Littleton’s senior coin buyer, Ken Westover, views hundreds of thousands of coins annually. He’s seen here using a swing arm tabletop lamp.
If you’re like most folks, you probably don’t spend too much time thinking about light bulbs or lighting. Let’s face it, we flick a switch and the light works. The only time we really have any concern is when the lights don’t work, or we have to replace a bulb. But, did you know that lighting plays an important part in coin collecting? It’s true. There are specific lighting recommendations just for coin collecting that differ from other crafts or hobbies. In fact, lighting is so important to our coin buyers and graders, that they take their own lights and bulbs with them when they travel to shows or shops!
It’s all about consistency!
To shed some “light” on this topic, I consulted with Ken Westover, one of our senior coin buyers. He looks at hundreds of thousands of coins annually, both at our retail operation and out on the road.
Viewing Tip: Try placing a mat on the desk or tabletop surface. We use a black, brown or other solid colored mat. In addition to keeping dirt and grime off your table, it will also create a neutral, dull background that won’t compete with the coin.
According to Ken, the goal of good lighting in collecting is to create consistency, so you can compare and contrast, recognize detail and see wear and tear on the coin’s surface. He says, “Having a consistent lighting source lets you look at a wide variety of coin types and grades and be comfortable that what you see is truly what you get. For us here, we need to know that all our coins are viewed under the same conditions, because we act as quality control for our customers. Maintaining a standard for lighting means that the conditions of analyzing and determining a grade, do not vary.”
LCC preferred lamps and bulbs
Depending on the time of day or weather, the brightness of a room can vary immensely and this could create dramatic differences in what you actually see on a coin’s surface. At home, you’ll want to set up a consistent environment to view your collection, too. So here are LCC’s official lighting tips for coin collecting.
- Select a quality tabletop lamp – Our entire coin buying and grading team, sorters and retail clerks all use swivel, desktop lights. While you could use a floor lamp or another type, we prefer the versatility of the swivel arm tabletop version. They clasp onto a desk or tabletop, and the swing arm enables you to stretch and bend it up to a 30-36″ reach. This allows you to pull the lamp down and focus the light where you need it, and gives you the ability to see deeply into nooks and crannies of the coins surface. We suggest you position your lamp perpendicular to your desk at a comfortable height approximately 12-18″ above the desk surface.Here at Littleton, we use two brands:
• LEDU Opti series Swing Arm Lamp (LEDL502BK)
• Studio Designs version (model #12021)
Both are inexpensive ($20-$50), durable and carried by a wide array of retailers and office supply stores.
A fitting tribute – one of the U.S. inventors of the incandescent bulb we know today, was Thomas Edison. He is forever remembered with the 2004 Thomas Edison coin.
Choose an incandescent bulb (75W-100W) – Despite the demise of the incandescent bulb here in America, most numismatic experts still recommend using a 75W-100W incandescent bulb for examining coins. That’s because the lighting of an incandescent is more focused. It allows you to focus the light “pin point” style on an area, rather than having the light spread out or diffused. Without it, you could miss imperfections such as hairlines, blemishes, or other damage. Most of the time, our buyers use a 100W bulb. The exception is when looking at volumes of extremely shiny, Uncirculated coins, or some Proof Sets. In this case, a 75W is swapped out instead.
- Avoid Fluorescents and Halogen lights – With full spectrum, fluorescents and some LED bulbs, the lighting is too soft. This could cause shading or color inconsistencies. Halogens are too harsh and can bring undue attention to nooks and crannies, making them appear more significant than they really are.
- Hold coins perpendicular to the light – When viewing a coin, hold it by the edge, perpendicular to the light source so as to not cause deep shadows. That means holding it directly below your light and tipping your coin to a 45″ angle. Try positioning the coin from 12-16″ away from your eyes. In addition, we recommend creating a coin examining routine or habit of your own that doesn’t vary. View your coins under the same lighting, angle and distance each time. That way you’ll create your own consistency.
If I learned anything in writing this article, it was about the importance of viewing your coins the same way each time – and lighting is key! By creating your own consistent environment to view your collection with recommended lighting, you’ll become better at noticing the subtle nuances of your coins to better understand your collection, and the numismatic hobby.
What’s your take? Do you have any routines when looking at your coins? What do use for lighting?