Economics & Investing For Preppers

In place of my usual Monday Economics & Investing fare, I’m re-posting some information that dates back to the early days of SurvivalBlog: October of 2005.  I thought that updating and reposting this post would be particularly apropos, since I recently switched to pricing my Elk Creek Company inventory to Pre-1965 silver coin terms.

On Gold, Silver, and Barter

I am often asked in e-mails about gold and silver coins and their value, both in the present day and their eventual worth (post-TEOTWAWKI) for barter purposes.

The basic unit of measure for most of us that are in preparedness circles is the $1,000 face value bag of circulated U.S. silver coinage, minted in or before 1964. (Some folks mistakenly call these coins “Pre-’64”, but properly they should be termed “Pre-’65.”)

1964 was the last year that 90% silver coins were minted for circulation in the U.S. All of the dimes and quarters minted from 1965 onward are “clad” copper pieces–a sandwiched token that is mainly copper and merely flashed with silver. The government has the audacity to still refer to the new currency as “money” and “dollars”, when they are nothing of the sort. Just look at the edge of one of the modern “coins” in your pocket. We’ve been robbed, ladies and gents!

The 90% silver dimes and quarters coins were almost all gleaned out of circulation by about 1967. Finding one these in your pocket change these days is a rarity and cause for celebration. (Usually inadvertently in circulation because a child raided the wrong piggy bank and spent the coins in ignorance.) The Kennedy half dollar coin continued to be minted with just 40% silver content from 1965 to 1970. After that, Uncle Sugar dropped all pretense of issuing real coinage for circulation.

A $1,000 silver bag weighs about 55 pounds and is roughly the size of a bowling ball. The coins used for this purpose are typically well-worn and hence have little or no numismatic (collector’s) value. Hence, they are often derisively called “junk silver” bags by coin dealers and collectors. Dimes, quarters, and half dollars all have the same ratio of silver content per dollar of face value. Silver dollars have a bit more silver content per dollar, so they sell at a premium. (See below.) Because of the weight of silver bags insured shipping is problematic. So it is advisable to buy locally, but definitely shop around for the best price! If you don’t have any nearby coins shop and don’t mind paying for the freight, contact the folks at Gainesville Coins, APMEX, or Swiss America Trading. All three of them are very reputable companies.

Precious Metals, By The Numbers

Here are some basic figures on U.S. silver coinage that you should keep tucked away, both on a USB memory stick and in hard copy:

Silver dollar bags ($1,000 face value) contain approximately 765 Troy ounces of silver

90% .50/.25/.10 bags ($1,000 face value) contain approximately 715 Troy ounces of silver. (Thus, if the day’s “spot” market price is $27.53 per ounce, then a $1,000 face value bag of pre-1965 mint date quarters would be worth $19,683, wholesale. Or just think of it 19.68 times the face value of any single coin. Hence, a “junk” silver quarter is presently worth about $4.90, wholesale.) Retail prices typically run 12% to 15% over wholesale on small quantities and as little as 10% when you buy a full bag or multiple bags. But it all depends on where you buy, since some dealers provide for most of their profit when they buy, while others do when they sell.

40% half dollar bags ($1,000 face value) contain approximately 296 Troy ounces of silver. (These were the 40% silver Kennedy half dollars minted between 1965 and 1970.)

Adjusted for inflation, the price of silver is still near its historic low. Spot silver was as high as $45 an ounce as recently as 1979. That equates to 32 times face value. Adjusted for inflation, $45 in 1979 paper dollars would be $178, today! I consider silver at anywhere under $30 per Troy ounce a bargain.

Conversion Formulas:

Grams to pennyweights, multiply grams by .643
Pennyweights to grams, multiply pennyweights by 1.555
Grams to troy ounces, multiply grams by 0.32
Troy ounces to grams, multiply troy ounces by 31.103
Pennyweights to troy ounces, divide pennyweights by 20
Troy ounces to pennyweights, multiply troy ounces by 20
Grains to grams, multiply grains by .0648
Grams to grains, multiply grams by 15.432
Pennyweights to grains, multiply pennyweights by 24
Avoirdupois ounces to troy ounces, multiply avoirdupois ounces by .912
Troy ounces to avoirdupois ounces, multiply troy ounces by 1.097
Avoirdupois ounces to grams, multiply avoirdupois ounces by 28.35
Grams to Avoirdupois ounces, multiply grams by .035

Purity Standards (by Karat):

24 K = 99.9% fine Pure Gold. Too weak for jewelry, but ideal for industrial use
23.5K = 97.92% fine
23 K = 95.83% fine
22.5K = 93.75% fine
22 K = 92.67% fine Some coin gold, though not that of the U.S., is 22K
21.6K = 90.00% fine The approximate purity of U.S. gold coins
21.5K = 89.58% fine
21 K = 87.50% fine
20.5K = 85.42% fine
20 K = 83.33% fine
19.5K = 81.25% fine
19 K = 79.17% fine
18.5K = 77.08% fine
18 K = 75.00% fine The highest grade of gold normally used in jewelry.
17.5K = 72.92% fine
17 K = 70.83% fine
16.5K = 68.75% fine
16 K = 66.67% fine 1/3 copper. This grade is commonly used in dental work.
15.5K = 64.58% fine
15 K = 62.50% fine
14.5K = 60.42% fine
14 K = 58.33% fine
13.5K = 56.25% fine
13 K = 54.17% fine
12.5K = 52.08% fine
12 K = 50.00% fine Half gold, half copper. Used extensively in low priced jewelry. (Will show brownish tinge in reaction to Nitric Acid.)
11.5K = 47.92% fine The percentage of copper now exceeds that of gold.
11 K = 45.83% fine
10.5K = 43.75% fine
10 K = 41.67% fine Used in some low-grade jewelry such as class rings. Shows a marked reaction to Nitric Acid.
9.5 K = 39.58% fine
9 K = 37.50% fine Not much more than one-third gold.

Silver Purity Standards:

.9999 fine “Pure Silver”
.9584 fine “Britannia Silver”–Often used in manufacturing.
.9250 fine “Sterling Silver” Normally stamped “Sterling” or “.925”
.9000 fine “Coin Silver” Some antique items are marked “Dollar”, “D”,”.900″, or “Coin Silver” to indicate they were made from melted coins.
“German Silver” is +/- 97% base metal and only +/- 3% silver, and thus has no bullion value.

As I’ve stated in previous SurvivalBlog posts, I consider pre-1965 silver dimes the best coins to keep on hand for barter. They are a small enough increment of purchasing value that they will be practical for buying things such as cans of beans or loaves of bread. I do not recommend gold coins for barter because they are too compact a form of wealth. Aside from resorting to a cold chisel, if you use them in barter you will likely end up on the losing side of the transaction.

The value that silver coins will bring you in barter will depend on the times. Immediately after a collapse, I predict that silver coins may not be worth much at all in barter. But as law and order is gradually restored, they will probably be worth more and more. The bottom line is the old legal maxim: “The value of a thing is what that thing will bring.” – JWR