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CoinWeek Collector Fundamentals: How to Handle Coins

CoinWeek Collector Fundamentals: How to Handle Coins

By Peter Mosiondz, Jr. …..
In an earlier article, I mentioned that we will discuss how to handle coins properly. And, this is very important. One fingerprint or drop of moisture on an uncirculated coin could severely impair it as a worthy collectible, not to mention any potential resale or trading value.

I was barely eight years of age when I took up the hobby of coin collecting. It happened quite by accident.

It wasn’t some strange coin from a far-off land that captured my interest. It wasn’t some old or unusual coin found in pocket change. It happened on a shopping trip with my dad.

Each Saturday morning I would accompany my father on his weekly shopping pilgrimage to the stores in downtown Philadelphia. My reward for carrying his bags was usually a small item from Woolworth’s or some other five-and-dime store. For those too young to recall the five-and-10-cent stores, the dollar stores have taken their place today. On this particular day my reward would be something quite different.

One of his favorite stores was the Gimbel Brothers department store, one of five such emporiums within a short walk of each other. I remember walking with my dad on the first floor. He was on his way to the men’s department to look for a new pair of gloves. The gloves had to wait.


We happened to pass through the enormous stamp and coin department and that’s no exaggeration. It was immense. It was the first time I had consciously noticed it. I was mesmerized by the display of coins and asked my father if I could have a look. Thankfully he was a patient man. Well, I looked and wondered, and in a few short minutes, I was hooked. Oh, there were so many things I wanted but alas we were far from wealthy. I settled on a set of the then-current Lincoln cents, one from each of the three mints then striking coins in the states. I recall that my dad paid the clerk a dollar for the trio; not a very small sum in those days. I couldn’t wait to get home to show my best friend my new coins.

Back then it was customary to buy, trade, and collect coins in two-by-two inch brown Kraft® envelopes. The date and mint mark, if any, was normally printed at the upper left. The denomination followed at the center and the grade (or condition) of the coin occupied the upper right corner. Once home I sat down at the kitchen table and slid the coins right out of their individual envelopes. They clanged and rolled on the table. I didn’t even bother to check if the table was clean but, remembering my mom, I’m sure it was. I picked up the coins one at a time with my dirty and probably sticky fingers. The fact that my fingerprint adorned each of the coins and that they were no longer uncirculated did not concern me in the least. I knew no better.

Other coins found in circulation and obtained from the neighbourhood hobby shop were handled in the same fashion. For my eighth birthday, my dad got me one of those well-remembered blue coin folders for every denomination then in regular circulation. I recall that it took a couple of years, but eventually, an older collector did mentor me and showed me the proper way to handle and hold a coin.

Soon Mylar® two-by-two-inch holders took the hobby by storm. Made of cardboard with a clear window for the desired denomination, they required a bit of adeptness as well as stapling on three sides. In later years various forms of plastic and Lucite® holders came on the scene. They became very popular as did the vinyl flips that are still in use today. Inert holders, known throughout the hobby as “slabs” came on the scene during the 1980s. Each of these various holders will be discussed in our next installment.

Take extreme care whenever you remove a coin from one of the holders discussed, or for that matter examining any coin with any value above its face, or spending, value. First, wash and dry your hands thoroughly. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? However, dirty fingers and hands will often result in dirty coins.


Next, always hold the coin at its edge (or rim) between thumb and forefinger. Be very careful not to talk or even sneeze when holding the coin, particularly so if the coin is uncirculated. The tiniest droplet of saliva can effectively ruin a coin. This infinitesimal amount of moisture will eventually transform itself into one or more dark specks. On copper coins, they are referred to as “carbon” spots. I have seen beautiful silver coins develop these dark spots over time due to improper handling. Be careful.

Whenever you are working on your coins, whether it is in your office or at the kitchen table, always have a soft cotton or velvet cloth on your work surface. Suffice to say a clean cloth.  The one I use is 23-by-30 centimeters. This will protect your coins in the event that one or more are dropped inadvertently.

Like most collectors, I like the “feel” of holding a coin but, for the valuable ones, I prefer to wear a pair of cotton gloves. Your favourite coin dealer or coin supply house should be able to provide a pair. They are relatively inexpensive so consider a spare.  Wearing these gloves and touching either obverse or reverse will not impair the coin in any way.

If you are removing a coin from a stapled holder, make sure you remove all of the staples first. I suggest a flat-type tool, rather than the customary “pinch” type. These are normally available in office supply stores for less than two dollars. Don’t try to take a shortcut by leaving a staple or two embedded in the holder. I have seen my share of coins with staple scratches and I don’t this to happen to you.

When inserting coins in my albums, I like to wear my cotton gloves or I’ll use a soft piece of cotton. I don’t want my fingers to come in contact with any coin that I am placing in its slot.

To recap:

  1. Make sure your hands are clean.
  2. Hold the coin by its edge.
  3. Avoid getting moisture on the coin.
  4. Use a cushioning cloth.
  5. Use cotton gloves or a cotton cloth.

There you have it. A little preventative care goes a long way in the care and protection of your coins.

Until next time, stay well and enjoy your hobby.

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