Have you ever wondered when looking at a toned coin, “Is this a natural tone?”.  Well, you aren’t alone… many coin collectors, especially novice collectors, can be easily fooled by some of the artificially toned coins on the market.  This is a particularly bad problem on sites like eBay, where a seller will list artificially toned coins, and while they don’t claim that they are real tones, they don’t go out of their way to say they aren’t either.

Fortunately, there are some sellers that are 100% honest with their listing, and let you know that it is an artificial tone in the description.  I like these sellers because they are being honest upfront, and you don’t have to wonder if you’re getting screwed over when you bid on their coins (usually).

Manilla Coin Envelope

So, what exactly is toning, anyway?  Toning is a generic word used to describe the various colors on silver that are the result of a chemical reaction between the silver and the elements that the silver is exposed to.  This takes place on the surface of silver coins and happens naturally over time, depending on the conditions that the coin is exposed to. Naturally toned coins aren’t exposed to the chemicals purposefully… but they are exposed somehow, and it doesn’t happen overnight.  A big contributor to toned silver coins is the old fashioned manilla envelopes that collectors used to label and store their coins!  The chemicals in the paper reacted (very slowly) with the silver, and over time caused them to tone.  Old coin folders (the blue ones that you press coins into) are also a contributor.

Artificial toning on the other hand happens very rapidly, unlike natural toning.  Usually the person toning the coin exposes it to a chemical or some otherLiver of Sulfer element that causes the coin to tone right away.  A good example of this is a very cheap (and very smelly) chemical called Liver of Sulfur.  Liver of Sulfur causes an instant reaction that tones the coin immediately.  The longer you leave it in the solution, the deeper the tone.  You’ll see a lot of examples of Liver of Sulfur toned coins on eBay, as it is the most common way that people artificially tone their coins.  There are many other ways to tone coins, and some collectors have become mad scientists with their bullion value silver coins experimenting with ways to hide the fact that their tones are artificial.

So, why exactly, do people artificially tone their coins?  The answer is because there are collectors out there for naturally toned coins.  Some of the more beautifully natural toned coins can bring premiums that are greater than 2x, and sometimes as high as 10x the value of a non-toned but equally high grade counterpart.  There are a ton of examples on eBay, but it’s even more apparent if you’ve ever walked the rows of dealers at a large coin show.  There are a few dealers that deal exclusively in slabbed (certified by PCGS or NGC) toned coins, and they go for hundreds to thousands more than a coin of the same grade that isn’t toned.  The person that is artificially toning their coins is almost certainly doing it to attempt to pass it off for a real tone.  If they can make the tone look real, and get is graded by PCGS or NGC (they refuse to grade artificially toned coins), they can make a ton of money off of it.

Let’s take a look at some examples, for fun:

1886 Morgan Toned eBay Compare

These two coins sold on the exact same day.  Same grading company, same grade… the only difference is the tone.  This is a perfect example of an extremely common date Morgan becoming worth way more than normal, simply because of the tone.  The toned coin literally sold for just over 5x what the non-toned one did.

In my next post, I will show examples of both Naturally and Artificially toned coins and scrutinize them, giving you an idea of what you should be looking out for when purchasing toned coins.