What Are Assay Cards?
As you may already know brand new, uncirculated silver and gold coins, rounds, or bars are packaged by the various mints in different methods.
The example photo to the right is the 1 gram gold Maple Leaf coin in an Assay card. This is called the MapleGram by the Royal Canadian Mint. It has a stamped value of fifty cents and is about the size of my smallest fingernail.
The five 2015 Silver American Eagle coins that I just received this month from a mint distributor were packaged in the normal vinyl flip pouches. Last year I purchased a tube of twenty 2014 Silver American Eagle coins. In order for me to ensure the integrity of the coins, I will use cotton gloves to transfer each uncirculated coin into an acrylic round capsule. I use the Airtite brand, size 40, for the Silver American Eagles. I have seen acrylic rectangle capsules for 1 ounce silver bars too.
You may be wondering why I go to the extra effort to secure my coins in the acrylic, air-tight capsules. As a coin and art bar collector, I have seen the corrosion and damage caused by mishandling, bad storage methods, and touching the metal with our bare human hands. Our fingers and hands transfer natural oils which, over time, cause the discoloration and corrosion of the precious metal.
I know from first hand experience how tempting it is to want to touch or play with silver and gold coins. As a collector however, I also have the need to ensure my investments are intact and maintain their value and worth over long periods of time.
So, with that said, let us review an example of one mint and how they package their precious metal products for storage and shipment.
The following list of product display and packaging options is taken from The Sunshine Minting, Inc (SMI) website (sunshinemint.com/PackagingOptions.aspx):
Display Options include:
- Lucite easels
- Lucite encased
- Velour bags
- Cardboard gift boxes
- Velour presentation boxes
- Leatherette presentation boxes
- Wooden presentation boxes
Packaging for blanks include:
- Heat sealed on cardboard
- Vacuum sealed in trays
- Non-slotted tubes
- Slotted tubes
Packaging for coined products include:
- Heat sealed on cardboard
- Non-slotted tubes
- HRF vinyl
- Vinyl flips
- Acrylic capsules
- Tamper Evident Packaging (TEP)
In the previous paragraph you noticed the phrase "Heat sealed on cardboard". That describes the typical Assay Card package.
The mint will take a bar or round that is stamped with a serial number, and seal it onto an assay card which bears the matching serial number, weight measurement, mint stamp, mint information, and bar code, and other branding or stamps as appropriate.
The example photo to the right is taken from the Instanbul Gold Refinery (IGR). This is gold bars that are mined and minted in Turkey. This particular gold bar is a 2.5 gram product that has the IGR stamp, 2.5g weight, and 999.9 rating of gold fineness on the front of the bar.
The reverse side of the bar has the IGR brand stamped on it. The assay card has the serial number inscribed (not seen in picture), the bar code, weight, gold fineness rating, London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) stamp, and Certified Assayer signature.
Larger art bars, like the PAMP series or SMI, will have the serial number both on the bar itself and on the assay card. this makes the PAMP art bars more difficult to fake.
A very interesting note about these cards is the size. These cards are very near credit card size, so the fit nicely in wallets. Mine fit nicely in my bank safe deposit box.
If you buy volume, you may want to consider the assay card storage containers. They are rectangular boxes that can store on average twenty-five cards. I have noticed that the IGR assay cards are a little smaller than the PAMP assay cards.
You can buy IGR GoldGram on ebay and on Amazon.
What Precious Metal Products Are Packaged in Assay Cards?
The most common precious metals that you can purchase in assay cards are silver, gold, platinum, and palladium.
These products some in either rectangular bars or rounds. The rounds are not to be confused with coins. They just share the same shape and size as coins.
These products also normally come with a unique art design on them for consumers. Many designs come in sets for more interest and collecting.
It is absolutely essential that you know the product and manufacturer. While shopping, you need to be able to quickly identify fake or questionable products. Like anything else, the fake will look real at first glance, but there should be telltale signs. I have included a chart near the end of this article with things to keep in mind while examining a product. Remember if you see the word "clad" in the description, it means that the outer layer of the product may be real silver or gold, but the core of the product is most likely copper or brass.
People have been collecting precious metal products for hundreds of years. The mints know this and are still manufacturing new products with new designs every year to help satisfy our need to collect. The Canadian MapleGram shown at the beginning of the article is a prime example. The Royal Canadian Mint designed this smaller (more affordable) collector coin in 2014. This coin in assay card actually comes in a card of twenty-five coins. These are easily separated for smaller purchases. This type of multi-coin assay card is sometimes called a combibar.
The photo above and to the right shows three 5 gram gold PAMP Lunar series art bars. They are the 2012 Year of the Dragon, 2013 Year of the Snake, and the 2014 Year of the Horse. The 2015 Year of the Goat is not shown, but is available by the PAMP mint too.
More on Collecting PAMP Art Bars
- Collecting PAMP Suisse Silver Art Bars
This article covers the basics on PAMP Suisse Silver Art bars and the current collection sets. These are a great investment for precious metal collectors. Each bar is serialized in Assay cards.
Camouflage Motif Cards
Where Can I Buy Products in Assay Cards?
Some mints will sell directly to the public through their websites using online accounts or providing toll free numbers for consumers to call to order.
Not all mints sell directly to the public. Normally you will find the products through a qualified distributor. These distributors have been vetted by the mint to ensure the high quality of storage and shipping of the products.
Examples of some American mint / mint distributors are:
- American Precious Metals Exchange (APMEX)
- Bullion Exchanges
- JM Bullion (aka Johnson Matthey)
- Northwest Territorial Mint
- NTR Metals
- Ohio Precious Metals (OPM)
- Silvertown Mint
- Sunshine Minting, Inc (SMI)
- United States Mint
Methods to purchase products from these and individual owners are:
- Internet Marketplace - such as Amazon etc.
- Internet auction sites - such as eBay etc.
- Coin Dealers
- Pawn Shops
IGR GoldGrams on Amazon
Assay Cards For Collectors
What Do You Think?
What Should I Look For To Avoid Fraud?
Verify the package seal is intact
Know the current spot prices before you shop
Know the product designs and weights
Verify the labels, logos, and stamps are correct
Packaging should not have price written or labeled on it
Stay away from anything "clad"
Match product and package serial numbers
Be prepared to haggle, first price offered is normally too high
Conceal the product while transporting it