Letters about uncleaned ancient coins taken from the Moneta and AncientCoinMarket e-mail lists (long ago).

> The one question I have for the list at this point is:  What is
> the story with uncleaned batches of coins?  What is a reasonable
> price to pay?  What the heck usually comes in such a batch?  If
> I were to buy a batch, should I just consider it a good way to
> learn to attribute coins, or is there a chance I'm really going
> to get something valuable?  (I'm not expecting an Eid Mar or
> anything, but am I going to just get a bunch of nasty worn out
> junk?)  I'm a little suspicious of the whole thing.  Any
> information or stories about this aspect of the hobby would be
> appreciated.

Ask 2 collectors how they feel about uncleaned coins and you will
get 2 different answers. One will say they are the greatest thing
since Cleo met Anthony. They other may say it is blasphemy and you
will surely burn in hell for even thinking of such a thing.

As usual the truth is somewhere in between. (For the record, I
used to sell uncleaned coins and went through close to a half
million of them over the last couple of years. So I have seen
quite a few of them.) It can be a lot of good, dirty fun. Especially when done
as a family project. But it can also be
frustrating for a new collector because much of what you will
find will be nearly unidentifiable or incomprehensible.

What will you find?

No gold (1 customer in 500,000 coins), a bit of silver (probably
1 in 1,000 coins, maybe a little less), large bronzes that are
well worn or corroded, a lot of Constantine era bronzes and lots
of the odds n' sods of history such as mysterious little Greek
bronzes, Roman Provincials, counterstamped and holed coins.
Pieces that you usually don't find in the dealers inventory.

To me that was the fun part. Listmember Adrian Waring used to get
small batches of uncleaned from England. Mostly metal detector
finds I believe. You may want to ask him if he has any. They make
a nice change from the usual Bulgarian lots.

Kevin Barry

From: Jim Atchison <jpatch@bright.net>
Subject: Re: [Moneta-L] newbie report: overwhelmed (uncleaned coins)

Hello all, I am new to both ancients and this list.  However since I bought
many lots from many dealers to get a good feel for these uncleaned coins, I
think I can add a few points.  First off there is no question about the
HEAVY predominance of coins from the Constantine era.  I swear if I clean
one more military issue from Constans I will lose my mind!  Most will be
small bronzes, however you do get a few larger coins.  I have probably
bought around 120 coins from about 8-10 dealers so I think I have a good
feel for what to expect.  At this point I am getting kinda bored with the
cleaning thing, like I said you can only see the same darn coin so many
times before you say enought already!  Seeing what most of these types of
bronzes go for on E-bay I would have to agree that you aren't gonna get rich
cleaning them.  Actually, I have decided instead to break probably the
biggest "rule" about cleaning these.  I probably clean 80% of the uncleaned
ones I get now using a home built electrolosis machine.  Of course by doing
so I pretty much destroy all patina, but hey the dang thing isn't worth
squat anyway, and you would be amazed how much you can learn about the
legends on the things after only cleaning a couple dozen decent ones this
way.  I would say by using electrolosis that I can attribute around 90% of
the coins I get, and quite a few clean up so well that you can see
incredible detail on these tiny bronzes.  I did get one somewhat valuable
coin in Julian Bull Bronze in good enough shape to identify the outline of
the bull and Julian's head and some of the letters in the legend (cleaned
this one slow and left the patina on it).  I can't get them to scan well
enough to show how well these things cleaned, but I can actually see very
fine details like the lines in armor or faces on the soldiers on the Fel
Temp Reparatio and Victory reverses so you can see more detail than on most
new US mint issues.  I have kinda settled into just buying quality coins off
e-bay now instead of cleaning uncleaned coins.  While I may not have got a
valuable collection from uncleaned coins, I still think I learned a heck of
a lot cleaning those coins down to metal and attributing them.  And yes, I
would definately recomend the electrolosis on coins of limited value that
don't clean well with soap/olive oil.  If anyone wants recomendations about
different dealers of uncleaned coins or input on how to clean or attribute
them, feel free to e-mail me.  Take care,

Jim Atchison

Dear ACM:

I know there's been plenty of sage advice on this topic in the past, but for
the benefit of those who are relatively new to the list, here are my two
sestertii on the subject of uncleaned coins:

1. Buy them for the fun of learning. This is how I got started. I bought 15
uncleaned coins and managed, after cleaning, to identify just one: a
Constantinople commemorative. It was a tremendous thrill to identify that
mystery coin by finding it in a sale catalog.

2. Buy uncleaned coins to learn how to clean them. You will ruin some. It's
better to learn on low-end coins than on nicer coins.

3. Don't expect too much. I haven't found too many really sharp specimens
among the more than 100 uncleaned coins I've purchased over the years. But I
have found several identifiable versions of coins that would cost a lot more
in higher grades.

4. Don't expect to find silver or gold coins. They have probably been picked
out by someone in the host country who is trying to put bread on the table.
There's probably no such thing as a batch of "unsearched, uncleaned coins,"
unless you are buying them from the person who found them with a metal
detector, and he offers a signed statement saying he hasn't looked through

5. Consider your investment in uncleaned coins as the cost of learning about
our  hobby. You'll learn a lot by carefully studying your coins as you clean
them. You'll learn to spot mint marks, diadems, consular busts, Chi-Rhos and
all sorts of other things. Most of all, you'll learn to appreciate coins with
lots of detail, which you can buy for not too much more than uncleaned coins.

6. Uncleaned coins exert a strong pull. I regularly look over the lots
offered on eBay and am constantly tempted to buy some. But my collection has
advanced to the point that I'm after unusual reverses, and I know I'm not
likely to find them in uncleaned lots.

7. Uncleaned coins are likely to get you interested in fourth century Roman
bronzes. My uncleaneds mostly turned out to be in that time frame: House of
Constantine, Valens, Valentinian I, maybe some Gratian, Theodosius, etc. This
is a good period to collect: Nice coins of all these guys are available at
very reasonable prices.

Just my two sestertii (which, BTW, I've never found in an uncleaned lot, but
have found for good prices in the bargain storerooms of Caesar himself, if I
may be allowed to say so.)

David Perry

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