USA Coin Album: Something of a Different Tone

Posted on 6/14/2011

Some buyers of coin albums are of the impression that a particular brand is great for imparting attractive toning to silver coins. This month, David puts that notion to a test.

It’s rare that the theme of my column actually references its series title, but this month’s installment does indeed have to do with coin albums. As someone who collects and researches old albums, I frequently have competition for certain items from buyers who are under the impression that a particular brand is great for imparting beautiful toning to silver coins.

The coin albums in question are those produced for and marketed by the late coin dealer Wayte Raymond under his National brand. It applies, too, to the clones of his albums sold by M. Meghrig & Sons as the American album; these products were essentially identical aside from their brand names and catalog numbers (Meghrig numbers were simply the Raymond numbers preceded by a numeral 1). The National album was marketed by Wayte Raymond starting in the early 1930s and was continued, following his 1956 death, by Alan W. Faxon, while the Meghrig clones first appeared in the early 1950s. Both companies had ceased production of these albums by 1965, driven from the market by better albums introduced 1958-61, though I was able to purchase some remaining stock directly from the Meghrig firm quite recently.

The notion that these coin albums were great for achieving attractive toning has a valid origin, as collections placed in them when the albums were new oftentimes did tone quite pleasingly. Silver pieces retrieved from old time collections sometime show bands of concentric colors at their peripheries framing white or golden-toned centers. The misconception held today is that these albums can still impart such toning, and that’s why I run into such competition for a product that is essentially obsolete and of little utility to collectors. The fact is that the desired reactive elements in paper products made 60 or 70 years ago have long since become neutralized and will no longer prompt colorful toning. All that remains active at this stage is the paper’s inherent acidity, and there is certainly no benefit to be derived from that.

So tired did I become of hearing about the benefits of Raymond albums in toning coins that I finally decided to put this theory to a test. About 20 years ago I placed a fresh, white 1982-D George Washington silver half dollar into a Raymond album page for commemorative halves to observe whatever reaction would occur. This coin was as purchased from the U. S. Mint in 1982 and had never been treated in any way, aside from removing it from its original packaging. The album holding my test coin was then placed in the appropriate location within my album collection under normal, indoor environmental conditions. It took more than five years for even the slightest suggestion of toning to appear, and after 20 years this coin has only a narrow halo of color around its borders. I could have achieved the same effect by simply placing the coin in a stapled 2x2 holder! The vibrant, multicolor toning which so many buyers of old albums are anticipating is nowhere in sight.

In contrast, let me provide an example of how vivid, natural toning requires fresh paper products to develop under normal atmospheric conditions. Shortly before undertaking my toning experiment, the U. S. Mint introduced its new silver American eagle coins. I purchased each year’s bullion coin annually starting in 1986, immediately placing it in a current brand of coin album introduced at the time specifically to house the new series. This collection was stored in the same room as my test coin. The result was toning that corresponded almost exactly to the length of time each coin had resided in the album. My 1986 eagle, which was close to the album’s hinge where the loose fit of the covering paper admitted more oxygen, now shows deep crescents of pleasing russet and aquamarine on either side. Coins nearer to the tight-fitting extremities of the page were less toned, but the overall pattern revealed progressively lighter toning on each successive date of coin. In conversation with other collectors, I’ve heard of similar toning progressions occurring in albums that were new when purchased. I’ve not heard of any such toning occurring in albums that were decades old when acquired, unless the coins were subjected to temperature extremes or harsh atmospheres.

The lesson here is that the real value of old coin albums lies in their graphic appeal and in the role they played in our hobby’s history. They should be preserved as collectibles, something I’ve been doing for many years, but they should not be thought of as toning tools. Most current brands of paper-based coin albums will perform this task quite well, unless they include some supplemental, anti-corrosion material designed specifically to inhibit toning.

Finally, lest I be labeled one of the dreaded coin doctors, let me say that the toning of my silver eagles occurred naturally as a consequence of album storage. Nothing was done to accelerate the toning, nor was it intended to cover up any flaws in the coins. Most importantly, no coins were harmed in the making of this column.

David W. Lange's column, “USA Coin Album,” appears monthly in the Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.

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