Striking gold, platinum, and silver bullion coins has become big business for several world mints, especially South Africa, Austria and Canada, as well as the United States. They are legal tender with a denomination stated on the coin. Since each coin contains substantially more bullion value than the stated denomination, nobody would spend them at face value.
Bullion coins are struck on nearly pure metal, at least .999 fine in most cases. The Royal Canadian Mint made a big splash by going to “four nines” or .9999. The difference between three or four nines is microscopic, but it was a good marketing ploy and other mints have followed suit. Even the hucksters tout their gold plated tokens as having .9999 fine plating. Silver Eagle coins come only in the $1 denomination and are larger in diameter than the old silver dollars. The silver is 0.9993 fine.
Gold values have shot up dramatically, which puts the $50 gold bullion coins (1 ounce) out of the reach of many collectors and even many investors, who have been flocking to gold as an inflation hedge. However, there also are 1/10 ($5), 1/4 ($10) and 1/2 ounce ($25) gold bullion coins. All four are 0.9167 fine. The gold and silver Eagle coins were first produced in 1986 and the platinum bullion coins were first struck in 1997.
The Bison bullion coinage began with the 2008-W $5, $10 and $25. The $50 gold series began in 2006, again at West Point. This series has the Indian facing right, with the buffalo facing left.
The First Spouse coins, honoring the wives of the Presidents are $10 gold bullion with a half ounce of gold, struck at West Point. This is one of two weights for the $10 gold bullion coins. The original Eagles (1838-1933) contained slightly less than half an ounce. The current American Eagle and Buffalo coins contain a quarter of an ounce. The old $10 fineness was also used for commemoratives in 1984 and 2003.
The big fad of the 1970s was the collecting of silver art bars and rounds. Most contained an ounce of silver, with a few multiples. At least one large catalog was produced listing most of the existing bars and rounds. The bars had a multitude of different designs, hence the art bar label. When silver shot to $52 an ounce in 1980, many of the bars and rounds headed for the smelter. The multitude of private mints disappeared right along with the silver.
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