Ever wondered what grading coins is like? Modern Coin Wholesale’s Ron Drzewucki gives CoinWeek the inside scoop
By CoinWeek ….
Welcome back for the second installment of Ron Drzewucki’s “Ask a Grader”, exclusively on CoinWeek!
If you’re not familiar with Ron, he is the owner/operator of Modern Coin Wholesale. Ron has been a professional numismatist since the age of 15 in the mid-1980s, both owning his own companies and also working as one of Numismatic Guaranty Corporation’s (NGC) elite grade finalizers for almost a decade. There are few active dealers with his experience and connections – and CoinWeek is happy to help him talk directly to the collector and consumer about issues pertinent to their day-to-day collecting.
His previous column addressed some of the first questions a collector might have about grading (Shouldn’t graders wear gloves?, Is grading precise or totally a matter of opinion?, etc.) This week’s article is inspired by a reader’s question about toned coins, and touches on such topics as how to tell when it’s fake and why is toning desirable in the first place?
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CoinWeek: Hi Ron, great to have you again.
Ron Drzewucki: Hi, thanks for having me.
CW: I thought I’d start with one of our reader’s questions. Robert writes:
“I have been a casual collector all my life, and one thing I have never understood is why so many people love toned coins. To me the ideal coin is one that looks like it came off the assembly line and is a perfect silver (white) /gold/copper color. Toned Morgans are pretty, but I would rather have one that is “white” than a “monster toner”. I believe this should be part of the equation when grading. Why does toned coins seem like the favorite trend?”
So why is that? Why does toning seem to be preferred over white coins right now? Is it better than a shiny white coin?
Ron: No it’s not better. It’s not worse either. Collect what you like. A lot of people like toning, like the color – but don’t let that change what you do if you don’t like it.
Toning has been in and out of vogue. I remember back in 1988, ’89, ’90, ’91… end of the eighties, beginning of the nineties, that four-year period… people preferred to collect coins with a really subdued toning, no luster. Now people go after toners where that luster is just shining through. Really colorful pieces with lots of originality. And different stages of toning have been popular at different times, what’s popular now won’t necessarily be what was popular before. I personally like the kind of coins people collect today. I like the color and the beauty, that luster coming through.
But years ago it was this darker, dingier color that people liked.
As for collecting “white” coins, you need to be careful. Sometimes those coins have been dipped. Some dealers will dip a coin in jewel luster to get it that shiny white color but then they don’t rinse it off with something like a baking soda and water solution, to neutralize the jewel luster’s action. Which means it could change color later! The coin could be graded and slabbed when it’s white only for it to turn some brown dip stain color once you’ve bought it.
CW: Is there a series or type that this is a special problem with? Any examples?
Ron: Off the top of my head… people will dip nickels in Muriatic acid [Another name for Hydrochloric acid. —CoinWeek], produce what I call that shiny “hubcap” effect”. They try to neutralize it but the coin’s still been dipped in acid. You might like the color but you wouldn’t like how it was achieved.
I like original coins where a coin doctor hasn’t touched the surfaces. One thing about toning, if it’s got toning on it, chances are no one’s dunked it in jewel luster or messed with it.
CW: Can you always tell though? Can you tell when a coin’s been dipped, or if it has artificial toning?
Ron: Well, nickel’s a good example. A nickel will have this ultra-white shine, like a brand-new shiny hubcap as a result of being dipped in acid, most likely.
CW: Silver coins?
Ron: Kind of. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t. Usually there’s nothing left original on the coin. It’s perfectly white. Never mind coins that look burnt or dipped out.
CW: Burnt? Dipped out? What does that mean?
Ron: Lackluster, dead looking.
As for toning, again, nickel’s a good example. On a buffalo nickel you can tell – there’ll be this gold color along the inside ring of toning. But you pretty much have to take artificial toning on a case-by-case basis. You have to see a lot of coins that are the right color. It’s a gut feeling. You should definitely develop a relationship with an experienced, reputable dealer or have that experience yourself.
CW: Is conservation a good idea for problem coins?
Ron: My advice would be to buy original coins that don’t need conservation in the first place.
CW: Pulling numbers out of the air, what percentage of copper coins, silver coins, and gold coins that you see in holders in today’s market are original?
Ron: [Long pause] I don’t know. That’s too hard of a question to answer with an honest answer. I’d just be guessing and I don’t want to do that. Again, my strong advice is to buy gem original coins that don’t need to be conserved, coins where the luster comes through. But always just buy the coins you truly like. Nothing wrong with, say, a copper-spotted gold coin. A lot of people get hung up on things like that.
CW: Does CAC (Certified Acceptance Corporation) still hold the line when it comes to originality on coins?
Ron: Yes. I can’t say enough good things about CAC being involved in the marketplace and making sure that problem coins aren’t CAC’ed. It’s a nice insurance policy. Third-party grading works without CAC, but CAC makes it better. As a collector, I would look at which grading service has the most CAC’ed coins.
CW: In the past, the grading services used to send coins back in body bags [A small plastic pouch or saflip. —CW]. This is a practice that you don’t much see anymore. Why is that and are more coins getting graded now, where in the past they might have been body bagged?
Ron: Because dealers were sending their coins in to get an opinion. Sending a coin back in a body bag, some dealers felt like they weren’t getting that, that the TPGs were taking the easy way out. The dealers wanted to know what the graders thought about their coins, you know, get some value for the money they spent on submissions.
I liked it better when they came back in body bags. It kept the no-grades out of holders. There were less ways for people to take advantage of other people. A telemarketer couldn’t look at an AU Cleaned Details coin and say “This coin goes for $15,000 in AU but we’ll sell this one to you for $10,000”, when really it was only worth $5,000.
CW: So for toners, or blast white coins, what’s your number one advice?
Ron: Buy original, pleasing looking coins. I like gem original myself. Be careful with “white” coins, they may be dipped. And toning is often a good sign of originality. Also, rely on CAC. I can’t emphasize enough what good they do for the hobby.
CW: Thanks, Ron.
Ron: Thank you.
Questions for Ron? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave them in the comments below.
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About Ron Drzewucki
Ron Drzewucki is the CEO of Modern Coin Wholesale, Inc. He became a professional numismatist in 1984 when he was only 15 years old. His judgment and keen eye earned him a spot at NGC in 2005 as a “finalizer”, the person who delivers the final verdict on a coin’s grade. Ron worked in this position until 2012, founding Modern Coin Wholesale in December of that year. He also teaches grading seminars and counterfeit detection classes.