How to Prevent Silver Coins from Tarnishing

As is the case with many kinds of collectibles, the condition of a rare or unusual coin can have a significant influence on its value. Ideally, a coin should be in pristine condition, without significant wear or abrasion, in order to command the highest price. Silver coins present an additional challenge to the conscientious collector, however, because the precious metal tends to tarnish over time, and a heavily tarnished coin may be less attractive to potential buyers than an unblemished one.

Tarnish is caused by the reaction between silver and hydrogen sulfide, a gas that is present in minute quantities in the air. Over time, a dull grey or black coating will form over the surface of a silver object as the top layers of the metal react chemically with the gas. In areas with high humidity or high levels of air pollution, silver will tarnish faster. Polishing silver that has become tarnished can cause abrasion and even remove small amounts of the precious metal, so the key to long-term preservation of silver in a superior state is preventing tarnish from forming in the first place. This is especially important to note for silver coins that are collected for their numismatic value—the value derived from their history or rarity—rather than just the price of the precious metal they are made of, because damage caused by cleaning can significantly reduce their worth.

The first step is to be careful in how you handle silver coins. The oils from your skin, skincare products like lotions, and other common chemicals can predispose silver to tarnish, so it’s best to handle them as little as possible. Wash your hands before touching them and pick them up by the edges. Some collectors will even use white cotton gloves to handle their coins to prevent any possible contamination. Handle the coins over a soft surface, such as clean towel, so that they will not be nicked or scratched should you accidentally drop them.

Next, make sure that the storage materials you choose for your coins are specially designed to eliminate chemicals that could discolor or damage them, such as acid in paper or PVC in plastics. Some popular types of coin storage include:

  • 2x2s: Flat cardboard containers lined with clear mylar designed to hold one coin each.
  • Coin flips: Inexpensive clear plastic square sleeves for individual storage.
  • Air-tites: Round acrylic cases that snap closed around a single coin, allowing viewing on both sides.
  • Slabs: Sonically sealed clear plastic containers, usually put on high-value coins by professional grading services.

Proper storage materials can help reduce the chances your silver coins will be exposed to tarnish-causing agents.

Finally, temperature fluctuations and humidity will promote tarnishing. Keep your coins in a cool, temperature-controlled location, and keep the air around them dry by either putting moisture-absorbing silica packets nearby or running a dehumidifier. Even sealed coin storage containers are not 100 percent air-tight, so keeping your collection in the right environment is critical for good long-term results.

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