Loupes & Microscopes


Loupes and microscopes can open new and exciting worlds to coin collectors, especially Ike collectors as the chaos of the early years produced a large number of interesting varieties and errors.

The loupe is really essential for looking at coins.  With magnifications of X5, X7 or X10, a loupe can almost magically help you see small but often critical coin features.  If you’ve never used one, beg, borrow, steal, or even buy a cheap one just to try it out.

Loupes come in many sizes, styles and power.  Some loupes are designed to magnify film and are used in contact with the film.  Others sit on stilts designed for easy use on fabrics.  The best loupes for coin work are designed to be held close to one’s eye (with the coin then held close to the loupe).

One way to steady a loupe and coin is to brace the hand holding the loupe (typically the right hand for us righties) against your forehead.  This helps keep you from jabbing your eyeball.  The other hand, holding the coin, is braced against your loupe hand so the entire unit doesn’t shake as your excitement mounts when you realize you are holding a rare Variety….

The most exacting loupe skill, and this can be a mean put-down, is to “wobble” a coin (See the Grading Ikes section) while louping it.  I mean this is impressive!  It also is an essential skill if you are looking for subtle hair lines or signs of improper cleaning or minute metal work on a coin.

Watching someone work with a loupe sometimes requires great restraint.  It can be quite comical to watch the contorted grimacing many of us display as we work loupe and coin to get the best view of a coin or a coin’s feature.  Coin people who specialize in Double Dies and other really small details usually carry a 20X loupe, a little bitty thing which requires such amazing and startling facial contortions that you know something really important is going on….

One can categorize loupes by cost, by optics, by physical design and by brand.  Most coin pros have their favorite(s).   One generalization:  you should eventually buy the best loupe you can comfortably afford:  a good loupe can save you wasting money on a faulty coin and make you money by revealing a valuable error.    In this context, spending $30 to $150 on a loupe is a good investment, not an extravagance.  Unfortunately, these pesky things have a habit of walking away from you:  honestly, they just get up and disappear.  Start with a cheap one:  you know you’re going to lose your first one or even several in succession in a matter of days until you figure out how not to.

The two Loupes that coin people prefer are a decent “triplet” (the loupe has three lenses designed to maintain a wide, flat field with minimal distortion) and a high-class three-separate-lenses loupe that provides three different magnifications.

A popular triplet is the Bausch and Lombe ___________ which sells for around $________ on the internet.

A popular three lens is the _________________________ which sells for around $_________.

If you google “loupe” all the major discount dealers will appear before you.

There is no harm done buying a cheap version of either or both to play with.  The differences between cheap and expensive are subtle, but then, so too are the critical indicators on some coins of cleaning and metal-working.

Whatever style you choose at whatever price, a neck lanyard can help prevent its loss and keep it handy.  Just remember to put the thing in your pocket when not in a shop or show room or you are advertising “HERE I AM, ROB ME!!

Remember that good lighting is critical.  The standard “grading station” incandescent bulb in a hood mounted on a flexible cantilevered suspension is ideal and practice will teach you the best angle of lighting.


There are few sights as thrilling as a sharp coin in a stereo microscope.  The stunning deeply 3-D views can mesmerize.   Unless you plan on doing heavy research of really tiny details such as RPMs (Repunched Mint Marks) or the like, consider only a stereo ‘scope.

Inexpensive models ($150-300) have a rotating objective that provides two powers, usually 15X and 30X.  This is a good first ‘scope .  If you take decent care of it and keep its box, papers and accessories, you can always sell it on eBay or to a friend when you upgrade.   Most come with an additional screw-on X2 objective that doubles magnification to 30X and 60X.

Excellent quality stereo Chinese Zeiss knock-offs are available on the internet for $500 to $1500 depending on accessories and the presence or absence of a third “eyepiece” for a camera (“tri-head” scope).  Considerably more expensive are the teaching scopes that have two pairs of stereo eyepieces so two people can look at the same coin at the same time.

Most stereo ‘scopes are “dissecting” ‘scopes which have 4 to 6 inches clearance between the coin and the objective lens.  This is very handy as many coin details require coin tilt in hand and you’ll need the extra room.  For example, tilting is important to make a Talon Head to stand out and it can bring to life Double Die details that are nearly invisible without tilt.

Lighting for coin work is important.   The light source should shine down onto the coin at close to the optical axis.  Inexpensive stereo ‘scopes have a built-in fluorescent or LED light imbedded in the frame of the ‘scope, usually off at an angle, and usually unsatisfactory as your experience grows.  The best all-purpose inexpensive coin light is a round fluorescent tube that fits around and clamps onto the cylindrical base of the objective.  These lights run around $50 and are well worth the expense.  It is sometimes helpful to employ additional side-lighting and for this various small goose-neck designs are available:  better ones run around $100.  Both are available in somewhat more expensive LED and fiber-optic versions and have the virtue of greater candle power.

The heat generated by the various lighting systems is an important consideration.  You do not want a high-powered halogen light source close to your head or your scope!  LED ring lights and LED goose-neck spot lights stay wonderfully cool.

Google microscope and the major suppliers will magically appear.  One author has been really pleased with the selection and service provided by precision*optics.com which has a store on Ebay.    It is easy to search Ebay by typing “coin microscope” and “microscope lights” into Ebay’s search box.


Lots to learn here!  Even if your budget is generous, start by using Google to read what others have to say.  Here are a few pointers:

1.     Lighting is critical –  you will want the brightest light source you can afford.   The biggest LED ring light is an excellent choice; just make sure it fits on your ‘scope.  Additional goose-neck LED spots can be helpful when you want side-lighting to highlight a given feature.  Each runs $100-150.

2.     Know that an adapter is usually needed to mate your camera with your ‘scope and adapters are not cheap.  Explore carefully both camera and ‘scope for compatibility and adapter cost before buying anything.  While a lot of cool pictures have been taken by holding a camera up to a microscope eyepiece, sooner or later you will want a more secure arrangement.

3.     Your camera will probably have a good built-in gray-scale system but make sure it does and that you know how to use it so colors are rendered true and no coloration is added to your photos.  While you can balance colors with all the common photo software, it’s a pain in the neck.

4.     Most “tri-head” scopes still require a mirror be flipped in the ‘scope to reflect the image from one of the eye pieces to the camera portal.  Also, some cameras require the coin be upside-down for normal imaging (or you can simply use the image manipulation in all photo software).

5.     If you use the camera LCD screen to frame and focus your image, consider spending the bucks for the largest, brightest available LCD screen.

6.     Be sure to explore the many available electronic pick-ups that feed directly into your computer for direct image viewing and storage.  These usually do not need an adapter and are much less expensive than a camera!

7.     I use PICASSA to import pictures from the Compact Flash cards my cameras use.  It’s free from Google and provides effortless early basic manipulation of your photos including quick adjustments to individual pictures (contrast, shadow-fill, cropping and the like) as well as convenient ways to organize your pictures.

8.     There is a rapidly expanding field of miniature hand-held and small-mount pen-sized electronic ‘scopes that feed directly into your computer.  These have a full range of magnification and the better ones provide amazingly crisp details.