‘A tool is better than no tool:’ Understanding tools, supplies saves money

By Jesse Robitaille

An advanced collector exploring the field of numismatics must understand the importance of using high-quality tools and supplies.

This according to François Rufiange, president of Québec’s l’Association des collectionneurs de monnaie du Grand-Levis and long-time numismatic educator. He has hosted more than a dozen coin grading workshops and assorted numismatic seminars throughout his 20 years in the hobby. He says he’s teaching “critical” numismatic lessons, the results of which are often alarming.

“To me, it’s important to use tools,” said Rufiange. “A tool is better than no tool, and of course, it’s best to use good tools.”

He offers a succinct example: using a 2×2 coin holder is better than throwing coins into a tin can, and using a PVC-free coin slab is better yet.

“You collect the coin and you become a personal curator. You want to take care of those things and retain or increase the value; you’ve stopped the wear and the elements from attacking the coin, but now you have to make sure it stays that way.”

Alas, one day you will part with your collection, but until that time it’s important to maintain proper care.

“You would probably take better care of it then if it was to circulate, but you have to be careful with how you do it.”


If you’re buying an investment, you want to make a good purchase.

“When you buy a coin for $10, is it actually worth $10, or is it worth $5, $2, $1 or 50 cents? You want to make sure you buy what you want to buy and you get what you’re paying for,” said Rufiange, who added there are many surprises in this hobby.

“You come home in your little area – wherever you set up in your home to play with your coins, – and you find out under the proper lighting conditions, let’s say, this coin has been cleaned. There are clean marks you didn’t see at the show,” he said.

“You got screwed, and that’s what you want to avoid.”

Rufiange said he has been there many times.

“How many collectors do you see out there at a show without a loupe? They buy it without even looking at the freaking thing.”

In his experience, collectors buy coins and become so excited they place it into an album, where it could remain for more than a decade.

“Then – after they have more experience, more tools – they look and they say, ‘What did I do?’ They see $350 written down and realize it’s only worth half that value because they missed something,” said Rufiange, who added this is a common mistake.

In fact, he once purchased a “beautiful” banknote – a $50 Scenes of Canada note depicting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – which was sold to him in Uncirculated condition.

“I bought it – spent about $150 – and I was so happy, I put it right in my album. Ten years later my friends wanted to see it, so I showed it to them; but then after, seeing it on my desk – and having acquired more experience, and exponentially so – I just took the note and slid it out of the mylar envelope, and I smelled it.”

The smell test is something all serious notaphilists will learn with experience.

“If the note has been cleaned or treated, there are always traces of ammonia,” he said, adding his once beloved $50 Scenes of Canada note “stunk of ammonia.”

Upon further inspection, he discovered the note had been pressed, dropping it down to a grade of Very Fine.

“It was down to about $50,” he said. “You make these mistakes when you’re a beginner collector.”


Rufiange said coin clubs are incredible resources for information in this often-lacking area of the hobby.

“This knowledge (of supplies and tools) isn’t available because the dealers aren’t too keen on that; they prefer to sell to not-very-knowledgable collectors,” said Rufiange. “They don’t promote teaching very much, and a lot of collectors don’t go to coin clubs, where they could learn something.”

Again, he knows from experience: Rufiange was a collector for eight years before he finally decided to attend a coin meeting in Ottawa.

“Did I ever regret not going before then,” he said, estimating upwards of 70 per cent of collectors miss out on this golden opportunity offered by coin clubs.

And while many collectors don’t regularly attend club meetings, more still would prefer to spend their budget on acquiring material rather than tools and supplies.

“They will make a mistake,” Rufiange said. “It’s bound to happen. It happens to every collector, and sometimes it could be a very extensive mistake.”

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