Letter Re: Which Form of Precious Metals?

Dear Sir,
During a discussion with a friend today, we chatted about which format of silver would be most viable as a form of a tangible asset. We discussed the recognized value of Silver American Eagle coins versus”silver rounds”, and found ourselves asking more questions than being able to provide reasonable answers. The conversation was based on my recent decision to convert US currency into silver rounds at a price of $0.90 over spot price (at the time $11.91 per ounce). This was a much lower price than the $3.59 over spot price for Silver American Eagles, so it seemed a logical choice for me at the time but my friend pointed out that the silver round may be questioned by others in TEOTWAWKI times.

To that end, I’m turning to your expertise for input. Can you please provide your comments on the following questions (or other matters as you see fit):

1. Best form of silver [for] investments?
2. Silver bullion versus junk silver–why one versus the other?
3. How can a common person test silver (or even gold) for purity/legitimacy?

God Bless, – Craig from Wisconsin

JWR Replies: As I’ve mentioned before in the blog, I recommend using maintaining two distinct hoards of silver, and that your do not co-mingle them:

A.) The first is your designated “barter” silver stockpile. The barter portion of your silver stockpile should be in small divisible units, ideally pre-1965 circulated “junk” 90% U.S. silver dimes. (Or the country specific equivalent, for our foreign readers.) This “barter” silver should be considered a core holding, and never sold for the sheer sake of profit. If you don’t ever have to use it for barter, then count you blessings and just pass it along to your children or grandchildren so that they will will have something to use for the same purpose. As previously mentioned, if you can afford it, I recommend buying one $1,000 face value bag for each member of your family.

B.) The second is your designated “investment” silver stockpile. The best way to buy this–with the lowest dealer premium per ounce–is serial number-stamped 100 ounce bars, from a well-known maker such as Engelhard, A-Mark, or Johnson-Matthey. This stockpile is designed as a time machine to protect your wealth from one side of an currency crisis to the other. You buy it in current day dollars. After a currency collapse has come and gone, when a new stable currency (hopefully backed by something other than hot air) is issued, then you can convert part or all of your investment silver stockpile into the new currency. Odds are that most if not all of your original purchasing power will be preserved by this method.

The chances of a one-ounce silver round being counterfeited are fairly low, but the chances of 100 ounce bar being faked are statistically significant. So…

  • Buy only from a reputable dealer.
  • Buy only bars minted by a well-known maker such as Engelhard, A-Mark, or Johnson-Matthey
  • Buy only serialized bars.
  • If in doubt, have an assay conducted. This is the norm for 1000-ounce industrial silver bars, but can also be done with serialized 100 ounce bars if they are being offered by a dubious seller. (A local bonded assay company can be located with a web search.) The traditional method is to drill a small diameter hole into one of the bars to insure that you aren’t buying a lead bar that has been silver plated. Then, those drillings are tested using nitric acid and silver chloride.
  • In the unlikely event you don’t have access to an assay company, then at least weigh the bar on a very accurate scale and compare its dimensions (using calipers) with a “known good” bar from the same maker. (There will be minor variations, especially with cast bars, but it is difficult to create a counterfeit bar that will have both the correct weight and dimensions. You can also do an Archimedean water displacement test.

The chance of gold coins being faked is substantially higher than silver coins. Anyone that plans to buy gold coins should get a set of the precision coin calipers made by Fisch Instruments of South Africa. It is also wise to invest in an acid test kit that includes a touchstone.