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|There are many different schools of thought on what to clean the coins
in. Olive oil, distilled water, wd40, Coca-Cola, and a host of other
things. See Tony Jaworski's cleaning experiment at Tom Ross' website
under the cleaning link. Tony has several methods under examination.
You can draw your own conclusions from his excellent work.
My feelings are that the simplest solution is usually best. I don't like the idea of exposing these coins to a host of chemicals. The coins have spent centuries acquiring their patina. Patina is discussed in depth at several sites listed on the links page, so I won't go into great detail here. Basically the patina is a "shell" formed around the coin by the metals reaction to exposure to the elements, and materials in it's surrondings. Patinas come in many colors green, blue, black, brown. The patina is what has protected the coins through the centuries. It is the result of a complex chemical reaction that I don't pretend to understand, but don't want to upset by introducing more chemicals. Often times the patina is the coin. If its damaged or removed, your are left with a slug. Bummer!
So, what does that leave? I started out using olive oil, because by most accounts it has been the favorite soaking solution through the years. It's a slow process, taking week, months, or even years. Olive oil won't harm a coins patina, but may darken it. You can't soak a coin too long. The draw backs for me were, it's messy if spilled, and you need to remove it from the coins before you can do any detail work. This is done by a soak in warm soapy water. Some people use TSP, a cleaner found in hardware and paint stores. I like to check on my coins frequently, like a kid in a cookie jar, just can't help myself. Olive oil makes this difficult, even messy. Try explaining an oil slick on the kitchen floor to your wife!
So, I made the switch to distilled water. The theory behind the distilled water is that the mineral poor water will begin to absorb the minerals from the crud encrusting the coin. Soon the dirt is just jumping off the coins!! Well, in practice, it doesn't actually jump off, it takes time. Much like the olive oil, it can take weeks, months, or years. I still have coins soaking from lots I purchased at the beginning of 2003. Give it time, it does work. The pluses for me are that I can mess with my coins when ever I wish, no muss, no fuss. If I have a few minutes while I'm waiting for the wife and kids, I can crack open a container a scrub a few coins. Distilled water is also less expensive than the olive oil. If I spill some a paper towel cleans it up nicely, In short, it fits my lack of patience, and my short attention span. SCORE!