A guide to storage and displaying your finds.
Okay, so youíve been successful and made lots of finds, so now what? Do you leave them in the back of the draw and then forget about them? Do you put them away in a box only to see the light of day once or twice a year? Well, there can only be two plausible answers either yes or no. If sadly the answer is yes and you arenít already displaying your finds, then I hope by the end of this page you will be inspired to do so. There are many ways in which we can both store and preserve our finds but at the same time still be able to appreciate them. The key to a nice presentation is finding a product with a good system which simultaneously displays but at the same time also preserves the items within it. As luck would have it there are a number of commercial products available designed to do precisely what we need, but be warned some are better than others.
Coin pockets or wallets are available in three distinct product types, PVC, paper and Acrylic. Currently it is believed none of these products are suitable for long term storage or display of any coins with high value.
PVC wallets are easy to use and are a great way to transport coins around while preventing damage. But once used for long term storage instead of carriage they tend to fall down in several areas. The major issue with PVC based products comes from materials science and the material used to make them. In order for PVC to be flexible enough to withstand brittle fracture and cracking during operational use a kind of softening additive called plasticizer is used to modify the materials properties. Yes thatís right! Plasticizer is used as an additive to make the wallets more pliable. You can think of plasticizer as an oil or low volatility solvent. Unfortunately not everyone is aware of this and moreover they're not aware of what happens to the plasticized PVC (PPVC) over time.
So what does happen? Well consider youíve just been out and bought some new wallets and put your coins inside, over time, several months, years the pockets begin to turn yellow and become brittle. So whatís happening and why have they turned yellow and become brittle? Well to answer this is must first make you aware that PPVC is an unstable material. All the additives that go into making PPVC and consequently the pockets donít stay were they are supposed to, especially plasticizer. What happens to the plasticizer is a kind of migration to the surface of the PVC where it either evaporates into the air or is deposited on the surface of your coins. Not only does it do this but it also carries all those other nasty additives with it increasing the potential for corrosion. Once this happens it is almost impossible to remove so for long term storage and display PPVC wallets are definitely not recommended.
When considering paper packets the situation is a lot better, coins kept in these products can breathe and there is absolutely no potential for plasticizer contamination. The only downside of it of course is the problem of complete opacity, quite simply thereís no chance of seeing through the packet to see the contents inside. So for display purposes these products are completely impractical even though the storage aspects have great potential. Having said this there are now a few products which have small rounded polypropylene windows and thus provide a solution to the problem. These hybrids are much safer than PPVC and should present no problems for viewing or storage. While on the subject of paper packets I thought it prudent to advise only those products known to be acid free should be used. The potential for damage to items from acids is self explanatory and the old saying goes, if its cheep itís bound to be nasty to your coins. When buying these products always ask for acid free and assume otherwise if not clearly labelled.
Acrylic based products are probably the best option and are often referred to as coin capsules. These items are of rigid two piece construction and simply snap-click together through interference fit. Usually inside the capsule there will be a number of polypropylene spacer rings used to create a snug fit around the item to be stored. Being acrylic made capsules are also inert, completely transparent and scratch resistant thus enabling you to handle coins without any worries of damaging them. From a personal view point when it comes to single pocket systems coin capsules are my preferred choice.
Coin albums are used by many people to store and present there collections however as with the single pocket systems there are a number of similar downfalls. To see why we run into these problems we must view the coin album as a multiple implementation of the single pocket system. The page inserts which make up the vast majority of albums are of the PPVC type and hence subject to the same problems as the singe pocket systems with regard to plasticizer migration. Thankfully there are a few products I which seen implementing the hybrid paper/PP window design that can be regarded as a lot safer than the PPVC type. What I would say to anyone wishing to use a coin album for storage and display would be to save it for the lesser stuff, for those coins with higher value a more suitable alternative should be sought.
Without doubt simply the best way to store and display your coins! There are lots of commercial products available either sold as individual stackable trays or solid cabinets. The materials used to manufacture these systems range from chemically inert plastics to rather more expensive and exotic hardwoods, itís all down to personal preference. Except for a few known issues with some woods trays are considered the safest solution and greatly superior to any other product available. I personally believe inert plastics are the best and collectors are far better off opting for stackable trays systems such as those offered by Lindner or Lighthouse. These systems have it all, a way to store your coins safely, a way to expand your collection easily and a way to make a nice display without worrying about degradation. Lindner also offer a range of deep trays for medals and artefacts a so plenty of safe storage for those items too!
Modified picture frames are always nice as display cases however make sure you use good raw materials because cheap frames and velvet backings are almost certainly a recipe for disaster. Some woods, especially when new give off corrosive acidic gasses as do the man made fibreboards (HDF, MDF, LDF) so these materials should defiantly be avoided. It is accepted that seasoned reclaimed wood from old furniture is a better alternative than using new stock timber. When dealing with backing felt again there maybe an issue of residual acid presence within the fibres of the material. Also there is a distinct possibility some dyes contain acids which may aggravate corrosion activity. Therefore it is wise to suggest no traditional fabrics should be used when building a display case. Thankfully there is a suitable alternative called Plastazote LD45 which is available from various sources on the internet. Plastazote LD45 is an inert closed cell polythene foam often used by museums for storage and transportation purposes. If professionals use Plastazote then provided conservation grade is obtained there shouldnít be any problems using it as backing material for display cases.
So having gotten over the hurdle of making a display case it is now time to decide how finds are to be mounted. This subject has lead to much debate and Iíve heard and seen many horror stories. Images immediately conjured are those of people using superglue and wood staples, itís all bad news! These items are simply not conservation materials. Nylon thread from fishing lines seems to be favoured by museums and indeed the Portable Antiquates Scheme suggests its use in the conservation section of their website. I believe 100% Polyester thread to be another suitable alternative when Nylon is not available. As we are discussing the use of thread then one can assume sewing skills are required so it is probably a wise idea to practice on a few buttons before progressing to other items.
On completion of a display case the last thing you should consider is labelling your finds so people can identify them. To this end I would use an acid free paper and print clearly an indication to give the viewer the information needed. Labels can then simply be sewn on to add a nice finish to the display.