Toned Coins together Head toning vs tarnish

Tarnishing Vs. Toning: What is the Difference?

A quick google search for tarnish defines “lose or cause to lose luster, especially as a result of exposure to air or moisture”. CoinNews describes toning as “the discoloration or light patina that forms on the surface of coins due to oxygen and chemicals in the air acting on the metal”.

Toning and tarnishing both happen from the same process of metal reacting with water, oxygen, and/or chemicals in the air to change the surface of the metal. But for a coin and precious metal collector, when is a coin tarnished and when is it toned?

The Eye of the Beholder

Much of the decision for whether a coin is tarnished lies in the viewer. Some collectors hate any changes in color to pure silver and will refer to any chemical changes as tarnished. Other collectors love toned coins and seek them out.

In general, toned coins will have an even and attractive coloring. Many collectors will refer to the “eye appeal” of a coin. This means that a coin, although tarnished, looks arguably better because of the change in color.

Benjamin Franklin HAlf dollar PCGS 1
A 1958 Benjamin Franklin Half Dollar From PCGS: Toned or Tarnished?

You can artificially tone coins; an experiment I have catalogued several times on American Coin Stash. If you are interested in artificially toning coins you should look at this article, where I toned coins with liver of sulfur gel, or this one where I toned coins with food from my kitchen.

If you hear a collector refer to a coin as ‘tarnished’ they are probably not impressed with the look of the coin. The coin may have uneven coloring, blemishes, fingerprints, or milk spots.

Quick Reference:

  • Tarnishing
    • Unattractive
    • Uneven
    • Fingerprints
    • Blemishes
    • “Milk Spots”
  • Toning
    • Attractive, “Eye Appeal”
    • Nice Colors (blue, purple, rainbow)
    • Can Be Faked

Coin Denomination Matters

Certain coins are more likely to have attractive toning than others. Any coin with a high silver content which was circulated very little is more likely to have an attractive an even toning. Morgan and Peace silver dollars are coins which can often be found with toning. Since they have a high silver content, the silver reacts with oxygen and water often resulting in blue and purple hues. And, since the coins were rarely circulated, the toning comes out even across the coin since there were less hands to interrupt the process.

Toned Morgan Silver Dollar PCGS toning
A Toned 1892 Morgan Silver Dollar From PCGS

Coins that will develop less attractive toning or tarnishing are pennies and nickels. Pennies, composed of copper and zinc, are circulated too much to often have an attractive level of tarnishing on them. Nickels, composed of nickel and copper, usually only darken in color, rarely changing to the blues, purples, and reds people seek out in toned coins.

Not that it is impossible for any coin to develop an attractive tone. I have seen pennies turn really fantastic shades of blue and purple.

Final Thoughts

In the end, whether a coin is toned or tarnished, there is no clear line. Toning has become more popular in recent years which has driven the price of toned coins much higher.

With the increase in popularity, fakes have become more common. It can be hard to spot the different between natural toning, and toning that has been induced in a lab or kitchen. In fact, this is a great debate for collectors, “When does a coin become artificially toned?”

A coin collector could induce toning by leaving a coin in a hot attic for months or years, if done intentionally, does that count as artificial toning?

What do you think about toning? Share a comment below and vote in our poll!

Aluminum Foil, Kosher Salt, and Baking Soda on Counter

How to Remove Natural and Artificial Toning From Coins

Here we go! Another edition of ‘me beating up some silver rounds’. If you haven’t read them yet, I’d recommend reading:
Part 1.) How to Artificially Tone Silver Coins
Part 2.) Toning a Silver Round with Liver of Sulfur Gel

To preface, in general it is a bad idea to remove toning or clean your coins in any way. I have another post “Cleaning Coins is Actually Bad For Them” which goes into more detail, but the short of it is that any touching, rubbing, or chemical process done to a coin can hurt the value.

Touching a coin can cause tiny scratches on the surface. Even something as gentle as baking soda or cotton can cause small marks and discolorations.

I am using a silver round for this experiment because I do not want to damage the numismatic value of any of my coins. This is the same silver buffalo round I used in “Toning a Silver Round with Liver of Sulfur Gel“, so I have already put this round through the wringer and am not too concerned with damaging it any further.

Here are the ingredients I used:

Before Images:

This silver round had been toned by me with Liver of Sulfur Gel. I decided this was the best round to show the removal process on, since the toning was so even.

Before starting, you should dip the round or coin in acetone to remove any glue, wax, or oils. This will help the toning leave more evenly.

Step 1:

Silver Round on Aluminum Foil with Baking Soda.

Cover bottom of a glass or plastic bowl with aluminum foil. I used a single layer of aluminum foil. Put your coin on the aluminum foil, and sprinkle baking soda on top.

I used about 3 large tablespoons of baking soda. The salt will be added after the boiling water.

Step 2:

Silver Round in Hot Water and Baking Soda.

Add the boiling water. It will fizz and bubble a lot, so be ready for that. I would use a larger bowl.

Sprinkle some salt into the bowl. I don’t know what this does scientifically, but the water fizzled again when the salt hit it, so it did something.

I’m not sure if this was just my imagination, but I could smell sulfur wafting up from the bowl. Maybe the baking soda and aluminum foil was releasing sulfur left in the coin? (Any chemists reading this, please explain in the comments!)

Reverse in the baking soda.

After a minute, I gently flipped the coin. I’m not sure if this made any difference as the toning was already disappearing on both sides. (Be careful flipping it over, the aluminum foil can scratch the coin’s surface.)

I used a spoon to gently stir the water so more of the baking soda could dissolve. I was very careful not to touch the round as to prevent damage.

Step 3:

After 2 minutes, the mixture seemed to have done all it could. So I removed the coin to dry. The recommended process for drying is to either let the coin air dry or use a hair dryer on low heat.

Since at this point I had already damaged the surface of this coin in my other experiments, I put the coin on a paper towel and patted it dry.

Here are the after images:

Welp… it removed a lot of the toning, but the coin doesn’t look like new. In fact, I think it looks even worse than when we started.

Let’s see what happens if we try it again!

Take 2: What I did differently

This time, I crumpled the aluminum foil before putting it into the bowl. My hope was that a greater surface area of aluminum foil would increase the chemical reaction.

Crumpled aluminum foil and baking soda.

Besides crumpling the aluminum foil more, everything else was the same. I placed the coin in the bowl and poured hot water over it. I added some salt and stirred gently, flipping it after a minute or two.

Crumpling the aluminum foil left air pockets inside, so I pushed the aluminum foil down with a spoon to keep it submerged.

And here it is after the second go:

Not a huge difference, so there are probably diminishing returns to this method. Even if I performed this trick 100 times I doubt I could get the coin looking like a new silver round.


Honestly, I liked the coin better with the even toning, so I will probably use my leftover Liver of Sulfur Gel to re-tone this coin.

That being said, it did work. If you are looking to remove toning from a coin, this is an effective method. Just don’t expect your coin to look fresh from the mint!

I am an Amazon Affiliate, so I earn from items purchased through links clicked on my site. This does not increase the price of items purchased through my links. My purpose, as always, is to inform.

Obverse of Silver After Polishing

Toning a Silver Round with Liver of Sulphur Gel

After sharing my article, How to Artificially Tone Silver Coins?, I received lots of great feedback!

First, I didn’t actually need to put my silver coin IN the egg to tone it… whoops.

Second, I could buy Liver of Sulphur Gel online to get a much more even toning! I purchased it immediately, and now I’m going to share how well it worked.

I am an Amazon Affiliate, so I do make a commission off of any products purchased from my Amazon Links. This commission does not increase the price of products purchased through my links. Thank you for the support!

I am using the same silver Buffalo Round I used for “How to Artificially Tone Silver Coins?” which I am using because it had the least amount of toning.

You can view the original SilverTowne Buffalo Round on SDBullion by clicking this link.

Silver Round with Liver of Sulfur Extended Life Gel.

I purchased the Liver of Sulfur Gel on Amazon. It has more than enough gel for the experiment. Plus, it came with instructions on how to tone coins, jewelry and silverware!

Step 1.) Wash the Coin

Silver Round with a bit of soap.

I wore gloves and cleaned it with Dawn Dish Soap. Make sure to wear gloves while handling the coin from here on out, as oils on your hand could effect the evenness of the artificial toning.

2.) Prep Your Neutralizing Solution

Water and Baking Soda

Once your coin reaches the desired level of toning, you will want to submerge it in water and baking soda IMMEDIATELY. This neutralizes the sulfur so your coin stops processing.

Step 3.) Combine 4-8 Drops of Liver of Sulfur with Warm Water

First, remember to take the plastic seal off of your Liver of Sulfur. Wear gloves when taking the seal off. I had to use a toothpick to remove the seal as it did not all come off in one go.

I used 8 drops of Liver of Sulfur with 1.5 cups of warm tap water.

Surprisingly, the sulfur was smelly, but not as smell as I was expecting. I did this on a stove with the fan on medium, but did not feel the need to open the doors and windows to avoid the smell. In fact, it reminded me of making Easter eggs as a kid!

The sulfur and warm water… looks a lot like urine.

I used warm, but not hot tap water for my first try. So the silver did not change colors as fact as the instructions led me to believe.

Step 4: Submerge the Coin

The instructions said to use wire or tongs to submerge the coin, but I was lazy so I just used my gloved hand, remembering to rotate the coin every few second so the sulfur could work evenly.

Here is the front and back after about 45 seconds in the mixture. I would lift the coin out every 10 seconds to check the color.

Step 5: Neutralize the Sulfur

Once it reached a fairly toned level I took the coin out and submerged it in the neutralizing baking soda solution.

Silver in Baking Soda after first round of toning.

Here is what both sides of the silver bullion looked like after being neutralized and drying on a paper towel.

This turned out so much better than my other attempts at toning! The color was fairly even, and had many of the blue tones I was looking for.

Even though this looked better than before, I decided to do another round, to see just how far I could tone it. This time I decided to use hot water, hoping it would make the toning happen faster.

Round 2:

This time instead of using warm tap water, I put 1 cup of tap water into a mug and microwaved it for 45 seconds. Then I poured the water into the plastic container so I could dip my coin.

What I did NOT think about was that I would now have to submerge my hand in hot water. Thankfully, I did not heat the water any longer because it was pretty uncomfortable to keep even my fingers in. DO NOT USE BOILING WATER.

Wow! So much faster!

The hot water worked a LOT faster. I barely had time to take photos before I was ready to take the silver out.

Again, move the coin into a neutralizing bath of baking soda and water.

In the neutralizing bath.

Wow, this worked great. The color was much more blue and very even on both sides.

These were very close to what I wanted, but the instructions on the Liver of Sulfur Gel had a section for polishing the silver with dry baking soda using your fingers.

I decided to try it.

Using baking soda to polish the silver after using Liver of Sulfur Gel.

This was super easy, I simply put some baking soda on the coin and rubbed it gently with my fingers. Then, I turned the coin to do the same with the other side.

HOLY MOLY! This really improved the look of the silver rounds.

This was almost exactly the look I was hoping for. Polishing really made the finer details of the silver round stand out.

Here is a comparison of the silver round before and after. Slide the middle bar to compare:

Wow! Look at the difference.


I’m not sure if I like this look more than a perfect silver coin, but if you have a coin that is already developing some unattractive toning then I think this is a great thing to try.

Plus, it’s a lot of fun. If you have kids that are interested in silver this is a really easy activity for the two of you to do together.

What you need to try this at home:

If you want to try other fun experiments, check out the previous article “How to Artificially Tone Silver Coins?” where I try to achieve the same effect with household items!