Over The Rainbow

Posted on 4/25/2013

Collectors now have a deep appreciation for coins with attractive, original toning.

Someone once said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This sublime statement has become a reality in the rare coin business. Toned coins are now extremely collectible and highly sought after. When I first bought and sold rare coins a few decades ago, toned coins were certainly a curiosity, but the demand for them was lukewarm at best. As a matter of fact, most collectors wanted their rare coins frosty white. Any coin with toning was soon slated for a bath in Jewel Luster, the coin dip of choice for most collectors. Jewel Luster has a mild blue die added to it to discourage people from exposing their skin to the chemicals. Believe me, there was no shortage of Smurf-fingered coin dealers in the 1970s and 1980s!

Much has changed over the years. Collectors now have a deep appreciation for coins with attractive, original toning. What constitutes attractive is the question that many have different opinions about. I have mentioned in previous articles that silver coins come in three basic looks. About 40 to 50 percent of the vintage (over 50 years old) coins on the market today are frosty white or mostly so. These coins were probably conserved at one time, or were found in rolls or bags and not exposed to sulfur or other contaminants. A large number of Morgan Silver Dollars found are seen this way.

Another 40 to 50 percent of silver coins have toning that is not considered attractive. Many of the coins have toning ranging from light brown to an almost black appearance. In general, many of these coins sell for significant discounts when offered for sale. The coins may technically grade quite high, but many collectors do not like the aesthetic appeal of the pieces. You might be wondering why, if these coins sell for a discount because of the unattractive toning, someone does not have them conserved. That is a great question! The problem is that not all coins are candidates for some form of conservation. Many coins with deep or uneven toning will look terrible if conserved. That is why conservation should be left to the experts. I can testify to the truth of this statement by telling you that I have attempted to improve the appearance of a coin, only to be horrified by the results!

Finally, there is a small percentage of coins that are found with what can be deemed as attractive toning. I estimate that less than 10 percent of the silver coins seen on the market would fall into this category. As mentioned above, what constitutes attractive toning is subjective. Coins with attractive toning are usually very frosty and the toning appears to be layered lightly on the surface of the coin. The toning can range from light brown to almost any color of the spectrum. Quite a few of these attractive coins are also found with partial toning. This means coins that are bright white with splashes of color. Sometimes coins that had been stored for years in bags will have crescent toning from being partially covered by another coin while exposed to the toning effects of the bag. These coins are among the most sought after by toning aficionados. NGC's Star designation indicates superior eye appeal, such as on the reverse of this rainbow-toned Morgan dollar featured above.

Morgan Silver Dollars are one of the popular issues for collectors of toned coins. The premium paid for these coins can sometimes seem to defy logic. Last year I consigned an NGC MS 64 1884-O Silver Dollar to auction. The coin displays beautiful toning on both the obverse and reverse. Apparently, this is a very rare combination! An average 1884-O Silver Dollar is worth less than $100 in MS 64. This coin sold for nearly $4,000! Classic commemorative half dollars (those struck from 1892 to 1954) are also extremely popular with the toned collector crowd. There have been auction records in recent years that seemed totally impossible. It seems that collectors of toned coins are sometimes willing to engage in mortal combat to obtain the coins they feel worthy of their collection. You can throw out the price guides when these coins cross the auction block.

As mentioned above, collecting toned coins is a matter of taste. In general collectors are now much more willing to pay higher prices for coins with great eye appeal. This mantra is taken to extremes when a truly beautiful coin comes to market. I have stated before that if I come across a stunning coin I almost always place the coin in auction. It seems that buyers for these coins sometimes have a better imagination than I do! Eye appeal has become a very important element for pricing rare coins. Toning is just one of the important factors that must be considered.

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to wmr@ngccoin.com.

Jeff Garrett bio

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