Artificial Toning. An Interview With a Coin Doctor
There have been many attempts to give a coin the appearance of being in a higher grade than it actually is. Numismatists refer to such treatments as "doctoring". This doctoring can include any different number of processes. With chemical alteration being the number 1 method of enhancement.
As our reader has now discovered from Part (A), coloration is a powerful tool that put into the right hands, represents a tremendous profit possibility for those people we appropriately refer to as "Coin Doctors".
People who doctor coins fall into two different categories.
Category 1 is the chemical and surface alteration of a coin while Category 2 is the mechanical alteration of a coin' s devices. Category 2 will not be in this report and refers to date changes, added or removed mintmarks and the physical metal movement in a coin. Category 1, however, will be discussed in this summary because it is such an informative part of the procedures used in "doctoring" coins.
The story of how a coin gets doctored begins with a lie. It all started with the explanation that a group of coins which had "toned" considerably was from an old timely collection. This collection had apparently been stored in paper holders like 2 x 2's (envelope) or in the old style coin albums. The coins in question exhibited beautiful shades of purple, orange, sea green and light tinges of orange. These were blended in color hues that produced streaks and cameo target designs on several of the coins. As the reader may surmise at this point, the coins in question were all artificially enhanced to produce the most attractive array of color toning. These are the same shades that professional coin dealers recognize as "profit possibilities" even though some retail customers think otherwise.
Now, back to the story.
The lie, began by the dealer selling the coins, was not only believable but was further reinforced by the crinkled cellophane with names of major numismatic auction companies and old time collector greats (like B. Maxmehl and others). At this point, money changes hands and the coins locked away for safekeeping. Months later, one of the foremost coin doctors who happens to be visiting the proud new owner of the "toned coins routinely engages to purchase coins from the host dealer. All at once, the doctor spots one of the treated coins. Further discussion between the dealer and the doctor blooms into a full-scale conversation about chemically treated coins. Finally, the doctor admits working on some of the actual coins owed by the dealer, At this point, he admits extensive knowledge into the process and begins the education of the dealer. Here are some of his comments:
1) Coins that exhibit spotted toning no matter the colors are most likely artificially produced. These spots are normally mistakes that cannot be erased or diffed off so the doctor leaves them, He normally changes his method at this point to accentuate his error in order to salvage the coin.
As one might expect, coins of higher value usually are the focus of such meticulous efforts. Let's go back to the spots. The chemicals used in producing the spots are normally mixed in crucibles and oftentimes heated to give the drying effort and time lapse normally needed. A small Bunsen burner is employed to keep the mixture thinned and homogenous. Q-tips and sometimes swabs or gauze are also part of the painting process. After the coin has been chemically treated, light heat is sometimes applied to give the appearance of age.
2) One of the most difficult colors to duplicate is the "sea green" that many dealers feel is the most sought after "toned effect". If the green is too dark, forget it. . You probably have an artificial color.
In many cases, the mixture of colors will actually change from light green (sea green) to a darker olive color simply from the interaction of oxygen and the cooling effect. At this point, the doctor will normally try to lighten up the unaltered areas of the coin with a light painting of green residue. This process normally fools the observer in thinking that the coin has been in an environmental atmosphere where the residue is perfectly a natural consequence. And because of this thought process, the observer feels confident that the toning is perfectly natural.
3) Target toning is another method you can use to determine of a color is genuine or not. The doctor pointed out for example on a proof Morgan dollar that he had processed how you do this. The dollar in question, he explained, had been a near white Proof 63 (slabbed) that he wanted to resubmit for a possible 64 or shot '65'. However, the coin had some small hairlines between the outer devices and Miss Liberty. The problem therefore was to hide these marks and simultaneously enhance the eye appeal. One of the best methods explained was the "target effect". Here's how it works. The doctor has 2 problems. First, hide the hairlines. But to do this would involve spot toning or chemical arcing chat could possibly lower the value of the proof Morgan. Also, it could be too obvious that the problem area was also located in the same vicinity. The doctor surmises that the only
natural- looking thing to do is give the coin a cameo look by producing a target appearance on the obverse. A target effect is accomplished by painting concentric circles on the outer pheriphy of the coin and continuing the circles inward, stopping at or near Miss Liberty's face. The toned circles are accented with the white face that is not painted. Colors usually include light blue and a tinge of purple until the toning begins to fade into the white area. As the doctor explained to us, natural coin toning does not happen this way. When you see a target toned coin ... be cautious. The coin should tone somewhat throughout the entire area although in very limited circumstances such an effect could occur naturally.
The coin doctor we interviewed relayed some real stories about the kind of treatments possible in changing a coin from one color to another.
The apparent best safeguard that you can take as a coin buyer is to know the dealer you buy from. Also, look for coins that exhibit continuous tone or those that do not hide marks or scratches. Use a good 3X or lOX glass to examine the surface of the coin. If, after you purchase the coin you are still apprehensive, send it off to our grading service. Beautifully toned coins nearly always bring more money so it's very important that the surface is natural and environmentally undamaged.
Article provided by PCI, Inc. Coin Grading Service.