When you come across old coins, please don’t clean them and here’s what else you need to know

Coins, Shutterstock

You find some old coins while going through a relative’s belongings after their death.

They’re dirty and you think they’d look better cleaned up and shiny.

Don’t. You’re wiping away history and Faissal Zeitouni doesn’t appreciate that.

Zeitouni, owner of Worldwide Rare Coins in Lubbock, has been collecting and studying old coins since he was 15.

Worldwide Rare Coins in Lubbock
Zeitouni recommends collectors put together “type” books due to their variety.

He was born in Lebanon and came to Lubbock when he was 16 for school. After a degree in engineering physics, he was a clinical engineer for 18 years with a construction and real estate company.

Zeitouni later went back and fed his passion for ancient history, getting a masters studying under Texas Tech historians specializing in Roman and Greek history.

After making connections and learning from the biggest coin dealer in Lubbock, Zeitouni inherited the gentleman’s business following his passing.

He originally didn’t plan on reopening the business, but due to there only being one other coin dealer in town, Zeitouni reopened Worldwide Rare Coins and has been there for 15 years now.

“I’ve told people many times, when this ceases to be fun, I’ll shut it down,” Zeitouni said.

Zeitouni’s rarest coin he’s collected is a 650 B.C. coin used in the Lydian empire, minted in Ephesus, in what is now Turkey.

Zeitouni uses his business to educate and teach people about the rarity, value and significance of their old coins. He shared 10 different things people should know about coins.

Trust a professional

Some people who come to his store get frustrated or aggressive because they were expecting their coin to be more than it’s worth and don’t agree with their opinion.

“They’re coming in here thinking ‘I’m going to leave here with $1,000’ and you disappoint them, you tell them ‘You only have something worth a penny or two pennies’ so I can understand the psychology,” Zeitouni said.

“Sometimes we don’t tell them what they want to hear. They might give you a bad review, which is unfair to us,” he added.

The experts are going to be more accurate and trustworthy than an online source and it’s frustrating when people get upset at the evaluation they give, he said.

Don’t trust online sources

Due to the internet and new technology, Zeitouni said it’s easier for people to get confused on the worth of their coins.

“People … online are advertising to sell and not to buy. They give you the impression your coins or collectibles are worth more than they really are in hopes that they’ll buy from you and you offer them a discount,” Zeitouni said.

Zeitouni no longer accepts error coins – with a misprint or some other mistake – because online information makes people think they have something valuable.

Don’t clean your old coins

Cleaning coins takes away from their value, he said.

“It gives the coin an unfair advantage on other coins … it will be a coin that is not natural. The coins that will bring your premium are the coins that are natural,” Zeitouni said.

When you clean a coin, you’re changing its look and it’s no longer representing the coin it was, he said.

“You might not be able to see it with the naked eye but once you put a magnifier on it, the front microscope, you’ll see that it’s been cleaned. Usually, a clean coin loses at least four to two grading points, depending on the coin,” Zeitouni said.

He likened it to altering a photo, it’s not accurate history and coins are history.

Don’t turn your coins into jewelry

When you turn the coin into jewelry, you lose all value in the coin and basically lose the coin itself, he said.

“I have people that would come in and buy a $500 coin and put it in jewelry against my advice,” Zeitouni said.

To combat this issue, his store will make copies of the coin and use those in jewelry so the original doesn’t get destroyed.

“If you make a copy of that coin, where it looks the same, it’s got the same story that you can tell,” Zeitouni said. “This way you don’t destroy the original focus of these coins (because) we can’t find them anymore.”

Sheldon Scale and certification

When grading coins, the store uses the Sheldon coin grading scale which goes from zero to 70ms. A coin never been touched on the surface and lacking any scratches will be a grade 70 coin, which is extremely rare, he said.

Worldwide Rare Coins in Lubbock
Faisal Zeitouni holds a notebook with rare old coins he’s collected over the years.

“If you find an old coin with that grades MS 70, that’s worth a lot of money, I don’t care what it is. You don’t find a lot of 70s because even if you touch it, if you scratch it a little bit, it’s got a bad mark and it’s going to take away from the value,” Zeitouni said.

Any old coin however, even if it’s in low condition, will still demand some kind of premium if it’s authentic, he said.

Zeitouni prefers not to get his ancient coins certified due to this risk of them being broken or damaged during the certification process due to their age.

Instead of paying on your own to get a coin certified, Zeitouni said they will send the coins in to get certified for customers and if it comes back as authentic, they’ll buy it from them.

New coins made today have no need to be certified because they were made so recently, he said.

“People will buy silver eagles that are minted every year by the United States government and they set up getting them certified. I mean, for what purpose – you’re paying twice what that coin is worth to get it certified. And it’s supposed to be a new coin, so they’re making more and more every year,” Zeitouni said.

U.S. coins

The most expensive coins are from the U.S., he said.

“Any old coin might have some value; foreign coins unfortunately do not have a lot of value unless they are pre-1900 where there’s silver. The most expensive coins are going to be the United States coins, because United States is relatively young … When we made the coin, they changed it … they did not make a lot of it.”

For more than half of the 1900s, the U.S. still made their coins out of silver, which added to their worth, he said.

Silver coins

In the 1960s, the U.S. stopped minting silver coins because they’d become too expensive, he said. So coins from 1964 and before are more valuable. Some are worth a decent amount of money. If they’re not rare, they can still bring in 12 times the face value because of the silver.

Today’s quarters are made of copper and nickel. The U.S. still makes some 90 percent silver coins specifically for collection and not in circulation, he said.

Silver market and bullion

Many of the coins coming into their store are gold and silver coins from years back.

But they also trade in gold and silver bullion. Some of it can be in coin shape or in ingots.

Some people come in thinking they need to invest because of fear for the economy crashing, he said.

Worldwide Rare Coins in Lubbock
This book of U.S. Morgan dollars differs from the “type” book as it has the one kind of coin.

“They think the economy is going to collapse, and they need to buy some gold and silver, put it away for a rainy day, which we discourage a lot,” Zeitouni said.

“Take it easy, relax, buy gold and silver, but don’t spend all your money on it. Buy for investment because it makes sense as a good investment,” he said.

Silver is a good investment because it keeps its value and is a good hedge against inflation, he said.

Bullion doesn’t replicate the silver and gold market completely, but because of the high purity silver in bullion, it does follow it partially, he said. A lot of people will buy 90 percent silver which they call constitutional silver, but Zeitouni believes bullion is a better investment than 90 percent silver.

“When people come to me and ‘say is this a good investment?’ I don’t know, you need to buy the volume. Because (with) the bullion, you know exactly what you have in it, you will have one ounce of silver, or five ounces of silver or 10 ounces of silver. As the price of silver goes up, it goes up … so you always know exactly what you have,” he said,

Many old coins are not worth more than the silver in them, which means they would have to have a high volume of silver to be worth a lot, he said.

“People that buy (90 percent) usually are buying because they think we’re going to digress back to buying like a loaf of bread with an old silver coin. I don’t believe we’re going to get to that point,” Zeitouni said.

1944 steel penny

One of the most common coins Zeitouni receives calls about is the steel penny, which has some confusion around it. In 1943, copper was needed for the war effort of World War II and pennies were made from steel, he said.

“In 1943, there were a few planchets, steel planchets, left in the machine and they got stamped as 1944, those are very rare,” Zeitouni said.

“People will think that any steel penny is worth a lot of money [but] the 1943 is just worth a penny or two pennies.”

The store has a bag of regular 1944 pennies they give to people for free to show they don’t have the rare coin they think they have, he said.

“There are many people would call you and say which one is the rare one, and you tell them the 1944, ‘Or I’ve got about 10 of these’ It’s like okay, well good luck with that … They never show up. They’re very rare to find,” Zeitouni said.

Dimes and nickels

Any American coin made before 1964 is worth looking at it because they could have some value, he said. Most nickels and dimes won’t have much premium but there are a few that still do.

“During the war period, they made … nickels in silver. They (were) 40 percent silver because they needed the nickel for the war effort,” Zeitouni said.

“From 1940 to 1945 they made 40 percent silver nickels. There are always errors … that are worth more money. But other than that, there’s very few nickels that that carry a premium,” he said.

Coin collecting as a hobby

Jay Leist, a coin collector and employee at Worldwide Rare Coins, said there is a lack of interest in coin collecting compared to the past.

The lack of interest is partially due to the instant gratification of Internet gaming and how expensive a hobby coin collecting is, Leist said.

Leist has been collecting coins for 59 years and began his collection spending his summers at a bank, going through rolls of coins hoping to find something rare.

Worldwide Rare Coins in Lubbock
This book of U.S. Morgan dollars differs from the “type” book as it has the one kind of coin.

“You just cannot do that anymore. The last time I went through at the bank, I bought a bag of half dollars. And there wasn’t one half dollar in there that was worth keeping from a silver standpoint, or a collectible standpoint,” Leist said.

“It’s because even non coin collectors today, they’re at least sensitive to the fact that there are still some silver coins in circulation,” he added.
Most old coins today are found through inheritance or garage sales and trades, he said.

“We have people that tell us I’ve got this at a garage sale the other day. And so that’s somewhat limited. It’s kind of a buyer beware-type thing. If you don’t know what you’re buying, you can get burned,” Leist said.

Most of what Leist sees with coin collectors are those trying to round out their sets and look for one or two specific coins, he said.

“An open hole in a coin folder is not a pretty thing to look at. They come in specifically for ‘I need this coin,’” Leist said. “Most of the time, we can fill that out. Every once in a while, we don’t have one in stock, I bought two coins the other day that we didn’t have in stock and had not had in stock for probably 18 months.”

The hobby is appealing to him because it’s a mix of history and economics along with the thrill of finding something rare and completing a set.

“Part of the fun of the job is that people call saying ‘I don’t know what I’ve got, but I want to bring this in and let you go through it’ and … every once in a while, there’s a really great surprise. So that makes it worthwhile,” Leist said.

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Author: Caleb Kostencki