If you’ve watched even just a few metal detecting YouTube videos I can about bet you’ve seen someone find a silver coin that’s dirty and immediately wipe their fingers across it. I couldn’t begin to remember the amount of times I’ve personally seen it, even in person while metal detecting with other detectorists. It makes me cringe every time!!
I’ve heard so many excuses for it before. The most popular ones being “it’s a dug coin, it will never be worth much” or “it’s been in the ground, it already has scratches” and my favorite “it’s not a valuable coin.” That one is my favorite because they didn’t know it wasn’t valuable until they wiped their fingers across it!
All three responses are not necessarily true at all. I have dug many silver coins that were in soft dirt that was virtually free of rocks. Matter of fact I know of a person who properly retrieved a capped bust dime from the dirt, sent it off to a reputable coin grading company and it came back normal without “environmental damage” which means it had no micro scratching on the surface from being in the ground.
How I keep from damaging or causing any more damage to a silver coin than it already has, starts with how I retrieve it from the dirt. First, I always make sure to open the hole much larger than where the target is located in the ground. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen great coins and relics nicked by a shovel or hand digger. I will admit, I’ve even done it, unfortunately it happens but you want to try your best to retrieve it without any further damage.
Once I remove the coin, I put it in a small container with cotton. It doesn’t matter if it’s still encapsulated with mud or dirt, I do not try to remove any of it in the field. I’ve seen some people keep bottles of water but I have yet to see a video where the water removes it all and every time, they can’t resist wiping the rest of the mud off.
When I arrive home, I will take my silver coin (or coins) and I will get a small plastic container filled with hot water and just a drop of dish soap and soak them individually. Let them sit, patience here is important. I have on occasion gently picked at really stubborn dirt but you want to be cautious, always try to lift it straight up and not slide across the face of the coin.
Once the big dirt is removed you will often find dirt and discoloration in the crevices. I will tell you something that many people don’t understand but I think is very important. A coin being dirty does not hurt the value, a coin with scratches caused by removing dirt will hurt the value! This is very important information to know because at the point the major dirt is removed, I would advise to stop there.
Of course, most don’t stop there and sometimes including myself, I just have to get it cleaner! I would however advise if it is a valuable coin, I would send it off to be professionally cleaned and graded by one of the major grading companies. If it doesn’t have any major value and you just want it cleaner for display, again, you must use caution.
To clean out the small crevices in the coin I will wet a cotton swab and simply dab the coin. Please take note that I said DAB and not wipe. Again, wiping can cause scratches and hurt the coin. Once I am done cleaning the coin whether I stop after removing the large dirt or I work on it further I always gently rinse with clean water and sit on a paper towel and gently pat dry.
Over the years I have tried a few different cleaners designed specifically for cleaning silver coins with mixed results. Again, I would recommend if you have a coin with value leave it up to the experts. If you want to try your hand at cleaning silver coins further than I’ve recommended I would start with a product called EZEST.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, especially for a coin that currently has no more value than it’s silver content but if you plan on keeping your silver coins and collecting them, especially if you’re going to pass them on to another generation I assure you it’s worth it and someday those coins that currently are only worth their silver content could possibly be worth much more!