Old silver bars might be collectible

November 1, 2018

Pat Heller

 

Perhaps the dream of every numismatist and precious metals investor is the opportunity to purchase something at face value or a bullion-related price that can later be sold at a collector premium.

Such instances occur more often than most people realize. In some instances, once information about low mintages becomes known, there tends to be a surge in buying interest.

For example, when the U.S. Mint released tentative mintage figures in early 1986 for the 1980-1984 one-ounce and half-ounce American Arts Gold Medallions, they revealed that the 1983 half ounce (featuring Alexander Calder) and the 1984 half ounce (John Steinbeck) and one ounce (Helen Hayes) had quite low mintages.

When you adjust the Calder mintage for the fact that distributor J. Aron & Company melted probably more than 75 percent of it (our research indicates that more than 80 percent were likely recycled), collector interest soared. With the spot price of gold at the time in the mid-$300s, soon the Calders and Steinbecks retailed for as much as $625 and the Hayes for more than $1,000.

Some of the early China gold and silver Pandas now trade at several multiples of their original bullion-related prices.

Or, after the U.S. Mint announced mintages for the 1996 Olympics gold $5 commemoratives, it turned out that the 1996-W uncirculated Flag Bearer and Cauldron issues each had mintages below 10,000. From selling in the low $200s, these coins eventually topped $2,000 apiece at the peak.

More recently, the U.S. Mint’s release of the 2018 proof palladium one-ounce Eagle, with a limited mintage announced beforehand, led to a quick sellout. The Mint sold them for $1,387.50, which was over a 35 percent premium to metal value at the time. Still, prices quickly soared in the aftermarket. Close to the peak, my company paid $2,100 to a retail customer.

Once constant with these “sudden rarities” is that prices soared, then most came down a little or a lot. Obviously, the trick to finding a hidden bargain at bullion prices or face value is to acquire them before the general collector market finds out just how rare such pieces are. You have to be ahead of the curve of research being published.

One intriguing area of collectible bullion today is in the older silver bars and ingots produced by Engelhard and Johnson Matthey, either under their own brands or that they fabricated for others.

The folks behind the website at www.allengelhard.com are digging up ever more research as to quantities of different bars that were produced and some estimates of how many may still be extant. In their column over the weekend, they report some recent eBay sales of silver bars going for as much as more than $300 per ounce!

If you own some bullion products that you are considering selling, it might make sense for you to do a bit of research to see if the date or the style may have transformed what you have into a collectible.

I heard from several readers in response to my column last week about the Oct. 17 U.S. Mint Numismatic Forum. There were several good comments and questions, including some beyond my level of knowledge. All such emails were appreciated.

One reader brought up the problem of storing the relatively bulky packaging for U.S. commemoratives and special editions of bullion-related products. The packaging takes up a lot of space in a safe or safe deposit box, so collectors face the prospect of storing only the coins in a secure place with the packaging stored elsewhere or being discarded.

A point I didn’t include last week was that an attendee suggested that the Mint look at modifying the inserts in such products so that it could be turned upside down to house the coin once it had been certified. Supposedly, the Perth Mint already does this with some issues. That would make it possible for collectors who desire certified coins to be able to keep the original box, capsule, and certificate together with the coin.

There were also several inquiries as to whether the U.S. Mint could issue new coins of denominations and types it had issued in the past. Most of the suggestions asked about issues from the late 1700s to early 1900s (such as were issued in gold in 2016 for the Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter, and Walking Liberty half dollar), but one also asked about fractional-size gold Buffaloes that were only struck in 2008.

Another point brought up at the forum is that the Mint technically can change circulating coin designs on its own initiative once the existing designs have come out for 25 years. However, as a practical matter, this will never occur. Should the Mint try to do so, there would be strong negative blowback from Congress over the Mint usurping the traditional process of creating coin designs. Since the Mint cooperates with Congress in coin design legislation for commemoratives and other non-circulating issues, there is no incentive to upset the relationship.

While the Mint is looking into the possibility of accepting pre-orders from the companies that participate in the bulk sales program, could it also do the same for collectors who may have difficulty trying to get through on the phone or website right at noon on the day of a new release? Or do Mint officials think that its subscription programs cover this option?

I also received a comment that someone had difficulties receiving a U.S. Mint package shipped by UPS, so would it be possible to request alternate delivery? It may be (I just don’t know) that these products are being shipped out of a dedicated UPS warehouse located adjacent to a major UPS transshipment airport. If so, such flexibility might be difficult to consider. All such emails were appreciated.

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