By Louis Golino for CoinWeek ….
Over the past couple of years, a newer type of collectible silver product has become very popular–specifically, silver art rounds with attractive designs and high-quality minting.
In addition, silver art rounds are sometimes struck in high relief or ultra-high relief and often in limited numbers. And some of the best rounds are designed and sculpted by renowned medallic artists.
These products, prized for many of the same attributes as numismatic issues (like aesthetic appeal and collectibility), are produced by private mints, including Elemetal Mint, the precious metals conglomerate that owns Texas-based precious metal retailer Provident Metals.
Collectible silver art rounds are increasingly popular with buyers and many past issues that are no longer produced have increased considerably in value. But despite widespread interest in these products, they have received scant attention in the numismatic media.
When purchased close to their initial release, especially with the relatively low silver prices of recent years, they are a low-risk way to stack silver. And at the same time, they offer potential for appreciation well above their metal value because they are issued in much smaller numbers than government-issued silver bullion coins and remain in demand.
Though issued by many different mints and depicting a wide range of subjects, some issues have been especially successful or are noteworthy for other reasons.
Heidi Wastweet creations
Contemporary silver art rounds have been a showcase for the impressive artistic talents of some of the best medallic artists working today.
Probably no other artist has produced as many of the more popular designs (and sculpted them in many cases) as California-based medallic artist and bas relief sculptor Heidi Wastweet, who is also in her second term as a member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC). The CCAC advises the Secretary of the Treasury on the themes and designs that appear on all U.S. coins and medals.
Ms. Wastweet is perhaps best known for her Freedom Girl silver round that features a left-facing profile of a beautiful young woman with wavy hair. Issued in a variety of sizes and formats, Freedom Girl is her version of the Peace dollar.
Another aspect to the success of these products is that they are issued as parts of ongoing series that focus on particular themes that appeal to collectors such as ancient mythology, classic U.S. coins, and others.
For example, from the fall of 2014 through the fall of 2015, Provident Metals released one round per month for 12 months called the Twelve Labors of Hercules, which were designed and sculpted by Ms. Wastweet. The labors of Hercules were his penance for killing his wife and children after the goddess Juno made him go crazy.
These rounds were each only available for a month, which limited their production and ultimately increased their collectibility. They capitalized on the current popularity in mainstream culture of ancient mythology, and the first issue in the series, the Nemean Lion, has seen its value jump four-fold.
Another series from Provident is the Zombucks, which the company billed as the “Currency of the Apocalypse”. These rounds feature “zombified” renditions of classic Americans coins such as the Walking Liberty half dollar. That round was designed and sculpted by Ms. Wastweet, while others in the series were designed by other artists and in some instances those were sculpted by Ms. Wastweet.
Elemetal’s UHR rounds
Modern coins struck in deep relief, known as high or ultra-high relief, are very popular with numismatic collectors.
Well aware of this trend, Elemetal Mint in early 2015 began producing several series of ultra-high relief silver rounds made of two ounces of pure silver and sold by most major bullion retailers in the U.S. and overseas. They are also eligible for inclusion in precious metal-IRA accounts.
These pieces have really struck a chord with buyers because of their very high quality, appealing designs and themes, and especially their remarkable level of relief, which is even greater than coins from the Perth Mint and other manufacturers that specialize in this approach.
In some cases they also have mintages under 20,000 pieces, and once they are no longer produced their values have risen much more than they would if they were generic silver rounds.
Mintage information about them is posted on the Provident Metals website after their production ceases.
There are three series so far from Elemetal, and each of the eight rounds released to date features stunning designs that look three-dimensional because of their ultra-high relief.
The first is called Privateer, which includes four issues to date. The reverse of each Privateer round features the stern of a pirate ship with a skull in the middle and the motto of pirates inscribed above, “No Pay, No Prey.” The obverse for each one is different and so far has depicted the Jolly Roger ship, a siren, a pirate captain, and the kraken, a legendary sea monster that inhabited the northern Atlantic Ocean. The first issue, which had a final mintage of 70, 344, is the best-performer of this type of product, selling today for at least twice its initial cost.
The second series is American Landmarks, whose reverses show a map of the U.S. and whose obverses have so far depicted the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and the Pearl Harbor Memorial.
A third series focuses on ancient Egyptian mythology and is designed and sculpted by Heidi Wastweet. The first release was Cleopatra, which Provident told Ms. Wastweet needed to be depicted in a way that made her look attractive. She certainly achieved this with the finished product, which features the incused style of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic carvings.
The second release in this series, which is now in production, is Anubis, the god of embalming and the dead.
Gary Marks’ liberty rounds
Another medallic artist, who also happens to be a former chairman of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the city manager of Lebanon, Oregon, is Gary Marks.
Mr. Marks has produced art in a wide range of formats, from manhole covers to oil paintings and wall sculptures. He has also been interested in numismatics since 1973 and has produced a number of privately-issued silver art rounds and medals.
His most well-known medallic works, in each case designed by him and sculpted by Heidi Wastweet, are focused on liberty, a theme of long-standing interest to Mr. Marks. While serving on the CCAC he worked to promote the depiction of modern images of Liberty on U.S. coins.
Mr. Marks says his art “seeks to promote liberty and to inspire and motivate its ascendance for all peoples.” He produces art that, in his words, celebrates “the virtues of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is my aspiration that my art would, by some measure, impact the American consciousness in a way that deepens the love of liberty and its anchor in the soul of the nation and in its people.”
His first liberty proof-finish silver round, Liberty’s Glory, released in 2014, features a modern image of Liberty on one side and a modern, stylized American eagle on the other. Two hundred of these pieces were struck by BEX Mint and today sell for over $200 each. Initial retail price was about $40.
“My intent with the Liberty’s Glory design was to celebrate Liberty as one of the three unalienable rights listed in the Declaration of Independence (i.e., life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness),” Mr. Marks said. “It is a free-flowing modern design that conveys an abstract dreamy feel. Thus, ‘Liberty’s Glory’.”
He went on to produce Liberty’s Beauty in 2015, whose liberty and eagle images are inspired by one of his favorite artists, Art Nouveau legend Alphonse Mucha. Liberty’s Beauty was issued in several different versions besides a regular proof, including a matte proof, mule, enhanced uncirculated, and several rare pattern versions. Each version was issued in very limited numbers and sold out quickly.
And this month he is releasing the third liberty round called Liberty’s Legacy, which is inspired by the Morgan and Peace dollars and other classic U.S. coins of the early 20th century, and uses a model from Oregon, Cassie Cruze, as his modern liberty.
Ms. Cruze was partly selected because of her life story, which includes overcoming some very challenging circumstances. These rounds were struck by Golden State Mint, and Mr. Marks said he is developing concepts for “special micro-mintage versions,” which “may include a matte proof and uncirculated versions, and one or two alternate reverses. More to come…”
Liberty’s Legacy rounds, the design of which was unveiled at a ceremony in Oregon on February 25, are also part of the Live Free Project, a collaborative effort involving Ms. Cruze, Ms. Wastweet, and Mr. Marks. Live Free is founded on the belief that “the liberation of individuals from those things, inward and outward, that confine us, as people, and prevent us from being all that we can and should be as free individuals and communities of individuals endowed with liberty.”
Some of the proceeds from the sale of these art medals are used to support humanitarian efforts to overcome oppression and celebrate human freedoms.
According to Mr. Marks, his future plans include rounds on Liberty’s Defense in 2017 and Liberty’s Light in 2018.
 Mintages for each version of Liberty’s beauty:
- Proofs: 340
- Matte Proofs: 75
- Uncirculated Finish: 50
- Liberty’s Beauty/Glory Mule Proofs: 41
- Gold Highlight Pattern #1 Proof: 1
- Gold Highlight Pattern #2 Proof: 1
- Gold highlight (Regular Pattern) Proof: 7
 Liberty’s Legacy rounds were received back from the mint on May 16, and Mr. Marks said orders will begin shipping right away.
Silver Art Rounds Currently Available on eBay