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The Coin Analyst – What’s the Best Way to Invest in Silver?

By Louis Golino for CoinWeek …..
I often hear newer coin collectors and silver investors ask what is the best way to buy silver. There are certainly many ways to accumulate, or as some people put it, stack silver, in the physical form.

For those looking to acquire physical silver, I think one has to begin with some basic questions about objectives.

If your goal is to put aside as much silver as you can afford, your best bets are either low-premium bars, or what is called “junk silver”, which refers to 90% silver U.S. dimes, quarters, and half dollars made in 1964 and before. Half dollars sell for a small premium over the smaller coins.

If the monetary system ever does fully collapse, it could be quite useful to have smaller silver coins as a means of barter since it is hard to make change for a large silver bar.

Bars have the advantage of being easier to stack and store than a bunch of coins. I would not pay extra for a premium bar, so look for the lowest-cost bars that you can find. When it comes time to sell them, you are likely to get the same price for all bars unless they are very special ones with collector value such as items that were recovered from shipwrecks.

90% silver is very popular because it sells for the lowest premium over melt of any form of physical silver. In the past, dealers were able to acquire these coins at substantially below melt value and they would sell them to refiners for a profit.

But today these coins generally sell, even on the wholesale market, for a small mark-up over metal content. If you hold those coins until silver rises by say $10 an ounce, you can sell them for a profit and not lose a chunk of your initial outlay to premiums that disappear at the time of sale.

For those who prefer purer silver in one-ounce coin form, there are many options.

The most popular is of course American silver eagles, of which almost 40 million were sold last year. So far this year, sales of these coins are running below last year’s levels for this point in the year.

One would think buyers would be taking advantage of lower silver prices.

But the volatility of silver prices in the past year has been unusually high, and I think that has scared some people away. In addition, investors have a tendency to chase higher prices rather than buying on the dips. That is especially true of newer investors.

American silver eagles are guaranteed by the U.S. government and can be very easily bought and sold. In addition, the premiums they sell for over melt, which vary over time and by seller, have come down in recent years.

It is hard to say precisely why premiums are usually lower today than in the past, but in my view, two factors best explain this situation. One is dealer inventory levels and the supply of silver eagles on the market, which is pretty solid these days, and the other is increased competition, as more companies get into the bullion business. I would try to deal with established dealers with a solid track record.

Another way to buy silver eagles is to acquire the Proof version, which sells for a premium over silver content.

Some people find that price high, but it is actually quite reasonable if compared to the premium which collectors paid for many of the earlier issues when silver was worth much less. Last year when silver made a run to $50, Proof coins were trading for $100.

Moreover, as a recent analysis in Numismaster by Patrick Heller found, Proof Silver Eagles are one of the best-performing numismatic coins of recent years. Besides, they are the only numismatic coins, besides Proof American Eagles made of gold, which can be held in an IRA, or Individual Retirement Account, which has increased demand for the coins.

Foreign silver coins are gaining in popularity. Several years ago (for one year only in 2008, I believe) the most widely sold silver coin in the world was not the silver eagle but the Austrian Philharmonic, which is also made in various sizes in gold.

Maple Leafs from Canada, which are made in silver, gold, and platinum, are also very popular. They tend to sell for a slightly lower premium over melt than eagles and bring close to the same amount as eagles if you sell them to a dealer.

One advantage for those willing to do some homework is that Maple Leafs in the past were made in much smaller numbers than eagles. Whereas Silver Eagles have always been minted in the tens of millions, in the last couple of years only a few million Maple Leafs were sold per year. In fact, there are some with mintages of only a couple hundred thousand that sell for a premium.

If you are looking to acquire pure silver coins at a reasonable premium over the metal content and want the additional potential payoff of low mintages, you have several choices.

Some of the coins with the greatest long-term potential are the Canadian Wildlife series that started with the 2011 wolf coin and have a mintage limited to one million coins per issue. Since the release of the wolves, coins have been issued that depict grizzly bears, cougars, and moose with two more releases planned for the series. If purchased within the first couple of months of their release, these coins can generally be purchased for about the same premium as more common silver coins.

But over time, as the coins sell out at the Royal Canadian Mint and then at bullion dealers, premiums rise. Today, for example, silver wolves sell for more, but if purchased when they were new, the coins were available for a small premium over silver content. The wolves are also a very compelling design, which makes them popular with buyers.

Finally, the best coins in terms of price track record over time are Chinese silver Pandas, which I discussed recently and silver Lunar coins issued by the Perth Mint in Western Australia.

As silver blogger Bullion Barron has written, an analysis of the price performance of bullion Lunar coins compared to numismatic versions of the same coins shows that the bullion coins performed better over time.

The only problem with bullion Lunar coins is that some of them become so popular so quickly that it can be difficult to purchase them for a reasonable premium, especially outside of Australia. And prices in those cases may decline later, though they may rise to new levels over time.

But those are the exception, as coins depicting other Lunar animals and the Dragons from 2000 have continued to perform well.

Also worth considering are the very popular Perth lines of silver Kookaburras and Koalas. Personally, I prefer the Kookaburras, or “Kooks”, which have a much longer track record having been first issued in 1990. And with a mintage limited to half a million per issue, the Kooks have increased in price beyond their melt value, but not to the same extent as Chinese Pandas or bullion Lunar coins. Since none of them is very hard to find, one can collect a full date set of attractive Kooks for a reasonable price.

Finally, Mexican Silver Libertads, which feature an image of winged Victoria from the Mexican Independence Victory Column, are issued in many sizes and in gold, are hard to find, and are made in small numbers. Britannias from the United Kingdom, which feature different depictions of the quintessentially British symbol, are also lower mintage coins with a solid track record. Some Britannias and Libertads have mintages below 100,000, and both are great coins for building a date set.

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Lou GolinoLouis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer, specializing primarily in modern U.S. and world coins. His work has appeared in CoinWeek since 2011. He also currently writes regular features for Coin World, The Numismatist, and CoinUpdate.com, and has been published in Numismatic News, COINage, and FUNTopics, among other coin publications. He has also been widely published on international political, military, and economic issues.

His columnThe Coin Analyst, special to CoinWeek, won the 2021 Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) Award for Best Numismatic Column: United States Coins – Modern. In 2015, “The Coin Analyst” received an NLG award for Best Website Column. In 2017, he received an NLG award for Best Article in a Non-Numismatic Publication with his piece, “Liberty Centennial Designs”.

In October 2018, he received a literary award from the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN) for his 2017 article, “Lady Liberty: America’s Enduring Numismatic Motif” that appeared in The Clarion.

Australian Silver Coins Currently Available on eBay


Louis Golino
Louis Golino
Louis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern U.S. and world coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern numismatic issues and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s (NLG) award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst.” He is also a contributor to Coin World, where he wrote a bimonthly feature and weekly blog, and The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s (ANA) monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins. He is also a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum sponsored by Modern Coin Mart. He previously served as a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and as a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s when he began writing op-ed articles and news analyses.

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  1. “Whereas silver eagles have always been minted in the tens of millions…”

    For 19 out of 26 years, bullion silver eagles have had a mintage of less than 10 million.

  2. A lot of wrong facts in this article, especially when it comes to mintage numbers of Philharmonics, Maples, Britannia and Libertads.

    Also be aware of buying Kooks, and Lunar II coins. The premium is very high although it is right that their performance tops the silver performance, but be aware: If you SELL those coins in higher quantity I tell you you wont find a dealer who is willing to pay a high premium for the coins …

    • Stephan,
      You are entitled to your opinion, but not to your own facts. Any references to mintages here are backed by multiple sources. If you want to challenge me, state which one you think is wrong, what you think the correct info. is, etc.

  3. The premium on 90% silver is very high, I find it is actually cheaper to buy .999 fine silver. The canadian 80% silver coins can be purchased for below melt value.

  4. i am poorer in a scence i cant afford 90% silver by the time i save that money its spent so i buy cheap 40% i can buy now with little money down or am i waisting my time in a rich mans game

    • Cabby, I’m in the same boat you are. Take a look at “coin roll hunting” on you tube. As long as you can find a bank or casino that will not charge you for counting your coin, there is no over head. It works best if you have a lot of time on your hands and access to a large number of banks. In less than a year, I’ve acquired over 40 ounces of 90% silver coin.

      • Mike,
        I’m curious if you have ever had luck with rolls obtained at banks in larger urban areas and cities. From what I have heard people who have found silver coins in these rolls generally went to banks in smaller cities and towns and more rural areas. Is that your experience?

    • I know what you mean, but bear in mind that 40% silver can be hard to sell. Try getting small quantities of 90% or .999 fine when silver dips in price. You can buy a $10 face value bag of 90%, or a 5 ounce .999 bar for a dollar or less an ounce over spot.

  5. Hi Lewis. Nice article. Would you be a bit more specific on the Numismaster article by Patric Heller ? I’d like to read it. Thanks.

  6. im able to get morgans or peace dollars all day in very nice shape for $25-would you consider this a good way to keep going? thats LESS than spot price-its from a friend who has tons of them

    • If those dollars are genuine, they sound like a bargain. I suggest exploring ways to test them for metal content, just in case. Your friend may appreciate the confirmation as well.

  7. I’ve read a bit on eBay fakes, namely silver rounds, and remain cautious buying them. I’ve purchased SilverTowne bullion, but directly from SilverTowne. Otherwise I like slabbed bullion rounds, purchased as close to spot and shipping as i can get. i can sleep with it, especailly with all the Chinese fakes out there. Enjoyed reading this article very much!

  8. Good Article.
    I was born during the Kennedy Presidency and I remember the economic times when areas were setup in malls specifically to buy silver and gold. My Dad got me interested in collecting coins as a child in the early 60’s and I still do to this day. Collections constantly change and or get sold only to get built up again.
    I switched to being a bullion stacker years ago, though I do own a few high end slabbed constitutional coins only for nostalgic reasons as I haveseen and owned so many in my lifetime. I should point out back in the late 70’s, dealers considered your constitutional silver as junk and offered far below spot value unless they were very high end pieces. Most places would not take your “junk” silver and if they did payment was fractional because they then had to pay to ship it and have it refined to sell on the global commodities exchange. That was actually when constitutional coinage became known as “junk” silver.
    I have slowed buying anything lately, due to people buying up bullion and then marking it up at even a higher premium. Why would I buy something at twice or even more it’s value, because you know what you will get when you sell it? It’s worth.
    You know what they say; Be it 1963 or 2016 a chicken is still worth a chicken, it is the dollar that is worth less.

  9. To “stack” toward using silver for barter, it may be a good idea to figure out what folks who are not collectors will recognize. I bet they recognize Morgan dollars and Mercury dimes, and once they are interested, will be happy to learn about somewhat lesser-known coins (like, the 1964 USA-minted coins and earlier being 90% silver, which I think few folks know).

    One may also be prepared to chat about “foreign” coins of countries the USA likes (Canada, Mexico, Britain, etc.) but possibly not coins of the enemy of the week (name one).

    Think about themes. I live in the Southwest USA and think folks will be interested in silver rounds that depict Mexican themes (like the complex “Aztec Calendar” rounds); “coins” with dinosaurs (the Apmex Rt 66 New Mexico [and TX, AZ, CA, etc.] “rounds”); and also possibly anything with Space topics, like Apollo 11. What would be popular in your area? Bears? Pirate ships? Stop and think, it might be surprising.


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