In my experience, most collectors prefer Franklin Mint sets to be in mint (i.e., new-looking) condition - medals bright and shiny and display cases unmarked. Toning, tarnish, spots, and other defects detract from the overall visual appearance and can lower the value of a set to a collector (but not necessarily to an investor just interested in the bullion content).
Generally, the best way to care for Franklin Mint sets is not to touch the medals. Oils from fingerprints can cause smudges and blemishes, especially on the proof (shiny) surfaces. Medals should be handled as little as possible, only by the edges (to the extent possible), and even then preferably with clean cotton gloves. Medals that are enclosed in plastic capsules can be handled easily without fear of damaging the medals themselves, although the capsules can become scuffed or broken if handled roughly. This is one area where the antique finish medals have the advantage over the proof finish - they can be handled without damage from fingerprints and they don't tarnish.
IMPORTANT: I have used the cleaning tips described below successfully on numerous items over many years, but this is simply advice, and cleaning is at your own risk. If in doubt - don't clean!
Removing Medals from Displays
Some of the display cases are tight-fitting, and/or it is not obvious how to get the medals out without damaging them. Here are some hints:
- For medals or ingots lying flat in display cases, normally pushing down on the bottom (or top) of the medal will cause the other side to pop up, and it can then be lifted out. Do not use a tool like a screwdriver to pry medals out - if they really can't be removed by hand then they should probably be left alone.
- For bookshelf albums that have plastic sheets over the medals so you can see both sides, the plastic covers can be pushed up and out the top. I've found it easiest to remove both the front and back plastic covers, then push the medals through from one side.
- For medals in plastic capsules, the capsules have a base and a lid that can be gently pried apart. The lid has a slight lip to it that you can feel. If you can, pull the capsule apart using a fingernail to separate the pieces. Some are tight though, and a knife blade can be used to assist prying apart - but do it gently or you can crack the capsule. Once apart, the medal should come out if you turn it over and gently shake or tap it. Some can be very tight fitting though, and hard to get the medal out even after the capsule is opened. In re-inserting the coin into the capsule, I prefer to have the lid on the top, and for some albums this is the only way they will fit into the slots. Interestingly, I've never seen ingots in plastic capsules in any Franklin Mint sets, although other mints did use them.
Silver tarnishes when exposed to air. The Franklin Mint recognized that as a problem and eventually solved it in the mid 1970's by developing an invisible coating that prevented tarnish. It really works well, and most items that were minted after that time were treated and these do not show any tarnish, or perhaps the slightest bit at the edges, even 30 years later. Note this coating does not prevent smudges or blemishes from fingerprints though, so the medals still should not be handled even if they have the coating.
IMPORTANT: DO NOT TRY TO CLEAN SILVER MEDALS WITH ABRASIVE SILVER CLEANER OR SILVER POLISH - IT'S THE FASTEST WAY TO RUIN THE PROOF FINISH - IT WILL CAUSE DULLNESS AND FINE SCRATCHES THAT CANNOT BE REMOVED!
Silver pieces can be cleaned safely by dipping them in silver coin dip (TarnX works as well and you can get it in most drugstores). Dip the coin in (holding by the edges if possible) and swirl it around for a few seconds. If some tarnish persists, you can rub some of the solution on the medal GENTLY with your fingers. Rinse off under running water and blot dry with a soft cloth; microfiber works well. Try not to rub.
Many of the gold-plated silver medals that I have seen have black or purple spots or blemishes, especially around the edges - it looks like corrosion. This is especially true of earlier sets - the gold plating technology improved with time. In my experience, these gold-plated medals can be cleaned without damaging the proof surfaces, but it takes a little time and effort. Silver coin dip does not work. Here's a simple method that does:
Wet the coin and put a little dab of toothpaste on your fingers. Rub the medal gently with the toothpaste between your thumb and fingers. Use only your fingers - do not use any kind of brush. The spots will come off, although it may take some time (e.g., 10 seconds) - more if they are deeply tarnished. Again, rinse off under running water and blot dry with a soft cloth; microfiber works well. Since this tip was passed on to me many years ago by a fellow collector, I have used it to successfully clean many gold-plated Franklin Mint medals. The tarnish comes off, and the proof finish is not scratched - at least not to my eyes. I've used many different kinds of toothpaste over the years - it doesn't seem to matter what brand or whether it has any additives - apparently the extremely mild abrasive in toothpaste is just strong enough to remove the spots and mild enough not to scratch the finish.
IMPORTANT: DO NOT TRY TO CLEAN SILVER MEDALS WITH THE TOOTHPASTE METHOD! IT WORKS ON GOLD-PLATED SILVER MEDALS BUT CAN CAUSE SCRATCHES ON PLAIN SILVER MEDALS.
Display Cases and Albums
Scratches and other light marks on wood display cases can be touched up with furniture markers. I have a set of three in different shades of brown - like felt markers but made especially for wood. I also have a set of regular markers in a rainbow of colors that I can match fairly well to touch up other types of display cases and albums.