to see more. That extra viewing power comes in handy when you suspect a coin of being a counterfeit. The more coins you look at, the easier it will be to spot the problem coins. Coins that appear bright and shiny to the unaided eye, under magnification, may reveal that they have been buffed, polished or even sand blasted to create that bright finish.
A stereomicroscope may also prove invaluable. If you have access to a microscope, it becomes an indispensable tool for authentication or research work. If you have some cash available, a good stereomicroscope will cost a minimum of $300.
For coins you need a stereo model with a 20X to 40X range. Anything over that, such as the 1200X scopes commonly found in schools, is overkill and useless for coins. With 60X you can find something “wrong” with almost every coin.
When using a strong hand lens or a microscope, turn and tilt the coin to get the light from different angles. This will expose such common problems as light, or reflection doubling, caused by the light bouncing off a shiny coin. It will also help you catch defects, doctoring or maybe even some hub doubling, which in some instances can increase the value of a coin. Also, when using a microscope, invert a plastic cup with a flat bottom and put the coin on that. This allows you to turn the coin without touching it, cutting the handling down to a minimum.
A must for the serious collector is a scale. Weighing a coin will tell you far more than cutting or scratching it. Electronic scales are very portable; they will fit in your shirt pocket. You should make it a practice to weigh each coin before adding it to your collection. This will easily catch some of the more flagrant counterfeit coins.
The odds are that you already have a computer, so this would not be an added expense. There is very usable software available to catalog your collection, and some will even connect to a pricing source. If you have a digital camera you can store picture copies of your coins.
If you prefer not to get software for these tasks, you can always use the word processor you already have. Almost all word processor programs have easy to use search capabilities that can be immensely helpful.
A good, heavy-duty stapler is a must, especially if you use cardboard 2x2 holders for coin storage.
Keep Staples as Far Away as Possible From the Coin
You will also need a pair of needle nose pliers to flatten the legs of the staples, to avoid damage to other coins. Some dealers seem to make a game of seeing how close they can come to the coin with the staples, a dangerous game you don’t want to play. The staples are a threat and the overhang of the stapler may damage the coin.
An inexpensive protractor is useful, especially when you find a coin with the reverse rotated out of its normal position.
Don’t forget a good light. Highly recommended is one of the goose-neck or swing-arm lamps that clamp on the edge of a table or desk and that you see at every coin show. Most lights are fine, but avoid florescent lights, as they tend to distort what you see on the coin’s surface.
How to Store Coins
One of your early concerns as a collector will be coin collection storage and safekeeping. There are many questions about how to store coins, and there are just as many methods of coin storage. There are numerous potential hazards that could damage or even destroy your favorite collectible.
The two topics fit together, some of the things you do to store your coins and some of the hazards go together. Some you can insure against, others you can’t, and it’s frequently impossible to replace valued pieces in your collection.
Coins need to be protected from handling and from pollution or contamination in the air around us. Add in the possibilities of a fire, a flood or burglars and home invasion baddies that will strip your collection to the bone. Some of these security things you will want to do yourself. Some of you are probably going to have to risk it because of the expense factor. When your collection gets into the triple digits, the best way to store coins is probably a safety deposit box at a bank.
Before you sign up, read the fine print in the box contract. If the vault is broken into, the bank’s insurance may not cover the loss. Homeowner’s Insurance probably won’t cover it either, but you can buy a special policy that will protect your collection at home, or in the bank. Usually there is a discount for coins kept in the bank; after all, bank vaults are designed to store currency. Talk to your insurance agent.
Coins are much like humans. They like the same moderate temperatures and low humidity that we like. That’s why the attic and the basement are not where to store gold coins. Your currency storage media will suffer as well, if they are exposed to extreme temperatures or humidity. If you have coins in holders of flips containing PVC, heat will speed up the PVC damage.
An important point is to not only dispose of plastic flips that contain PVC, but get rid of the plastic-vinyl album pages that contain the chemical. Fumes from PVC will seep into your neutral plastic holders stored in a PVC-laced vinyl page. As a general rule, most flips that contain PVC are soft and pliable, while most Mylar and other safe plastics are stiff and hard. Remember, paper money storage using PVC is just as dangerous as coin storage; PVC can damage both.
A closet shelf may come crashing down under the weight of the coins, and those under the bed will catch a lot of lint for the cat to play with. It’s amazing how much a small box of coins will weigh. Don’t put them in a freezer, as crooks have learned that is the first place to look. A wall or floor safe, securely bolted down is one option, but you will probably have to compromise on a burglar proof safe, as the fire proof safes may contain chemicals that will damage your coins. How to store old coins is a difficult problem, it the answer must often be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Try and find a storage place that isn’t that obvious, which also rules out the back of the closet. Think out of the box. For example, a box buried under old clothes in a clothes hamper is not likely to draw unwanted attention. Use your ingenuity, but gold coin storage and silver coin storage, especially in large number, should probably be dealt with at a bank.
Storage media is a hot topic. I’d suggest keeping an eye on your increasing number of coins. It’s an excellent idea to start sorting and pick a value, perhaps $50 or $100. Any coin over the value you pick gets VIP treatment, store them in an inert, hard plastic coin storage cases. These are somewhat similar to the holders (slabs) used by the grading companies. They provide maximum protection, especially for proof or uncirculated coins. Coins below that value may be all right in coin storage tubes or boxes of inert plastic. No matter what coin storage supplies you use, it is important to have a consistent coin storage system, so that no coin of value is overlooked. It is a good idea to maintain a list of the coins in your collection, note down the date and mintmark of each coin, as well as the coins color, or unique aspects of its appearance. This list will not only help you keep track of what you have, but can serve you well if you decide to sell all or part of your collection.
Always Use Products Specifically Designed for Coins
For a pot full of cents, or dozens of dimes, the next best things are inert plastic coin tubes. A glass prescription bottle may hold a handful of coins, but drop it and you’ll be picking up glass splinters for days. The hard plastic holders give the coins the best possible protection. Make sure your budget includes proper storage media. Soft plastic bags, like the kind used to store food, should not be used for coin collector storage.
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Next come the plastic 2x2 coin flips. Make sure that you get rid of the PVC plastic. Mylar flips will replace them, but can damage coins if they are moved in and out frequently, as always, be careful, especially if you are storing valuable gold or silver coins.
Plastic and paper flips should not be used for long term storage of more than six months. Under exceptional conditions they will protect your coins over a longer span, but the big problem is that they are not airtight.
The same is true of the cardboard 2x2 holders. They have a Mylar window so that you can see both sides of the coin. These can be stapled shut, again with the warning not to get the staples or the stapler too close to the coin. To keep the coin safe the 2x2 needs to be stapled on the three open sides. Again the reminder to use your pliers to flatten the staple legs so they don’t damage an adjacent coin. Staples will rust, but there are stainless steel staples on the market.
Next come coin folders and coin boards. These have holes for each date and mint, and in some cases the outstanding minting varieties, such as overdates. These are what you most likely will use to start your collection. Most folders have a paper backing, so you can see only one side of the coin. They expose the visible side to the atmosphere and any pollution, contamination or fingerprints. My recommendation is that you use them for circulated coins that will not show problems. Your uncirculated coins need special protection and proof coins should be left in their packaging. This is especially true for questions on how to store gold coins, if the coin is a proof coin, it should stay in the packaging it came in.
Album pages allow seeing both sides of the coin, usually held in place by plastic strips. This type of album should also be used for circulated coins, as the plastic strips can scratch the coins as they slide back and forth. There are also albums designed to hold the coins in inert plastic holders, such as those used by the grading companies. These of course can be used for proof coins and uncirculated grade coins.
Coin folders are the basis for many, if not most collections, because they often provide several collecting aides. There is a hole for coins for each date. Under the hole is usually the mintage figure, which tells you the relative rarity of the coin. On the flyleaf are facts about the coins, including the weight, diameter and composition, all designed to simplify beginning your collection.
Canvas mint bags are among the poorer storage media. They obviously are not immune to water or contamination. Plus, every time the bag is moved the coins rub and scratch each other, not how to store silver coins, or any valuable coins, for that matter.
At the very bottom of the list are paper wrappers and the plastic tubes used by the Mint to ship coins. The paper wrappers offer only a bare minimum of protection. They tear easily, offer no protection from water damage and are easily penetrated by contamination. The “shotgun rolls” have the two end coins exposed. The soft plastic tubes also offer limited protection, with open ends. As with the paper wrappers, they should not be used for upper grade coins.
The odds are that you may have stored some coins in aluminum foil. This is something you need to immediately change. Any moisture will result in the metal-to-metal contact corroding the coin. I learned this after digging up several rolls of Morgan dollars that had been wrapped in foil and buried in the damp dirt floor of a garage. Every coin had suffered damage that no collector would want.
If you are using a shoebox for coin storage, you are running the risk of contamination. Trade it in for a plastic bin with a tight fitting lid, which will keep out anything in the air.
Summing up, it’s very important that you take special care of your coins. I was as guilty as anyone of letting coins fend for themselves in cups or bowls that offered no protection. Nothing will hurt as much as to discover that a coin with some value has lost much of it due to scratches or dings inflicted while they were lying loose. Doing your housekeeping will pay big dividends.
Keep paper (except 2x2 coin flips) such as tissue paper, envelopes and cardboard away from your coins. Paper contains sulfur, which will turn your coins black. Cotton lined flips are relatively safe, but as with the regular flips, they should not be used for long-term storage. A reminder again, use products specifically tested and intended for use with coins.
Even with the best of care, your proof and uncirculated coins may discolor or tarnish. In many cases this is from exposure prior to being packaged. Don’t be surprised if your prize coin that’s safely housed in a protective holder suddenly shows a fingerprint or a change in color. If you handled the coin correctly, the odds are that the coin was exposed before you got it.
Back during World War II they used a slogan to warn against giving information to the enemy: “Loose lips can sink ships.” Today you can lose your collection to a burglar by bragging about it, or openly displaying it. You need to impress on your relatives and friends that they are a risk to your collection if they talk about it to strangers, or even have their conversation overheard.
Coin dealers go to great lengths to overcome this problem. Gangs of thieves have been known to follow a dealer for miles when leaving a coin show and breaking into the vehicle when he stops for food or gas. As a collector you are not likely to face this problem unless you display a bunch of gold coins at the show. Use your head.
You can also rent a post office box so that your home address isn’t on everything that comes to you through the mail. Address labels should be removed from all envelopes and other papers before they go in the trash or to be recycled. A paper shredder is a good investment.