Talking Beginners - Storing Coppers
by Steve Carr
May 2, 2002
It has happened before and it will happen again. You buy some nice looking
copper coins, enjoy looking at them for a while, then put them away. When
you look at them again (which may be years - heaven forbid - later),
you find some have changed in appearance.
The culprits that cause this change are numerous. Copper is a relatively
reactive metal. Things like moisture, airborne dirt and dust, and plasticizers,
react easily with copper. This reaction changes the color and surfaces of the
coin, often for the worse. If not addressed, these reactions will deteriorate
the coin, both aesthetically and in value. As a conservator of these coins,
for posterity or future value, it is your job to store them so these changes
do not occur or, at most, are very minor.
So, what are the best ways to store your coppers? Notice the word "ways"
is used, as there are many suitable methods of storage available. Some are
better, some worse. Some are better for selling while others are better for
long storage. Some are cheaper and some are down right expensive.
When considering a method to store your coins, you need to consider both
the micro- and macro- environments where the coins will be stored.
The macro-environment is the large area surrounding the coin, such as a
room, drawer, or safe. The best macro-environment for storing old coppers
is one that is cool, dry and secure. A bank safety deposit box usually
provides all three, as do most home safes. For collections of lesser value,
a high shelf, desk drawer, or cabinet drawer in a cool dark room is usually
best. If your collection has any value, you should also be able to read and
monitor the current room temperature and humidity.
The micro-environment is the area right around the coin. It is at this
level that scratches and copper reactions occur, so an environment that
can remain dry is essential. Here, we are talking about storage means like
paper envelopes, 2X2 holders, flips, plastic holders, coin folders, and slabs.
This is the environment where ease and clarity in viewing the coin need to
be balanced with protection. Let's look at some different micro-environment
- Paper envelope - Paper envelopes have been used for decades
to store copper coins. In fact, they may be the most popular method of
storage used by copper collectors. They are inexpensive (under 5 cents
each) and come in several different colors. On the down side, the coin
can only be viewed by removing it from the envelope. Repeatedly sliding
a coin in and out of a paper envelope can create hairline surface
scratches. Even worse, some of these envelopes are made using paper that
contains small amounts of sulfur. Sulfur "likes" copper and tends to
react with it. This happens more frequently when a copper coin with
porous surfaces is stored in a paper envelope. Using a cotton liner can
neutralize the effects of this sulfur.
- Cotton liner - Cotton liners are pouches made of cotton.
These pouches are less than 2 inches square in size and slide into a
paper envelope. The cotton surfaces of the liner greatly reduce the
chance of making hairline scratches on the coin when removing and
replacing it. They also help create a dryer environment right around
the coin. On the down side, they are somewhat expensive (around 25 cents
per liner), are thicker, and make taking the coin out of the envelope a
little more time consuming. For higher grade coppers, they are an
excellent storage method, perhaps the best.
- 2x2 holder - These holders are another excellent way to store
coppers. They consist of a hinged thin cardboard card, holed for the coin,
covered on its inside surface with a plastic sheet. They are inert.
They are also inexpensive (about 1 cent each). They are a way to look
at coppers quickly and are generally favored by non-EAC dealers. On the
down side, most are held together using staples. A protruding point from
a staple can put a nasty scratch on a copper. Most people who use 2X2s
flatten the staples. Another negative about 2X2 holders is that they are
not airtight, so moisture can enter around the edges. Finally, most coppers
are not held rigidly in the 2X2 and slide back and forth a little.
While this usually does not damage the coin, it will scratch the plastic.
Before long, all you can see through the holder is a dull gray outline
of the coin.
- Flip - Flips are hinged plastic holders with two coin pouches.
One of these is generally used to hold a paper insert describing the coin.
There are two general types of flips, flexible and rigid. Flexible flips
are easily bent and will not scratch the coin. On the down side, they
contain PVC, a plasticizer that reacts with copper. This reaction, which
may continue for years before damage is noticed, begins to form a gooey
green substance that eats away the surface of the coin. Short term exposure
is generally considered harmless.
Rigid flips are exactly that, rigid. Without PVC, these flips do not flex.
While the flip is inert, the plastic may scratch the surface of a copper.
If the copper is handled carefully, rigid flips provide an excellent long
term storage method.
- Plastic holder - These come in a wide variety of shapes,
colors, and sizes. Since these holders are rigid, they do not contain
PVC. Several different companies make these holders, with Capitol being
perhaps the best known. They are an excellent way to display a copper,
as they give a clear view of the obverse and reverse. On the down side,
the edge cannot be seen. Also, while these holders can be specially made,
commercially available holders come with standard size holes. Many early
coppers vary in diameter, so the coin might not fit properly. They are
expensive (about $5 for a single coin holder to $100's for larger holders
with more holes).
A second type of rigid plastic holder has two shell halves, with the coin
being sandwiched between them. These are air tight and fairly expensive
(about 70 cents each). Perhaps the best known brand is Kointain.
- Slab - Slabs are produced by the coin grading industry. They
are sonically sealed inert holders. The holder also contains an insert
telling the year, the grade, and in some cases, the variety and/or mintage
of the coin. Remember - slab grade is NOT always the same as EAC grade.
Remember - slabs are NOT airtight.
Slabs are a fairly good way to store coppers. The coins are held rigidly
in a non-reactive holder. They are also an excellent way to sell your
coins, as there is a fairly large market for slabbed coppers. On the down
side, the edge of the coin can not be seen. Also, many coppers have been
slabbed with dirt and moisture on the coin surfaces. These materials can
cause slabbed coins to deteriorate, right inside the slab.
- Coin folder - A coin folder is book size and is made of
cardboard pages with holes for the coins. There are two types of coin
folders available, those with plastic sliding covers and those without.
Folders without the slides require you to push the coin into its
appropriate spot, while a plastic backing prevents the coin from going
through the page. Those with slides have the hole punched completely through
the cardboard and use sliding pieces of rigid plastic on either side of the
coin to hold it in place.
In general, storing coppers in a coin folder is a poor choice. The cardboard
contains sulfur and the plastic slides can scratch the coin surface.
- Jeweler's tissue - Jewelers tissue is a thin, fine grained,
sulfur free paper that does not scratch the surface of a copper coin.
In the early days of early American copper collecting, this was a popular
way to store a copper. It is very inexpensive (about 1 cent a sheet). On
the downside, a copper wrapped in jewelers' tissue usually requires a second
storage medium, like a paper envelope or a small box. Also, to see the coin,
you must unwrap it. With frequent use, jeweler's paper begins to
- Blue ribbon - Blue Ribbon Coin Conditioner is a liquid used to
clean and coat the surface of a copper coin. When a coin is treated with
Blue Ribbon, a thin layer remains on the coin surface and prevents further
Blue Ribbon was out of production for several years, but a new supply has
recently entered the market. While fairly inexpensive ($8 or so a bottle,
which will treat hundreds of coppers), other means of coating coins can be
used. Olive oil, for one, makes a nice coin coating. More permanent types
of coatings, like varnish, were used frequently in the past. The major
drawback of using a permanent sealer is removing it from the coin
without causing more damage.
No matter how you store your coppers, the best bit of advice I can pass on is
to look at your coins fairly frequently. Catch any changes in their color
as soon as you discover them. Find out why the coin is toning, then take
action to correct the situation. You will be rewarded with nice coppers
that stay that way!