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How to Clean Pressed Pennies

Our Thoughts and Fears :-)
Inspired by Fellow Collectors & The University of Hard Knocks
© 2005-2020

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.

Cleaning pressed coins is relatively easy. 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 Pressed coins don't cost much, so do experiment first.

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.

Our tips on how to clean pressed pennies are only our suggestions and opinions. Of course, always experiment on an expendable coin first. (If you have already read the following long boring disclaimers, jump to How to Clean Pressed Coins or How to Clean Uncirculated Pennies Before Pressing.) 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.

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 every elongated coin cleaning technique. However, some do sound appetizing and many collectors have found one or more of them to be effective. We urge collectors to consider that residue from food item "cleaning recipes" can leave deposits 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. Our suggestions are below. Additional detailed descriptions of other techniques are often discussed in elongated coin collecting forums.

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 that contains a corrosion / tarnish protection additive as Flitz polish does. These paste cleaners can be worked over the surface of a coin with an old toothbrush. (Use eye protection in case of splatters.) The bristles of the toothbrush can reach both low and high surfaces are reached while avoiding excessive abrasion of raised coin details and devices. Once a copper spot or surface tarnish has been 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 a proven formula wax 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.

Avid, longtime collector and good friend Dee D. offered this excellent pressed coin restoration tip: "I much enjoyed the articles on cleaning and flattening. BAR NONE, I long ago discovered absolutely the best cleaner. It is Wright's Copper Cream cleaner, made by the same people who do the silver cleaner. Actually it a paste that uses a sponge applicator. Wet the coin and the sponge and dip the sponge in the paste. This will remove the tarnish without shining the coin. AND, if the coin has stubborn staining, some repeated process will eventually get it off. It also does not pit the coin like acids will. It can be used on zincers too though it will darken the zinc if exposed for anything like more than a few seconds. That said, on the new zincers like are being dispensed at WDW, I am able to do a quick finger print removal (it removes recent tarnish almost instantaneously) and thorough rinse before spraying with lacquer, and the zinc does not really darken. Speed and rinsing is the key for that.

Oddly, the Wrights Silver Polish is everywhere but Wrights Copper Cream is not. I order mine on the internet. I just said it will darken the zinc but on older coins where the zinc is already dark, it will actually lighten the shade to improve readability."

As always, please contact Boomer to submit your most welcome additions to any page.

Please see also... Now that your pressed coins are clean :-) Tips on How to Flatten Pressed Pennies... And, now that your pressed coins are clean and flat :-) Tips on How to store and preserve pressed coins... And for tips on dates and types of coins that can make future coin pressing easier: Pressed Pennies Facts and Fiction.

Tips On How To Remove Tarnish From Uncirculated Pennies Before Pressing

A tip for cleaning typical, solid copper pre 1982 bright uncirculated (BU) cents or "pennies". These coins are often purchased in bags or rolls and used to make pressed pennies. Over time, the coins may become tarnished. Here is *a* way to make them bright again, before they are pressed.

The folks at ParkPennies often use vinegar to brighten BU coins before we press them. That is, white distilled vinegar, (not apple cider vinegar). It's kind of vinegar many people have in the kitchen or can be purchased at Walmart or Costco for about $3.00 a gallon. To be safe always use appropriate gloves and eye protection. Also, the first time you use this method, I'd suggest you clean only a "test group" of BU cents. Place the copper cents a plastic bucket / container. Then submerge them in the vinegar. Be sure to shake or otherwise move the coins in the solution occasionally. Your coins should be bright after only a few minutes, especially if the coins and vinegar were warm. If the copper cents were spotted or had finger prints, it might take a few minutes longer before the coins are clean. Next, poor off the vinegar and submerge the cents in *distilled* or *deionized* water. ("Zero" filtered, purified very low dissolved solids drinking water should also work.) Keep the coins moving for a minute or two in the purified water, drain, repeat once or twice. Lay the completely drained coins out on a clean thick terrycloth or microfiber towel. Lay a second towel on top of them and press / rub / roll the towels together to pat the coins dry. You might then want to transfer the coins to a third dry towel, before you let them finish air drying. If your "test group" worked, it's time to scale up. :-) (If the coins still show signs of tarnish, you may need to tumble or vibrate the coins in a device made to polish rocks or clean "ammunition brass" etc.)


  • Use rubber gloves and eye protection.
  • Place test batch of coins in a clean plastic bucket.
  • Add distilled white vinegar to cover the coins.
  • Shake the bucket to move the coins occasionally for a few minutes.
  • Drain vinegar.
  • Rinse with pure, clean distilled or deionized water. Repeat.
  • Drain water completely and dry the coins.
  • Keep in airtight container or plastic bag with desiccant if possible.
  • Time to make some great, shiny solid copper pressed pennies!

This method avoids a lot of effort :-), should not leave a residue, and is very inexpensive. However, after cleaning, the coins are "bare". A clean bare surface was the goal, but, they will eventually tarnish again. So, keep them in a dry enclosed container, possibly with a desiccant, until you are ready to place them in a penny press machines and make priceless treasure out of them. To protect the surface of the coins after they are pressed, you might coat them with "museum quality wax" such as Renaissance brand wax and store them wisely.

I hope this is of help. Please email ParkPennies if you have any questions, comments or tips to add.

Happy collecting,
Boomer (Bob)

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