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How to Clean Pressed Pennies

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Inspired by Fellow Collectors & The University of Hard Knocks
© 2005-2014

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Our tips on how to clean pressed pennies are only our suggestions and opinions. Of course, always experiment on an expendable coin first. (Skip long boring disclaimers jump to How to Clean Pressed Coins.) We have tried to write this section keeping most all readers in mind. There are many different thoughts about how to clean coins. We suggest that anyone researching the subject, gather information from others as well.

Numismatists, especially those that collect high dollar mint-lustered rarities, will usually advise not to clean a coin. Often it is correctly said that the "cleaning" will remove surface metal. The lost "surface" can be the coin’s mint luster or patina which can greatly add to or subtract from the coin’s value and desirability. Collectors of early elongated coins generally think conservatively about the subject of "cleaning" their treasured, historical exonumia finds as well.

However, it seems the cautions about "cleaning" our "pressed pennies", the casual souvenirs vended from coin operated machines, are far more relaxed. Especially when compared to the cautions given for other numismatic / exonumia collectibles. After all, most pressed pennies cost around 50 cents, are less than 20 years old and for the most part have a fun factor much higher than a value factor. Removing an unwanted finger print or spot isn’t the same as the destruction of the aged patina on a two hundred year old copper coin and with it the value of the coin. Right? Still, some Disney pressed coins do have values in the thousands of dollars and even the 50 centers will likely increase in value over time if taken care of. So do be cautious. Cleaning, once done, can’t be undone. Please experiment on pressed pennies you don’t care about, if there is such a coin. Pressed Penny Smiley

It is this author’s first choice to avoid "cleaning" an elongated coin. Especially when "cleaning" means the polishing or any other removal of surface material. However, if inaction can result in the advancement of a copper spot or otherwise adversely affect the long-term preservation of the coin, restorative "cleaning" may be beneficial. Coins may also benefit from restoration in cases where the coin suffers from a fingerprint or other irregular surface damage. We feel that is particularly true when the ec was originally pressed from an uncirculated coin that had no image, patina (toning) or "ghost image" of the original coin that might be lost in the restoration. If cleaning or polishing is done to make a "shiny" souvenir, one should not forget cleaning is best done before the coin is pressed.

Ways to Clean Tarnish from Pressed Pennies

People have tried everything from soaking the elongated coin in various acidic types of juices, salt, or sauces to tumbling them in sand, walnut shell, or corn cob media. (Some of these techniques are also used in the ammunition reloading field and rock tumbling hobbies.) Some techniques can be frightening. One eBay seller displayed a pristine elongated coin for auction. However before he shipped it, he used a "secrete family technique" that left the coin looking like it had been wire brushed. (YIKES!)

This author hasn’t personally evaluated all of the techniques mentioned above. However, some do sound appetizing and many collectors have found one or more of them to be effective. Our suggestions are below and detailed descriptions of other techniques are often discussed in elongated coin collecting forums. We urge collectors to consider that residue from these "recipes" can deposit within the fine crevices of the coin details and in time, could damage the coin. It is our experience that cleaning agent residue, even from professional types of cleaning agents, should be thoroughly removed to avoid coin surface damage over the long term. In our opinion, sauces especially tasty sauces should be reserved as a food item. If an acid is needed to dissolve an offensive layer of tarnish or fingerprint from a copper penny before or even after pressing, distilled white vinegar has worked well for some collectors and any vinegar residue is water soluble... we recommend distilled water.

Tarnish isn’t always a bad thing.

When viewing a coin that was once bright and shiny that is now beginning to age gracefully as a darkening patina begins to form, please do not panic. We must remember the humble copper cent receives little or no protection from handling over its life span in the hands and pockets of many over years of common circulation. But, often develops a most attractive patina and becomes stable all on it’s own. Pressed copper cents can too. However, if you must, it’s easy to bring back the shine. But, do be extra careful with zinc cents, they can be damaged easily by cleaning methods that work well on copper cents. Once the coin is "shiny" do protect the coin from exposure to air as they can tarnish again very quickly.

Pressed Penny Polishing or Restoring Techniques

If a pressed coin needs more than just a light tarnish removal, our choice for copper and some Zinc cents is to use a good quality silver polish containing an "anti-tarnish" additive or good quality marine metal polish with a corrosion / tarnish protection additive such as Flitz. These paste cleaners can be worked over the surface of a coin with an old toothbrush so that both low and high surfaces are reached while avoiding excessive abrasion of raised coin details and devices. Once a copper spot or surface tarnish is removed, one can use a clean, soft terry cloth towel to wipe the surface clean of any remaining polish haze left by the toothbrush. Additionally, Advanced Collectors may wish to finish the restoration with a coat of archival, museum quality wax. (Many of the better silver polish formulas and marine metal polishes incorporate an ingredient to resist tarnishing or corrosion after the polish residue has been removed. This protective feature combined with the chemically engineered stability of these proven formulas can make for a high degree of confidence when coins are stored for years.) Please keep in mind that Zinc cents may turn black when exposed to some polishes. Of course, always experiment on an expendable coin first.
Please see also the notes on storage and preservation.

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