by Dick Davis
From the Editor: Dick Davis is an assistant director at Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions, Incorporated, the NFB of Minnesota’s adult rehabilitation training center. He is also a coin collector. Here are his words of wisdom and experience for those who have bought or plan to buy the Louis Braille silver dollar. This is what he says:
The Louis Braille Bicentennial Silver Dollars come from the U. S. Mint in two versions: uncirculated and proof. They have entirely different appearances, so you should know a little about the difference in order to purchase the one or ones you want.
Uncirculated coins are made the same way all U.S. coins are made, with one strike from a die. All coins minted this way come out in what is called “brilliant uncirculated” (MS 60) condition, which is the minimum grade given to freshly minted, uncirculated coins. In order to get the highest grade, MS 70, a coin must be in perfect condition, free of defects of any kind. A perfect coin is very rare and is therefore worth a lot of money. There are other grades between MS 60 and MS 70--the higher the grade, the more valuable the coin.
Once a coin is circulated or appears to have been circulated, it drops significantly in value. If you scratch a coin, get permanent fingerprints on it, clean it with silver polish (which scratches), or do anything else that changes its mint condition, it will drop to almost uncirculated (AU) or an even lower grade and be worth a lot less. The oil on human hands is so corrosive that, if fingerprints are not removed immediately, they can become permanently etched into the coin.
So, if you want to touch your coin, feel free to do so, and then clean it immediately. Use a smooth, lint-free cotton cloth; clean water; and, if necessary, a little mild dishwashing liquid. (Distilled water is best since it has no minerals, costs about $1 a gallon, and can also be used in your electric iron.) Don’t forget to clean the edge of the coin. Rinse the coin well with distilled water after cleaning. Do not rub it dry; pat it dry and then air dry on a soft cloth. Some collectors use white cotton gloves to handle their coins because they protect the coins from their fingerprints. If you handle coins, always do so above something soft. Silver is a comparatively soft metal, so, if you drop a coin, it can be scratched or dented.
The same grading system is used in proof coins. However, a proof coin is double struck from a higher-quality blank than the uncirculated version, which means that the image is much sharper and the background much shinier. Proof coins look completely different from brilliant uncirculated ones. The image is frosted and the background is mirror-like, so the contrast is dramatic. You can touch these coins also if you wish, but, if you do so, make doubly sure that you get any fingerprints or dirt off. They will really show up on the mirror finish, as will scratches. Proof coins are made for collectors, not for circulation, but they are not necessarily more collectible than brilliant uncirculated ones. Some people don’t like them.
It is possible to increase a coin’s value by sending it to one of the grading services, like NGC or PCGS, which will assign a grade to it, register it, and place it in a plastic slab. Grading costs about $15 if time is not important; the cost goes up depending on how soon you want the coin back. As noted above, MS 70 (perfect) is the highest grade and worth a lot. If you get one of them, hold onto it. MS 69 (almost perfect) is valuable too, but a lot less valuable. The lower the grade, the less valuable the coin. Once a coin is in a slab, you can’t touch it without breaking the slab, which wipes out much of its value.
If you want to preserve your coin but would like to look at it from time to time, buy an airtight or similar plastic cover at any coin shop. The cover protects the coin and keeps it shiny longer. Whenever you want to touch the coin, you can just pry the cover open with a knife. Avoid anything made of PVC plastic because it turns coins green. Mint boxes are very attractive, as you will see when you purchase your coin. They’re a good way to store your coin, but they are not airtight.
All silver coins will “tone” (develop a patina) over time, depending on their exposure to the air. Toning does not reduce the value of a coin; in fact it may enhance it over time. Never, ever try to clean the patina off a coin, especially with silver polish or anything else abrasive.
Commemorative coins are minted only once and never again, so their numismatic value can increase over time. Their price depends on their uniqueness and collector demand. If silver prices go up, their value will also increase. But resist the urge to melt them down since their numismatic value will always be greater than their melt value. Instead hang onto them, or sell them to a coin dealer or at a coin show.
This may be more information than you wanted, but it’s important if you want to keep your coin looking great and increase its value. Your Louis Braille Commemorative Silver Dollar is a historic item, and like any part of history it should be preserved for the use of future generations of Braille readers and leaders.