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Coin Doctoring, Enhanced 1861-S Liberty Seated Quarter - PCGS AU58

Originally published on October 6 2015 and March 10 2016

As GFRC consignment volumes continue to expand, I am starting to see a disturbing number of "enhanced", "repaired" or "doctored" coins. The selection of the adjective is typically political depending on who I speak with concerning this subject. The issue within our hobby is very real however and needs attention. There are individuals who actively repair or enhance coins for profit with the TPGs being the filter that must be overcome. Based on examples seen in the past two months, I can say with certainty that the TPG filter is porous and coins with different types of "enhancement" techniques are sitting in TPG holders.

As a dealer/collector and LSCC President, it is my responsibility to identify coins that are believed to have been enhanced for improving marketability. Consignors are receiving feedback when their submitted coins fall in the "enhancement" category. My business ethics are to properly describe coins when listed and set prices accordingly. To date, the consignors have been wonderful to work with and accept my conclusions and recommendations. But the fundamental problem is that enhanced or repaired coins in TPG holders never leave the hobby. They simply trade among knowledgeable collectors at reduced prices (best case) and at full retail when purchased by the inexperienced collectors.

I am unable to present a solution to this issue other than promising GFRC customers that I will honestly describe coins as seen. If I believe a coin has been polished/retoned or fixed, then the descriptions will state that opinion. During consignor submissions, I will carefully screen each piece and if it is believed that a coin has been enhanced, this feedback will be provided to the consignor. The consignor can decide to list the coin at GFRC with proper description/pricing or take the coin back.

Detecting coins that have been enhanced takes years of experience similar to fine tuning grading skills. Following is a short list of obvious cases (to me) of coin enhancement or subtle "improvement" cleaning.
  1. Retoning via heat treatment - look for dark brown crusty spots on the highest wear points and rims.

  2. Chemical retoning - look for a perfectly uniform brown/gray color across the coin. Try dipping a white silver coin in a very mild Clorox solution and you will get the idea.

  3. Tooling and retoning - on larger denomination coins, look for faint tooling lines (under the uniform toning ) in the fields to fix marks or smooth out porosity.

  4. Whizzing - look for raised metal edges on the main devices. Whizzing is a mechanical process that moves metal and provides an unnatural luster. Nearly all whizzed coins have some faint amount of metal that is moved onto the edges of the main devices. Many whizzed coins are then retoned as the silver surface is native and optimum for chemical toning.

  5. Masking and toning - on larger coins with perfect bullseye toning, look within the untoned center and compare with the toned rings for surface differences.

  6. Unnatural colorful toning - colorful natural toning is vivid and transparent. It should "float" on a coin's surfaces. When seeing thick colorful patina (blues for example) that are not transparent, then pay special attention.

  7. Glossy surfaces on coins grading F through EF - a coin grading VF20, or even EF40, should not have glossy or reflective surfaces regardless of the toning appearing natural. As silver naturally wears it becomes dull. Any cleaning will change the surface properties, and many times lead to a glossy appearance.
GFRC Advice

When viewing any coin in raw or TPG holder, approach the coin assuming it has been enhanced
 and then convince yourself that the coin has natural patina. This change in mindset will result in the purchase of less coins but the overall quality and resale value will be increased.

Work with a trusted dealer who has strong business ethics and the experience to identify many of the enhanced coins and techniques used.

Enhanced 1861-S Liberty Seated Quarter - PCGS AU58

An astute GFRC consignor and customer took my comments in the March Gobrecht Journal to heart. In that issue, I wrote an article concerning the increasing amount of key date Liberty Seated coins, particularly Seated quarters, that are being "enhanced" by the coin doctors. Researching provenance is paramount these days for buyer protection as the major grading services are unable to detect and stop the coin doctors. Following is the provenance of an 1861 San Francisco quarter that is most disturbing. This 1861-S piece originated at Heritage September 1999 Long Beach auction in raw condition and was described as "Obviously cleaned at one time". It reappears in a PCGS AU55 holder and then is doctored with incremental toning and today is the PCGS CoinFacts plate coin at the PCGS AU58 grade level. I've highlighted the key diagnostics on all three images that validates the provenance. Click on the images to view higher resolution versions.

Heritage Lot #5158 - September 1999 Long Beach Sale - Realized $1495

"Obviously cleaned at one time, each side has since taken on several layers of dull gray, blue, and golden-olive patina."

PCGS AU55 - #30174419 - Removed from PCGS Database

PCGS CoinFacts Plate Coin - PCGS AU58 - #25628460

Feedback for yesterday's 1861-S PCGS AU58 Liberty Seated quarter provenance demonstration was positive. The coin doctors believe they can operate with anonymity while slipping their handiwork through the major grading services and auction houses. The doctors win and eventually, the collectors or major grading services lose when the enhancements are discovered. I welcome more provenance research similar to that published on Thursday as the evidence is now available in online auction records. Before purchasing a key date Liberty Seated coin in any denomination, collectors should do their homework when the coins are freshly graded. I'm much more comfortable purchasing key date coins in older holders and will not cracked out or attempts upgrades for the Liberty Seated dimes in my personal collection.