In a late press release on April 17, it was announced that after two years, the members of the Professional Numismatists Guild approved a three-point definition of “coin doctoring.”

“This is a complex issue, but we needed to have a concise definition to help combat the deliberative and unacceptable alteration of coins in an effort to deceive,” said PNG President Jeffrey Bernberg.

As the hobby has grown and the ability to sell coins have become easier, the problem of coin doctoring has been one of those issues simmering just below the industry’s radar. But as the prices of key and semi-key coins have risen, the temptation by some to cash in has caused coin doctoring to be a more significant issue.

​“We’ve been working on this for over two years with Numismatic Guaranty Corporation and Professional Coin Grading Service as well as a committee of dealers and collectors to formulate an industry-acceptable definition,” said PNG Executive Director Robert Brueggeman.

According to PNG, coin doctoring refers to the alteration of any portion of a coin, when that process includes any of the following (emphasis added):

  1. Movement, addition to, or otherwise altering of metal, so that a coin appears to be in a better state of preservation, or more valuable than it otherwise would be.  A few examples are plugging, whizzing, polishing, engraving, “lasering” and adding or removing mint marks.
  2. Addition of any substance to a coin so that it appears to be in a better state of preservation or more valuable than it otherwise would be. The use of solvents and/or commercially available dilute acids, such as Jeweluster, by qualified professionals is not considered coin doctoring.
  3. Intentional exposure of a coin to any chemicals, substances, or processes which impart toning, such that the coin appears to be in a better state of preservation or more valuable than it otherwise would be. Naturally occurring toning imparted during long-term storage using established/traditional methods, such as coin albums, rolls, flips, or envelopes, does not constitute coin doctoring.

While much of this makes sense in the current environment, there are some things that the collecting public must remember. First, not all doctored coins are an effort to deceive. One example are Buffalo Nickels that have been treated with a chemical to make the date readable. These “acid coins” are easy to detect since the chemical leaves a stain where used and, in the vast majority of cases, are advertised as being altered coins.

Another issue is that at one time coin doctoring was an accepted practice. People did not want ugly coins, so dealers would use various methods to polish he coins to make them look better. It was also common for some to use the same abrasive copper polish that was used to clean copper cookware to clean older copper coins to try to make the coins look mint red. Others embraced the natural oxidation of copper that turned them brown and coated them with lacquer to preserve its rich, dark color.

When blatant altering of the surface fell out of fashion, dipping the coins in chemicals to improve the surface continued, especially for copper coins. While not as easy to detect, it is possible to find better and semi-key Indian and Lincoln cents that were dipped a long time ago when the practice was acceptable. An experienced eye can tell if a coin was once dipped, but it is not easy. If you have any question, either ask that coin be graded by a third party or do not buy the coin.

One item that is objectionable is in the second definition where it says, “the use of solvents and/or commercially available dilute acids… by qualified professionals is not considered coin doctoring.” What this says is that if I have coins that have been contaminated with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from being improperly stored, I cannot buy acetone to rid the coins of the damage. Rather, it appears that NGC has preserved the business of its sister company, Numismatic Conservation Service by saying only NCS can do the job and a vigilant collector is a coin doctor.

Dear PNG: I am going to continue to carefully remove the deteriorated foam from a set of improperly stored 1939 World’s Fair tokens using olive oil and acetone. Just because I do not work for NCS does not mean I am doctoring  these coins.

A collector who uses a dilute or neutral acid that does not alter surfaces like acetone to remove PVC, dirt, or other contaminants is not a coin doctor!

Toning is a controversial topic because toning is he result of the oxidation of the coin metal accelerated by environmental contaminants. Oxidation alters the irreversibly alters the surface of a coin. Usual causes of toning comes from storage using non-neutral materials. Since toning can give coins a pleasing or pretty look with many interesting colors, there are collectors who seek out toned coins.

Artificially toning a coin can be used to hide the work of doctored coins or make the coin more desirable. The problem is that there is no definitive way to tell the difference between artificial and natural toning. There are ways to tell the difference between deliberate attempts at toning, but there has been anecdotal evidence demonstrating that it is possible tone a coin that has fooled the grading services.

Now that we have he definition of coin doctoring, what do we do with it? While PNG can use this definition to police its own members, what happens to dealers who are not PNG members? Will PNG work with the American Numismatic Association to adopt similar ethics rules? If so, will ANA members be allowed in this conversation?

“It frankly took longer than some of us expected or wanted to get something substantive finally approved, but the overwhelmingly vote now by PNG members to support a specific coin doctoring definition is an important, major step for the hobby and the profession. It needed to be done,” said Brueggeman.

Maybe they should have waited longer and put out their definition for general comment before enthusiastically adapt a message with questions.

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