Introduction to Collecting Silver Bullion Coins

Over the last few years silver bullion coin collecting has increased in popularity for a variety of reasons. Included are concerns over inflation, currency valuation, and fears over the general economy. The following is a short introduction and guide for those interested in starting to collect silver bullion coins.

Canadian Maple Leaf 1oz Silver
Canadian Maple Leaf 1oz Silver | Source

What kind of silver coins are there to collect?

There are really only two types of silver coins to collect. There are coins minted by national mints and private mints. National mints are the mints run by various countries. Depending on the country, these mints may or may not be involved with printing the country's regular currency, but the silver coins will have a face value denomination for the country (e.g. dollar, euro, yen, etc.). Many countries mint silver bullion coins, however the following are perhaps the most popular ones for collectors.

American Eagle - Minted 1986 to Present

Canadian Maple Leaf - Minted 1988 to Present

Mexican Libertad - Minted 1982 to Present

Chinese Panda - Minted 1983 to Present

British Britannia - Minted 1998 to Present

Australian Kookaburra - Minted 1990 to Present

Australian Koala - Minted 2007 to Present

Austrian Philharmonic - Minted 2008 to Present

All the above coins are minted in at least 1 troy oz sizes, although some countries produce larger 2 oz, 5 oz, 10 oz, or 1 kilo (32.15 oz) sizes. Most coins have a purity of .999 silver, although some differ in the purity of silver.

In addition, national mints regularly mint special sets of silver bullion coins. For example, the United States mint released a series of 5 oz coins to commemorate national parks, the Royal Canadian Mint has released a series on wildlife, and the Australian Perth Mint produces a series of coins based on the Chinese Zodiac, usually referred to as the Lunar series. There are various specialty sets produced by a large number of countries.

If you don't collect the silver bullion coins from national mints, an alternative is to collect coins produced by private mints. These are companies typically in the business of mining and refining silver, although some private mints are only in the business of only minting coins as collectibles. Amongst the most popular private mint brands are Engelhard, Johnson Matthey, Sunshine, and Pan American Corp. Amongst the most popular private mint coin sets are the American Prospector silver coins produced by Engelhard from 1982 to 1987 and the Freedom/Bill of Rights coins produced by Johnson Matthey. The private mints mint a wide variety of coins. Some mint silver rounds for the sole purpose of investment, while some mint coins specifically as collectibles.

Should I collect coins minted by National Mints or Private Mints?

At the end of the day, it's up to you as a collector. However, there are some things you may wish to take into consideration. Silver bullion coins produced by national mints are more widely recognized and trusted, therefore they fetch a premium over coins from private mints. Naturally, this means that private mint coins are cheaper to obtain.

National mint coins can also be more expensive as collectibles. For example, each British Britannia silver bullion coin is typically limited to a printing of 100,000 per year. Private mints may produce the same coin in perpetuity, therefore not affecting the supply of the particular coin on the market.

Some collectors like to collect specific coins because of the design. The British Britannia, Australian Kookaburra, and Chinese Panda coins change their designs regularly or even yearly. So you'll get a different coin every year. However, other series such as the American Silver Eagle and Canadian Maple Leaf do not change their design at all. Every year's coin is identical with the exception of the year they were minted. Private mint coins run the gammut, with coins commerating celebrities, landmarks, events, etc. You as a collector may just want to collect whatever you like.

Does it matter what condition the coin is in?

For many collectors it does, and to some collectors it does not. If you are predominantly purchasing silver bullion coins as an investment, the condition may not matter to you and should help you purchase cheaper coins. However, it can affect the collectability of the coins and the premium it could later sell for.

Why collect silver coins over gold coins? Is Silver a good investment?

Silver coins are classically more inexpensive than gold coins, therefore they are more affordable to the average consumer. They are sometimes called the "poor man's gold."

Whether gold is a better investment than silver, or if silver is a good investment, is beyond the scope of this article. The commodity markets are complex and everyone should judge their investment interest on their own. Those who believe in investing in precious metals primarily do so because to believe it can hold its value better than fiat currency (e.g. the U.S. dollar, Chinese Yen, European Euro, etc.).

Where can I buy silver coins?

There are a number of online coin retailers that sell coins. Amongst the most popular are APMEX, CE Collection, and Gainesville Coins, although there are many beyond the ones listed here. Ebay is also a popular place to buy coins and you should be able to find coins at a discount compared to most online retailers.

How do I know if the coin is real?

Generally speaking, the number of counterfeit silver coins is quite low, since the price of silver is often not worth the cost of counterfeiting. However, this is not to say there aren't counterfeits. There are several rules of thumb to follow to make sure you have a legitimate coin.

  1. Measure and weigh the coin. It's quite difficult to counterfeit a coin to the exact dimensions and weight of the original. If the coin isn't the proper size or weight, it's likely a counterfeit. A good scale that can measure down to the gram level is relatively inexpensive and can be found online for less than $50.
  2. Make sure the coin has all the appropriate markings. Most notably does the coin show a currency value (e.g. Dollar, Yen, Euro), weight (e.g. 1 oz), material (e.g. Silver or Ag), or purity (e.g. .999). Many replicas and counterfeits will not list these because legally it isn't a counterfeit if these markings are not there. Also check the edges of the coin to ensure they have the same reeding as other coins.


© 2014 jacobmlee

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