Toning Characteristics of Coins

With summer ending and fall beginning I thought I would talk a little bit about color. Just as leaves turn color so do coins. They have an array of beautiful colors that can add or take away from the value of the coin.

Here are some very general toning characteristics of the major metals in coins we know today:

  • Copper – The life cycle you’re most typical to see is orange to reddish-brown to full brown to nearly black.
  • Nickel – Silver-ish to eventually a musty gray.
  • Silver – Bright silver to brown to black. Sometimes rainbow-style colors appear in the toning of silver, which can really add to value.
  • Gold – Bright yellow to orange. Sometimes a reddish color.

The first 3 pictures are of toned coins that have great color and eye appeal, which would add to the value of the coin. Toning can occur on any type of coin, copper, silver, gold, nickel, etc., and can happen on just one side of the coin or both sides. As you can see in the 1897 Indian Cent (copper coin), the toning makes the coin look pink (or redish brown) and orange on the obverse and same with the reverse with a little turquoise.

The next two pictures are of what I would consider to be “ugly” toning, in that they don’t have the ‘eye appeal’ factor. The 2-Cent piece looks greenish and is not a natural look. The silver eagle is just all over the place with its color. Now there are some coin collectors that would find these 2 coins attractive, and I am not taking anything away from them, when it comes to toning it is purely in the eye of the beholder.

Unfortunately, just as toning happens naturally with coins, it can also be mimicked artificially by “coin doctors.” (Think of coin doctors as forgers.) If you Google the words “tarnish silver” for example, you’ll find “recipes” for ways to create a tarnished look on silver.

Why would anyone try to artificially tone a coin? It’s nearly always an attempt to improve a coin’s appearance so it can be sold for more. It’s not just to try and seek the premium dollars paid for gorgeously toned coins. More often than not, it’s to hide imperfections the coin already has.

In ANY instance or method applied to a coin to doctor its appearance, the value of the affected coin IMMEDIATLY declines SUBSTANTIALLY. You don’t want to buy them!

The next picture is that of a Silver Eagle. Now, as most of you know Silver Eagles are almost pure silver (.999Fine), so dramatic toning is not uncommon. This particular coin has an unnatural deep turquoise or aquamarine color as well as a very incongruous patch of violet/orange in the center of the obverse. That sudden contrast of colors is a telltale sign of rapid toning, which from what I have been told is almost always artificially done.

In conclusion, I would say that if you like toned coins, go for the ones that look good to you, and if you don’t like toning on coins, then don’t buy them!

Brian Dresback,

Manager, Christopher’s Rare Coins