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The E-Sylum (3/21/2010)

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Craig McDonald writes:

John Adams commented last week that "Storage in wood can be death to coins.". While it is true that certain types of wood should NEVER be used for storing coins (e.g., pine, oak, or cedar just to name a few), mahogany, because of its chemical stability, is recognized as one of the safest species to use for this purpose. For this reason, along with its aesthetic qualities, mahogany has been used for upwards of two centuries to house some of the finest collections of coins ever formed, especially among European collectors and museums. Hence the familiar phrase, ."...from the cabinet of....". Most if not all of us have seen coins advertised as having "cabinet toning".

The "death" Mr. Adams is referring to is possibly the result of coins having been stored in cabinets made of a wood other than mahogany. Even today, you see cabinets and/or trays advertised as "mahogany FINISH" (emphasis added). This means that the wood used is probably a less expensive species such as pine or maybe oak. Here we have two problems: first, the use of a wood that isn't suitable to begin with; and second, the use of a stain (probably oil based) to impart the mahogany color. The chemicals given off by either or both of these two substances can have detrimental effects on coins stored in them.

For this reason, I use only solid mahogany, and absolutely no stains or dyes of any kind on my cabinets. The sealer I apply is water based, and is used simply to seal the surface of the wood for protection from staining by oils on the skin when handling the trays.

Medal Cabinet by George Bullock c1816-1818 Medal Cabinet by George Bullock c1816-1818 inside

And regarding a somewhat related post by Mr. Adams: I loved the image of the George Bullock medal cabinet, although it is orders of magnitude beyond my woodworking capabilities. I have started "collecting" images of antique coin/medal cabinets, so if anyone has any or ever comes across one, I would love to see it. I can be contacted at:

To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see: MORE ON COIN CABINETS BY CRAIG MCDONALD (

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