Every coin collector in his or her right mind knows that they shall never clean their coins. Why it is like that may be a cause of dispute. A prime example is Sotheby's auction in 1927 of the British banker Reginald Huth's(1853-1926) collection. Huth suffered from a severe mysophobia, a pathological fear towards germs and all things unclean, and never put a coin in his cabinet before it had undergone a thorough wash. The result was low prices at the auction. This happens particularly to silver coins. Silver reacts chemically very quickly with air forming a discolouring layer of silveroxide on the surface of the coin. If you polish this off the coin will be as bright and shiny as straight from the mint. The problem is that oxygen is a gas and hence the layer is pure silver, so by cleaning it off you also clean off small parts of the silver from the coin. Done often enough you can practically rub off the entire surface leaving you with a lump of silver. Nevertheless it was common practice far into the 20th Century, as seen in the Huth Collection case(see Endnote 1).
On June 24th 1922 the American multi-millionaire and numismatist J. Stanford Saltus was found dead in his room at London's Hotel Metropole. Beside the 68 year old widower's body the British police found a glass of fluid cyanide. The rumours about suicide ran quickly and the reason given was troubles within his engagement to Mrs. Estelle E. Campell(see Endnotes 2 & 3).
John Stanford Saltus was born 9th March 1853 in New Haven, Connecticut as son of Theodor Saltus, founder of Saltus Steel Company, and inherited millions of dollars. Early on he pursued a career as a painter, but finding himself not good enough, he decided that there were enough business and money in the world, but not enough art(see Endnote 2). He took on a long career as a Patron of good causes while, despite this, maintaining contact with business life among other things, on the Board of Bank of America. Mr. Saltus was a passionate collector of numerous subjects. A Francophile, he was a great admirer of St. Jeanne d'Arc donating approximately 10 statues of her in the US and Europe. His great collection of military decorations from around the world he donated to The American Numismatic Society(ANS), where he served as Vice President, in which there was a special section for decorations given by the Confederate government during the Civil War. The dies for all four silver coins minted by the Confederacy he donated to New Orleans Museum, a city well suited for a Francophile including its famous Mardi Gras which he celebrated just as much as the one in Nice, France. A photograph of Saltus dressed up for the Carnival accompanied Lowry's article in her New York Times article.(see Endnote 2).
Mr. Saltus had come from Paris to London to attend the funeral of his old friends General Sir James Wilson and, also, preside over a meeting in The British Numismatic Society where he served as President. An inquest was held and a chemist, of whom Saltus was a regular customer, had the previous day bought 100 milligrams of Potassium Cyanide for cleaning some newly collected silver coins. The chemist testified that there was nothing extraordinary with this as Mr. Saltus had done so many times before. Investigators from Scotland Yard testified that in Mr. Saltus´ room they had found two glasses! One containing the cyanide and the other, together with a bottle, with ginger ale. Employees from the Hotel Metropole testified that during the evening Mr. Saltus had ordered the bottle. (It was the general rule of the Press never to reveal names in articles like this). The Coroner concluded that the cause of death was, in the rather old-fashioned English of a London Courtroom in 1922, "death by misadventure". In short: An accident! J. Stanford Saltus had mistakenly, busy as he was cleaning silver coins, drank from the glass containing the cyanide instead of ginger ale(see Endnote 5).
The rumour about his engagement quickly subsided when Mr. Saltus´ Last Will and Testament was read. His fortune was estimated to about $2 millions of which approximately half of it were bequests to different good causes. The main heir(heiress) was Mrs. Campell who inherited $500 and Mr. Saltus´ considerable collection of jewelry(see Endnote 5).
John Stanford Saltus was a man of independent means and, also, in possession of an independent mind. Unlike many of his fellow coin collectors he enjoyed giving his collections to the common good before his death, in his case a rather pre-mature one, and mostly as discrete as possible. It is surprising that a well experienced numismatist as him would clean his silver coins in days when this practice was on its way out. But, after all, he was a collector of the old school. He was indeed a great collector, but he did one mistake: He cleaned his coins!Kilder/Sources:
Forrer, Leonard: Talk given to The British Numismatic Society 28. April 1948.
Lowry, Helen Bullitt: "A Modern Romantic", New York Times, 23. July 1922.Internet: architect-d.co.uk, The New York Times Archive,
American Fencing Hall of Fame.
 New York Times 25, juni 1922 & The Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Volume 5, 1923, s. 498.
 The New York Times 8. august 1922.
 Se Internett: The American Fencing Association - Hall of Fame