U.S. Coin Price Guide

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Silver at rainbow’s end
By Steve Roach

To some, rich color on silver coins is beautiful toning, while to others it represents unsightly tarnish.

Silver coins can acquire a range of colors, from muddled browns and grays to vibrant jewel tones. Rainbow toned Morgan dollars represent, perhaps, the apex of the toned coin market and the area where there is the most connoisseurship and market premium assigned to top examples.

Where normal Mint State 63 Morgans can be readily purchased for $45, one with a sliver of rainbow tone can cost $100, while a magnificently toned example can command $300 to $500, or even more. Gorgeous MS-65 dollars with magnificent rainbows can achieve prices approaching $1,000.

One of the fun things about collecting toned coins is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The same coin presented in three different sales venues will likely achieve widely different prices depending on the bidders' concepts of what constitutes pretty.

It is an area that is ripe for cherrypicking and finding good values, if you know what you're looking for. The best way to develop an eye for toning is to look at many coins and get a sense of how coins tone naturally.

Generally, toned obverses command more than toned reverses, and deep, vibrant colors that are clearly defined in rich jewel tones are desirable. One can request that grading services holder coins with the reverse side up to showcase a fantastic reverse. Symmetry, important in smaller silver coins that often tone in patterns of concentric circles, is less important than vibrancy in Morgan dollars.

Of course, with toned coins selling for hearty premiums, numerous individuals try to accelerate the process. This can be accomplished through gradual processes that replicate how coins traditionally tone, such as placing a coin in an old album made of paper with a high sulfur content and putting it in a window for months or years, or through faster artificial means such as exposing a coin to chemicals and heat.

Remember that a coin's presence in a slab does not mean that the toning is original – only that the toning is considered acceptable in the market by the coin grading service.


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