Coin Hunter

Coin Toning 2019 Royal Mint coins in black foam

2019 Stephen Hawking Silver Proof 50p

What is Coin Toning

Coin toning is a natural chemical process that occurs when something (such as corrosive elements in air) reacts with the surface of the metal, causing the coin to tarnish and change colour.

Information on toning from The Royal Mint website

In most instances, it is a very slow process

The surface film caused by oxidation, usually green or brown, mostly found on older silver, copper or bronze coins.

Obviously, over the years The Royal Mint has continually improved the production process for proof coins and therefore, our more recent products are less likely to tarnish.

Source: Do commemorative coins tarnish over time? | The Coin Collecting Glossary

As we have seen, coin toning will occur after a period of time, but the length of time depends on the environment around the coin.

In the case of a silver coin from The Royal Mint in a screw capsule with a black alveo (cut to shape foam surround) - toning will depend on:

Royal Mint Black Alveo

Black foam (alveo)

The foam in direct contact with the coin must be coin safe.

The Royal Mint press office were not willing to provide a list of chemical components of the alveo used by The Royal Mint or of the dying agent used only in the black alveo.

They were able to confirm that the type of foam used is closed cell inert gas blown foam.

There is evidence to support the premis that the presence of the black alveo has a direct relationship to toning being present on coins much earlier than would be expected.

See: Royal Mint customers on Facebook: Coin Toning and 2019 Stephen Hawking Silver Proof 50p Coins: Obverse Toning and 2019 50 Years of the 50p Silver Proof 50p Coins: Obverse Toning

Testing: black alveo / white alveo

In tests, unopened 2019 silver proof coins in original packaging were stored in the exact same location and conditions as unopened 2017 silver proof coins in original packaging.

Assuming component materials were the same for the coins and packaging, the 2017 coins were held by a white alveo in a press shut capsule, whereas the 2019 coins were held by a black alveo in a screw shut capsule.

Results: Every 2019 coin in the black alveo was toned on the obverse (over 300 coins - individual and sets). None of the 2017 coins in the white alveo showed any signs of toning.

Do you have a 2019 Royal Mint silver or gold proof coin?

If you purchased a "recent product" such as a 2019 proof coin from The Royal Mint - as toning "is a very slow process" you would not expect to see any toning in the following year.

Silver Proof Heroic Acts Victoria Cross 50p
How to check your Silver Proof 50p's for signs of toning

You can watch the How to check if your Royal Mint Silver Proof 50p is toning video on the Coin Hunter YouTube channel.

Lift the coin in the capsule out of the presentation box and take it to a window or outside where there is plenty of natural daylight.

Closely inspect both sides, especially the obverse (heads side) as it seems to be more prone to toning. If you have a phone camera that can zoom and focus clearly on parts of the coin - use it to help you inspect the coin, as the first signs of toning can be difficult to see with the naked eye.

The coin shown here (2019 Heroic Acts Victoria Cross 50p from the Celebrating 50 Years of the 50p Military Set) is beginning to tone, toning can just be seen on close inspection with the naked eye, but is clearly visible with a high quality phone camera.

You can see the dark brown reaction in the metal edge closest to the black foam material that surrounds the coin.

Report a toned Royal Mint coin / receive progress updates

If you have any 2019 coin produced by The Royal Mint that is already showing signs of toning, based on the published information on The Royal Mint website - if you consider that your coin is not as described you should contact The Royal Mint to request a full refund or replacement. If your request is ignored or declined, you could submit a report to Trading Standards (Citizens Advice consumer service).

5th of August 2020: 2019 Silver Proof 50p Toning - Raised as an issue with The Royal Mint

The issue was reported by phone to customer services. A Timeline of email correspondence received from The Royal Mint is shown below.

2019 Stephen Hawking Silver Proof 50p

An email was sent on the 6th of August with 7 images attached which showed a 2019 Stephen Hawking Silver Proof 50p coin toning on the obverse.

This coin had been kept unopened in full original packaging - in a dry, dark and clean environment. The coin box was also contained inside a sealed unit.

This is the same storage method I use for all my coins, as I understand how the enviroment can react with and affect the metal surface of a coin over a long period of time.

I store hundreds of coins in the same way, mostly 2017 Silver Proof (in white foam) which as you would expect, are showing no signs of toning after just 3 years.

14th of August 2020

I have discussed this with our Production Manager today and we have agreed that this coin needs to be inspected and a resolution found for you.

20th of August 2020

I am raising your issue today with the Head of Comm. Coin, Medals, Bullion & Operations Support and our Head of UK Sales to discuss different options.

25th of August 2020

We have UPS lined up to collect your parcel. Please can you let me know a convenient date and how many packages you will be sending back.

Once we have received these we will analyse the issue and report back to you to discuss next steps. We would be happy to replace the coins.

Press Article: The Sun - Published on the 25th of August 2020

FOOL'S GOLD Coin collectors' fury as £55 silver coins turn BROWN

Coin Hunter: Whilst the cause of the tarnishing and discolouration of recent Royal Mint coins (in plastic capsules / black foam) is not yet known, there are a large number of customers upset to see a valued possession (often purchased for children or as an investment) looking like the images shown.

As these coins have been stored in many different households, often alongside other coins that are not tarnishing – The Royal Mint will want to carry out tests on these coins and the packaging to try and determine the cause.

"If the cause relates to any part of the manufacturing process of the coin or packaging, I would hope that The Royal Mint will offer a replacement or refund to all affected customers."

Royal Mint told The Sun: new coins changing colour like this is incredibly rare and that says there is no indication that it is a wider issue.

Please see Royal Mint coins toning - a wider issue shown below.

Royal Mint: "Storing silver in a humid or damp environment contributes to premature tarnishing, and could be a factor in this case."

This is not a factor in this case - see coin storage.

Note: A silmilar article based on this information was also published by Lad Bible on the 25th of August 2020. Hard Luck For Coin Collectors As Valuable Silver Proof Coins Turn Brown.

 Coin Toning images shared on Facebook coin groups

Royal Mint coins toning - a wider issue

Within the same press article as The Royal Mint commented "there is no indication that it is a wider issue" - there was a link to coin toning images shared on social media which demonstrated that there is a wider issue.

Comments and images posted on a number of Facebook coin groups indicate that toning could be present on every 2019 Silver Proof coin (in black foam) as 100% of those checked were tarnished. Indeed, more than 20 people from different households uploaded images of their toned coins.

26th of August 2020

UPS are confirmed for tomorrow between 8am and 6pm and the parcel will be insured.

YouTube Video's - published on the 26th and 28th of August 2020

55 Royal Mint 50p coins have turned golden brown - 2019 Silver Proof 50 Years of the 50p Set (Aug 26, 2020)

ROYAL MINT 2019 COINS - 50p Silver Proof (Aug 28, 2020)

How to check if your Royal Mint Silver Proof 50p is toning (Aug 8, 2020)

YouTube Video Comments:

"I have seen this happening to my Sherlock Holmes and Hawking coins, and thought I must have been unlucky! This is certainly a problem, it completely stopped me from buying new 50p silver proof coins... We need to tell the Royal Mint so they can address the problem."

"Yep my Sherlock Holmes has this issue. Not as bad as these but it's on both sides of the coin. I expect The Royal Mint won’t bother responding or compensate those like us with this issue. I’ve essentially wasted my £55 and they don't care."

"Hi, I wasn't aware that the premature toning on silver coins was a wider issue. My 50 years of the 50p silver proof Piedfort has toned substantially, but only on the obverse side which is strange. I sent it away about 11 weeks ago and they returned it last week basically saying that it's a natural process which humidity may have accelerated. I'm very well of how toning works on coins, however, none of my other silver proofs have toned this way, only the 50p. also, given the fact it was in a sealed container, it really couldn't have been humidity. I sent a formal complaint about the issue last week which has yet to receive a response. I may contact the ombudsman if they fail to respond. Their customer service has been horrific recently."

3rd of September 2020

Just to let you know I am currently on annual leave but have received confirmation that your parcel arrived safely I will chase progress as soon as I can.

7th of September 2020

I am back from annual leave and have a meeting with our production manager tomorrow in the office, to discuss your returned coins.

10th of September 2020

Please accept My apologies for the delay in responding we have had a number of meetings this week regarding your coins.

Our conclusions at the moment is that your coins are showing natural toning. The tests being carried out in our lab are also suggesting no issues but we need a few extra days to have a conclusive response.

We have also sent a photograph of one of your coins to a coin grading company who has responded that this coin is showing signs of natural toning and would graded at a 68/69 if it were to be formally assessed.

I have another meeting tomorrow to gather all of the data from some other checks we are doing and will provide a formal response tomorrow.

22nd of September 2020

I have a meeting scheduled to confirm the final results of our tests and will provide you with a formal response as soon as I can.

23rd of September 2020 - "tarnishing as a result of the natural process"

As promised here is our update with regards to your complaint and the action we will be taking for the coins you have returned to us for inspection.

The Royal Mint makes over 200,000 Silver Proof coins each year, and reports of new coins tarnishing are incredibly rare. As you are aware all of our Silver Proof coins are sold in airtight containers and secure display cases to help protect the metal, and enable collectors to enjoy the design. Tarnishing is known to be a natural, long term side effect of silver and we recommend that customers keep coins in their protective casing. Storing silver in a humid or damp environment contributes to premature tarnishing, and could be a factor. We have carried out testing in our laboratory using our Environmental Chamber and currently our results show no signs of tarnishing using either a white or black alveo.

The tarnishing on these coins, like all silver coins, is a result of ageing. Various terms are used to describe this process such as tarnishing, discolouring and toning. It is a natural process, although the speed at which it progresses depends largely on the environment in which the coins are kept. In most instances, it is a very slow process and the natural patina which develops is considered by many to enhance the beauty of the coins.

So to conclude, after testing coins in the alveo within the Environmental Chamber and a detailed inspection of your coins we are confident that your coins are showing tarnishing as a result of the natural process described above. We will arrange for them to be returned to you in due course.

I would like to personally thank you for your patience while we carried out these tests.

24th of September 2020 - Reported to Trading Standards

A report to Trading Standards (via the Citizens Advice website) was submitted. This report was in relation to items supplied not as described.

Premature Coin Toning - 2019 Royal Mint coins that use a black foam to hold the coin in place (within a plastic screw capsule - which is not air tight)

Toning: If the coin (metal) has begun changing colour due to the effects of the environment / packaging, it is very likely that the coin will be less desirable and therefore worth less.

There have been a large number of cases of 2019 coins turning brown on social media (where coins are all stored in different houses) - there seems to be an issue with 2019 coins in the black foam (coins in white foam for the same and earlier years have not discoloured) - it would be reasonable to assume that the foam itself is playing some part in causing the coins to discolour so much within a year or two when the process would normally take decades.

Here is some information that suggests that the foam is the underlying cause of the issue - if this is the case, the foam was present on the day the items were purchased, so it would be the responsibility of the retailer to replace or refund - even though the issue was only clearly visible after the 6 months had passed when the onus of proof is the responsibility of the consumer.

I own a number of Silver Proof coins from 2017 in white foam that have been kept in the exact same conditions as the 2019 coins in black foam - those are currently showing no signs of toning.
Please see this page for details:

The first 2 coins shown are part of the £4610 payment - and have been returned to The Royal Mint for testing.

This page shows the 2019 coin sets:

Numbers 1582, 800 and 1624 (Silver) and 43 (Gold) were returned to The Royal Mint on 27th of August for testing. These items make up the total spend of £4610 - with the 2 items mentioned above.

The issue has also been covered by the press:

These are images of other people having the same issue - as shared on Facebook.

The Royal Mint now wish to return the discoloured / tested coins - with no offer to refund or replace.

What happens after you've reported to Trading Standards

Trading Standards will use the information you give to decide if they’ll investigate. They’ll only contact you if they need more information.

Even if Trading Standards don't contact you, they might use your evidence to take action against the business in the future. For example, if other people make complaints about the same business.

24th of September 2020 - Phone call to The Royal Mint

In a phone call with The Royal Mint, I explained that I have arranged independent testing of coins and packaging including the black alveo.

It was agreed that they would keep hold of my coins until the independant testing was complete.

As an act of courtesy, I also made them aware that the issue had been reported to Trading Standards and would be escalated to a small claims proceedure in the absence of a satisfactory outcome.

28th of September 2020

5pm: Incoming call from The Royal Mint with the Head of Operation Support (The Queen's assay master) and the Head of Customer Service and Sales (UK) to discuss the response received on the 23rd of September.

I once again explained that this issue is widespread, it is a real problem that seems to be affecting every customer with 2019 precious metal coins in the black foam packaging. It was agreed that 2 Stephen Hawking Silver Proof 50p coins owned by 2 of the people on the call would be inspected.

6th of October 2020

After first notifying The Royal Mint on the 24th of September of my intention to to begin a small claims proceedure, an informal email was sent to explain why and when the small claims process would be initiated, to give every opportunity for a resolution without involving the courts.

As another week has passed since our phone call, I feel that in the absence of any meaningful response – I have no choice but to escalate this complaint.

I feel that I could be waiting a very long time for results of additional testing – and know that the results of any additional non-independent testing could find no issue with the coins The Royal Mint have supplied.

With this in mind, I have today initiated a money claim.

Before the claim is submitted, I have been asked to “Consider other options“ and supply this information to you:

As per previous discussions, I intend to make a claim against The Royal Mint for cost price of products purchased in January and March 2019. These products were not as described and not fit for purpose based on the information presented on The Royal Mint website. (Do commemorative coins tarnish over time?).

A person has a reasonable expectation that coins from 2019 will not show significant toning in 2020 when the said coins have been stored in line with all recommendations and alongside 2017 coins that are not showing any signs of toning.

In the absence of a response, the money claim action will be submitted on Thursday 8th of October at 10am.

I am of course happy to discuss this issue further and employ any mediation if you feel that will help resolve this complaint.

7th of October 2020

At 17:30 an email was received from The Royal Mint which indicated that no progress had been made and that testing would not identify any issue with the coins or packaging.

"I do not have any change to where we were with regards to our testing and results. As it stands our testing is not showing an issue with toning on the coins we have tested. Although some tests are still ongoing."

"At the moment we are at the same point as we were previously."

7th of October 2020

At 18:33 an formal email was sent to The Royal Mint which included all relevant managment to ensure that all parties were aware that the case would be submitted at 10am on the 8th of October 2020.

At 22:56 a member of the management team at The Royal Mint sent an email to ask if they could call me at 9.30am - I agreed: "I am always happy to discuss the issue in question."

8th of October 2020

The call at 09.30 was to ask what I was looking for from them. I replied that it is clear what is needed to resolve the matter as it has been clearly stated in the correspondence sent to date. I again gave details about the premature coin toning issue that has already been documented in detail, asking for a full refund of the amount I paid for the coins that are currently held by The Royal Mint.

They would look into this, but as I had heard this many times before - I said I would hold off submitting the court action, but would need a yes or no to a full refund response by 12 midday.

The deadline of 12 midday passed with no call or email received. I waited an additional 2 hours for a response - before doing the final checks on the details being submitted for the money claim case.

At 14.25 the case was ready to submit - the way I have been treated by The Royal Mint has begun to take a toll on my wellbeing. At this point I felt quite unwell with a rapid heartbeat due to the stress.

At 14.26 the county court claim number: 167MC919 was submitted - Defendant's details: The Royal Mint Limited

8th of October 2020

At 15.23 - just under 1 hour after the court case submission (The Royal Mint receive an automatic email notification from the courts) - I received the following email offering a full refund.

Please accept this email as confirmation that we have agreed to provide you with a full refund, for the value of £4610, related to the coins you have returned to us. This payment is made to you without any admission of liability on our part. In consideration for, and by accepting, such payment, from the date hereof you agree to keep the terms of this settlement and all discussions between us relating to the subject matter of this settlement confidential and not for disclosure to any third parties.

I did not reply to this email.

9th of October 2020

At 9am I phoned Citizens Advice - to check if a company can place a gagging order on a customer in respect of a refund.

They said that a consumer is free to speak about any aspect of it's dealings with a company - unless the customer enters into an agreement with a company that is refunding as a goodwill gesture, rather than because of an issue with the product.

I have made no such agreement either verbally or in writing.

9th of October 2020

I received a phone call from The Royal Mint just after I had finished on the phone to Citizens Advice.

The call was to check whether court proceedings would be continued in respect of the current refund in progress position. I explained that I would not be accepting the accepting the confidentiallity request.

The case is proceeding as it is uncertain whether a refund is in progress or not at this time.

As this was originally seen as a new issue, only raised by me - I took the opportunity to reference earlier cases and a return of coins that occured 11 months ago for the same reason. (Note: The customer is this case was told toning is a natural process and the coins were returned to them).

9th of October 2020

I received an email asking me to take a call from members of the managment and legal teams at The Royal Mint. The call was scheduled for 10.45.

I received the scheduled call after 11am with no member of the legal team on the call.

Quotes from / summary of the call

Royal Mint: "We will support your refund to it's full capacity for the coins you have returned"

Royal Mint: "but what we would ask, is because we have closed the matter and had that mediation aswell through yesterday - we would ask that you would withdraw the claim and once we have confirmation of that we can release the funds to you."

Note: No mediation took place as there was only myself and The Royal Mint employees on all calls - whilst I offered to involve an independant mediator, the Royal Mint choose not to follow that route.

In reference to the "continuing tests over a 8 week period"

Me: "You realise that further tests are not applicable to a consumer at all, if the consumer has an issue - it's down to the manufacturer to do the tests so that their future products arn't affected. The consumer just has a product that is not fit for purpose and not as described - they will require a refund whatever the results of your tests."

I pointed out that the refund would need to be complete and in my account, before I could update the court action as "paid".

Royal Mint: "I cannot release that refund until that case has been closed"

The court documentation (Money Claim Online (MCOL) – User Guide for Claimants) states:

Please wait until funds have cleared before you mark the case as paid. If you advise the court that a case has been paid but then the payment does not clear, you will be required to make an application to a District Judge, or a court appointed Legal Advisor, and to pay a fee in order to reinstate the case.

Royal Mint: "made a commitment to you to make that refund to you within the day yesterday." - Note: this is not correct - there was no commitment or refund offer by phone or email before the court action.

I had given notice of legal action 3 weeks ago - I explained that I had given plenty of time for a resolutuion.

My respose: "I sent (an email) 2 days before it went to court"
"then I sent to you before it went to court"
"then I gave you an extra 2 hours before it went to court"
"then I gave you 2 more hours before it went to court"
"now it's at court"

Me: "I would like to say to the people out there who are waiting on my comeback, I would like to say I received a refund."

Royal Mint: "That's not something that we can accommodate"

Me: "So how do I tell them the outcome of this? - I just say I can't tell you?"

Royal Mint: "as part of our standard process, that is our requirment"

Royal Mint: "we will confirm by email what that refund is, we'll confirm our requirments in terms of our standard process for the refund"

Royal Mint: "You put forward that court case even though I made a commitment to you yesterday" - Note: this is not correct - there was no commitment or refund offer by phone or email before the court action.

Me: "I only received a (proposed) solution after the court case had dropped, you had already received noticiation that the court case had dropped. The fact that I got an email saying we will refund you but say nothing, wasn't a solution"

Me: "If you believe that you've acted in a timely manner, we will just take it though the courts and see what they think."

Royal Mint: "So what we will do, is confirm by email on our next steps"

12th of October 2020

Court Action Status

Wait for the defendant to respond

The Royal Mint Limited has until 27 October 2020 to respond. They can request an extra 14 days if they need it.

15th of October 2020

Received a phone call from TRM - they would refund the full cost of all the items I had returned and my court costs of £185.

16th of October 2020

Payment of £185 to cover my court costs received.

19th of October 2020

Refund for £4,500 received - represents a full refund of all items returned except two Stephen Hawking Silver Proof 50p coins.

23rd of October 2020

Refund for £110 received - this payment completed the full refund of £4,610 for the 2019 coins returned due to showing signs of toning.

24th of October 2020

Court claim marked as fully paid / settled - as at 23/10/2020.

The Royal Mint are now offering refunds to some customers who have complained about 2019 coins purchased direct showing signs of toning.

If you have yet to receive an offer of replacement or refund - and would like full access to the court case details that prompted TRM to refund my total order cost - please contact me via this form.

Independent Testing

To investigate further, samples of both alveo (white and black) are being prepared to be sent to a testing lab. The lab will be looking for anything in the material that could have reacted with silver or the other metals to trigger or facilitate a chemical reaction.

We also need to consider why only the obverse is toning so quickly in the black foam. It should be noted that the screw capsule has the screw thread which will let in air on the obverse side - and that the reverse is sealed from the air by the tight fit of the foam itself.

This would suggest that leakage of air into the coin capsule via the screw thread is reacting with either just the metals in the coin or with the metals and any elements leaching from the alveo.

The widespread nature of this issue and the unusually rapid appearance of tarnishing on coins stored in many different households - would suggest that air and metal may not be the only factors in these cases.

In tests run over an 18 month period, the obverse toning of silver coins is always concentrated on the raised edge of the coin, closest to the black alveo. With coins at different stages of the toning process, it would appear that the toning then spreads inwards towards the lettering.

It was interesting to note that gold coins did not follow the same pattern. Gold is of course a much less reactive metal than silver, the gold coins toned from the coins centre on both the reverse and obverse.

Additional Information

closed cell inert gas blown foam

Technical Foam Services have supplied products to The Royal Mint. They can supply closed cell polyethylene foam such as TFS 503 which is available in 4mm black and white.

Whilst the actual material components are still being determined, the alveo is likely to be made up of: Dicumyl Peroxide, Calcium Carbonate, Zinc Oxide, HST, Stearic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Ethylene Vinyl Acetate and Polyethylene.


Swiss company Sekisui Alveo have a selection of closed cell foam products available by the roll.

The Royal Mint refer to the foam that surrounds the coin as the alveo.

Ramfoam are able to supply foam suitable for coin storage.

Through the unique manufacturing process of high pressure nitrogen impregnation of the foam, solid colour pigmentation is added to the polymer matrix to ensure non-migratory and non-leaching of colour, making it the global foam of choice for the conservation of valuable items.

Environmental Chamber

An Environmental Chamber artificially replicates conditions. It can simulate excessive ambient conditions exposure for a product or a material under laboratory-controlled yet accelerated conditions.

All accelerated ageing processes are estimates, so are not a true and reliable representation of what will occur in a real world scenario.

If for example the alveo slowly leaches a chemical into the air within the capsule - that reacts with the metal effectively accelerating the toning process.

An environmental chamber calibrated for excessive air moisture / humidity would not reproduce the real world results, as these changes would not increase the rate of chemical leakage from the alveo.

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