Friday, May 4, 2012

The story that caught my eye on my favorite news aggregator site (zero hedge) has nothing to do with partial truth announcements by some bureau or another.  Instead this story points out that the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund has purged all the PIIGS (Portugal Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain) filth bonds it held, an action they dutifully announced more than a month ago.  The most stagnantly stupid part was that American Hedge Funds were buying them.  Amazing, with that sort of insanity ongoing, there is much bgger trouble in store for our banking system. 

By the way if anyone reading this has never seen zero hedge, they really should check that site every single day. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012


To my viewers I apologize for letting this endeavor lapse.  I will try and drop by regularly in the future. 

For today I give you a simple thought.  It seems many around the world worry about China.  Yet China's entire economy rests on exporting the poorly (or even dangerously) made "stuff" (insert unpleasant term of your own choice here).  Even the Chinese do not buy the "stuff" they make.  How would it be possible for a nation whose entire economic enterprise is based on exporting, to ever become a cause of concern for the countries that receive their exports? 

Just another thought. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Who da Thunk


Greece has been declared in default.  Some ask who is next (my guess is Portugal)?  Some ask how could/did this happen?  I ask what took so long? 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Just a thought

Why does anyone pay any attention to the Dow Jones/Nasdaq/S&P Averages?  With the absolute lack of volume ongoing in the market for months now, any 'large fish' in that fishbowl can offer to buy stuff no one is selling and drive up the market prices.  Alternatively any 'large fish' can sell something that no one will buy and drive the market down. It really is amazng to watch it all in my opinion.  Every logical piece of data screams buy, and the market sells downward.  Every indicator howls sell like the devil has hold of your arse, and the market buys. 

90% Solution

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The 90% Solution

Welcome to the fourth installment of this series examining various types of Silver commercially available for those who have a desire to accumulate a bit of the “Ice Metal”. As always I, the House Martin, am responsible for all content in this entry. The owner, and until recently, rarely, operator of this blog invited me to post my ramblings on silver here. Feel free to enter any questions or comments and I will do my best to answer them. Photos will follow as soon as possible.

Sometimes referred to as “Junk”, properly called the “coin of the realm”, many countries once upon a time minted their coinage out of a mixture of 90% Silver, 10% copper. Today I will examine a couple of these silver options.

To the coin accumulator the importance of these coins is very simple. In the event of any catastrophic event which undermines the confidence/value of paper money silver is an obvious and natural replacement to mediate exchanges. American Silver currency comes in forms that are readily identifiable by all Americans, and of a dependable quality known to most Americans and thus could serve as a medium of exchange in the event of a significant ‘dislocation’ to the economy. The key thing is having some on hand in the event of the need arising.

First, I will not be looking at any silver below the 90% level. While I do own a bit of this true ‘junk’ it is neither my focus, nor all that interesting to collect in my opinion. Furthermore, I will in no way attempt to chronicle all of the options in the 90% range as too many countries have dabbled in 90% coins for various periods of their history. The purpose of this treatise is simply to look at those 90% silver coins produced in significant numbers and in some association with the U.S. Mint. This confines us to basically three countries coinage, and I will be focusing on two of these countries in particular. The United States Mint coined in 90% silver until 1964. In addition the Nation of Panama also used the same source of coin blanks thus minting in 90% silver for generally the same time range. The third country I will only mention is the Philippines which initially minted in 90% silver, but fairly quickly down graded (even before the outbreak of WWI).

American 90% silver coins came in four varieties: the dollar, the half dollar, the quarter dollar, and the dime or tenth dollar. The American nickel was only minted in partial silver for a very brief period in WWII (1942 to 1945) and even then was only 35% silver. I will not go into detail on the American Dollar, Half dollar, Quarter, or Dime as I presume that all of you know what these coins are and have but to generally look at the dates to see if they are from the “Sound Money era”. Speaking of which, if you come into contact with these silver coins they make a VERY different sound when struck against other coins, thus sparking the term “Sound Money” as you can literally here the difference between the coins. I include a few pictures of some of the earlier coins in case you are not familiar with them. In order they are a selection of Half Dollars, and old quarter, and an old dime. They are all presented Obverse than reverse.

The other coinage I will speak about is that of Panama. Panamanian coins are reasonably common in the United States due to our long standing military presence in Panama. Additionally, vessels traveling through the Panama Canal also have led to Panamanian coins being imported to the U.S. In either event looking at most coin operations and ebay will quickly show that there are a reasonable number of the coins of Panama available, and often they can be obtained for less than the comparative American coins.

The coinage of Panama was struck on the same coin blanks as American money. This means that it is of the same size and quality as our own. As a further bonus the Panamanians even went so far as to state directly on their coins the weights and purity of their coins. The only two things to remember are as follows. Which coins are we talking about? And when did they stop minting them in 90% silver?

Generically, the money of Panama is called the Balboa. Coins that equal a portion of a Balboa are referred to by their proportion of a full Balboa. So the ‘decima Balboa’ is 1/10th of a Balboa, or the equal of an American Dime.

The ‘Quarto Balboa’ is 1/4t of a Balboa, or the equal of an American Quarter.

The ‘Medio Balboa’ is ½ of a Balboa, or the equal of an American Half dollar.

And finally a full Balboa is usually referred to as ‘Un Balboa’ and is equal in size to an American Dollar (not pictured).

In Theory, Panama stopped minting in 90% Silver after 1964 just as the United States did. However, the Panamanians seem to have had some left over 90% coin blanks and you can find numismatically tested and graded coins that were minted as late as 1968 and are still 90% silver. However, the accumulator is not looking for oddities as such will always cost a premium and I would recommend sticking with 1964 and prior if you purchase Balboas.

As a final note, all of these coins were minted to the Avopoidal, or 26 gram, ounce instead of the more talked about “troy” ounce which is a smidge over 31 grams. The result is that an American Dollar, or a Panamanian Balboa will weight basically 4/5 of a troy ounce. If you wish to accumulate these by the Troy ounce you need to remember you need 5 quarters to equal one Troy ounce, not the four you might expect.

Next time, the last installment of this series. Fun and Games of Ebay, or “You can’t always get what you want”, but you can probably at least see it on Ebay.

Her Majesty's Monetary Service

On Her Majesty's Monetary Service

Once again the House Martin returns with this Blog owner’s permission (since he has not done a thing with this space in two months, I mean really, 33 posts to the other board and none here in two months) to discus another silver option in the collecting world. Any and all problems should be directed toward the House Martin as I am solely responsible for this entry. Due to some technical difficulties, pictures will follow ASAP. But with Silver starting to spike again on the odd chance that anyone is actually paying attention to this series I figured it is better to get the idea out there and worry about the pictures later.

In the first two installments of this series I examined the worlds of Alternative 99% pure silver sources and Sterling silver produced by private mints for collector purposes. This median installment will examine the world of Sterling Silver minted by governments for monetary circulation purposes. With Silver cresting $40 again recently I feel some urgency to get this series completed.

There are three unique advantages to collecting Sterling Silver used as national coinage. The first advantage is that in this arena you are generally talking about some truly staggering amounts of individual coins that have been made, both in terms of years produced and number of coins minted each year. Large amounts of coins produced means that individual values for a given coin are lower. Second, because these issuances contained large volumes of coins and they were actually used as a medium of exchange, each of the coins received more or less wear and tear. This fact generates a range of ‘quality’ in available specimens. These quality variations result in large gyrations in the actual price of a given coin. A perfect, or “mint” coin will have a much higher value to a coin collector than a heavily circulated coin of the same denomination and year. Yet both coins will have basically the same weight of actual silver so the silver ‘accumulator’ (hoarder is such a negative term) will not care which one they get as the weight is all they see. The third advantage comes in the form of a level of security that only one other silver offers. With these coins you know exactly what you are getting in terms of weight and purity because they are internationally recognized currency units. Furthermore, national governments spent considerable efforts detecting and ferreting out counterfeits, thus most of what remains is very secure. I have tested some of my collection to insure quality level and never found a coin to not meet the quality expected. As a final note on this dependability of quality some of you are probably thinking that the “Phleas” from the first installment of this series are the other dependable source and you would be wrong. While most are very good and the dependability is very good, these coins are not the focus of a government’s anti counterfeiting activity so there is actually no oversight on these coins and counterfeits do circulate. Basically, you are trusting that whomever you buy from was honest, did their do-diligence, and are in turn buying from an honest source.

The Absolute ‘grand daddy’ of all Sterling Silver national coinage is Great Britain. The British did coin the term after all. Sterling has been used for coin purposes by the Brits for centuries. If you want them, you can find sterling minted in the reign of Henry VIII or Elizabeth I, or whatever very dead august personage you like. For ‘accumulator’ purposes it is probably best to stick with the mintings of Victoria and later. This basically means Victoria, her son Edward VII, and Grandson George V. This marks the high water of Britain’s World Spanning empire, and thus the maximum spread of the “coin of the realm”. The internet is literally awash in these coins. They came in many denominations, but all are based on the shilling and include the following: 3 pence(1/4 shilling), 6 pence (1/2 shilling), shilling, florin (2 shillings), half crown (2 ½ shillings), and the crown (5 shillings). There are other Sterling silver British coins (2 pence, 4 pence) but these were special mintings called ‘Maundy Money’ and have generally a very high collector following which drives their price beyond the interest of the standard ‘accumulator’.

The crown weighs in at just over 26 grams and is thus a ‘wee bit heavy’ compared to the ‘dollar’. The half crown at a bit over 13 grams is again a bit oversized to a half dollar.

Here are two Half crowns. The one on the left is Australian, the one on the right is Victorian British.

The Florin weighs in at just over 10.5 grams so three would be a bit more than a troy ounce.

Here are two good condition florins. The one on the left is Edwardian British, the right is Australian.

Here are two not so good condition Florins. Once again Edwardian on the left and Australian on right.
The Shilling, while small is still easy to remember as it weighs 5 ¼ grams, so six are a troy ounce.

Above is the obverse of two shillings. Below is the reverse of the same coins. In both cases the coin on the left is Edward VII and the right is Australian George V.

The six pence weighs in at 2.6 grams and is basically the same as a dime.

Here are two sixpence, both are Victorian British.

The three pence weight 1.3 grams as one would expect based on this system.

Above and below is a George VI Australian Threepence.

Great Britain reduced the silver content of their coins to 50% in 1920. So for the Sterling ‘accumulator’ 1919 marks the end of the Sterling from Britain. In addition to Britain, most of her major former colonies used Sterling in their mints. Canada, if more to your liking, also minted in Sterling until 1919. Even better news comes from Australia, which used almost the exact same system (no half crown) and continued to mint in Sterling until the end of World War II (1945, but if you are reading this and do not know when WWII ended you deserve to buy silver at overvalued price from after the quality down grade) when they down graded to 50% like the mother country. Neighboring New Zealand also used the same terms, but minted in 50% silver at best, so while I like their coins appearance, I do not like their quality. Interestingly, Newfoundland, an independent colony at the time, continued minting in Sterling after 1919. Confusingly, the coins of Newfoundland stopped being Sterling in various years depending on the denomination, but all were downgraded by the end of WWII. My mother (a Canadian by birth) always said “Newfies will be Newfies, and there is no way to explain Newfies!” I have always thought this is the sort of thing she meant.

Fortunately for those who like Sterling Silver, this was not the end of Sterling for national coinage. After many monetary fiascos, Mexico decided in 1992 to issue a “New Peso”. To demonstrate their fiscal resolution to the world (and perhaps generate a bit more confidence in their own public) they decided to mint some of the coins with some Sterling Silver. Beginning in 1992 and carrying on through 1995, three “Bi-metallic” coins appeared the: ten, twenty and fifty peso. All three have a Sterling Silver center core surrounded by a Brass outer ring. The Sterling Silver portion of the 10 peso coin contains 1/6 ounce troy of Sterling. The 20 Peso coin contains ¼ ounce troy Sterling. The 50 peso coin has 2/3 ounce troy Sterling. It is of interest that these are all in troy ounces instead of the more customary, and smaller, avapoidal ounce used in American national coinage. The new 10 and 20 peso bi-metallic designs (without the Sterling cores) were continued after 1995 so an ‘accumulator’ must be careful to avoid the later non Silver coins when purchasing this portion of the Mexican Sterling Silver collection. Fortunately, it is very easy to distinguish the Silver coins from the non silver at a glance. All Sterling Silver coins will have the letter “N” next to the denomination at the top of each coin. This was to signify the “New” Pesos.

Here we have the Obverses of the Three Amigos. The Fifty peso has the "Children heroes of Chapultepec" the teenage boys the Marines fought at the more commonly known "Halls of Montezuma".

Here is the front and back of the Ten Peso.

Here is the front and back of the Twenty Peso.

Here is the front and back of the Fifty Peso.

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mexican independence, Mexico expanded this range by adding 100 peso coins in the same weight as the older 50 peso coins beginning in 2003. This range was issued from 2003 until 2007 and contained a coin for each state in the “United States of Mexico” plus a few anniversary odd balls like “the casa de moneda” (house of money), and the writing of “The man of La Mancha” to name a few. There is no “N: notation on these coins, but then there are no Mexican Bi-Metallic 100 peso coins that do not contain the Sterling Silver so keeping them straight is not difficult. However, other Central and South American countries saw the interest in these coins and made their own 100 peso Bi-Metallic coins. The good news is that none of the knock offs contain any Silver so as long as you stick to Mexico, in the proper range, you have no concerns.

Here is a sampling of the 100 Peso coins. On the Left is the Aguacaliente State coin (it means "Hot Water", somehow appropriate). In the center is the reverse of all the 100 Peso coins. On the right is the 400th Anniversary of "The Man of La Mancha".
The penultimate missive of this set will concern itself with the higher quality members of the rest of the national coinage market -- the 90% crowd. Until then, “ttfn” and remember to ‘boyscout’ for “TEOTWAWKI”.

To Mint ... or Not to Mint

To Mint, ... or not to Mint

That is the question.

The House Martin strikes again.
Pure silver was the topic of the first installment of this series and if that is your interest please refer to it below. As we now move past pure silver it is time to warn you that the term Pure silver is different than 99.999% silver. The definition “Pure Silver” is applied to anything that has more than 92.5% silver content. I own a commemorative coin that contains 94% Silver and its Certificate of Authenticity states that it is Pure Silver. If you want 99.999% silver make sure your item is marked as 99.999%. If you buy something that says “pure silver” only, it is probably not 99.999% (but it will be higher than 92.5%).

Any object made up of 92.5% Silver is designated “Sterling Silver”. The creation of Sterling Silver is lost in antiquity. Copper is the usual 7.5% remaining component, but there are some other choices. There are many stories on how that 92.5% standard emerged, my two favorites are as follows. The first story involves that 92.5% was as pure as ancient technology could achieve/measure, so that became the standard for silver purity. The second story says that 92.5% is the lowest percentage that could not be visually discerned from true pure silver, so it was the minimum that could be gotten away with by minters and became the standard. Naturally, these two stories contradict each other as if the ancients could not achieve higher than 92.5% how could they know what these higher percentages looked like and keeping silver polished to its brightest finish is nigh on to impossible in ancient times. Be these as they may, Sterling quickly caught on for two basic purposes: coinage, and commemoratives. The next installment of this series will detail coinage, here we will focus on commemoratives created by private mints.
If you decide to include Sterling in your silver collection, or even as the focus of your collection (as it is for me), there are a dizzying array of possibilities. The long history of Sterling demonstrates that pretty much as long as people have wanted something that was both pretty and serviceable Silver has been used, and a lot of it is Sterling. I do not collect this stuff for anything except historical memorabilia and do not recommend collecting historical pieces to anyone. There are three main reasons why I strongly recommend not collecting the really old stuff. First, there is no dependable way to know the actual silver content without thorough testing. Second, such extensive testing actually destroys silver and damages the item so conducting the tests is destroying the value of your object. Third, these items are hotly pursued by collectors and they are generally priced more on the collectability rather than their silver content which means they will cost much more than the silver content value.

About 250 years ago silver smiths began hallmarking their creations thus you start finding Sterling items that are dependably Sterling. The spread of this practice led to standardization in the industry and makes collecting much more possible, but still expensive as what survives is collected thus driving up price. Eventually the Silversmiths transformed into private Mints. Today there are a selection of private mints out there (Danbury, Lincoln, and Washington to name a few of the bigger ones), but I prefer what is probably the biggest and best, the Franklin Mint. All of these mints make a variety of items, but each will have certain specialties. For example the Washington Mint makes 5000 grain (just over 10 ounces) ingots in honor of each of the Presidents of the United States. These mints will also take on private commissions for groups or individuals and thus there is even more production. My preference for the Franklin Mint stems from their involvement in several large silver projects that my father collected as well as the simply vast amount of Franklin Mint items out there and available.

There are three basic forms that Sterling Silver issued from private mints take. The first form is their commonly issued series. The second form is their private issued series. The third, and not always available, form is their personal series which was only offered to member collectors.

The most available form of Sterling was the commonly issued collections. These were made in as large a number as they hoped they could sell. These collections offer two vast advantages to the modern silver accumulator. First, there is little collector value as those who wanted a specific coin got them when they were first issued. Second, there were lots of them around so when you find something you like it is easy to add to the collection.

Both the Public and Private collections themselves are vast beyond counting. Whatever you like, there are silver sets to your fancy. Do you like the Monarchs of England? If so, there is a set for you.

Perhaps the American Revolution is more to your interest. Sterling has it covered in abundance as the heyday of these Mints was the 1970’s and the Bicentennial era in America.

For some the allure of international moments is strong, for these there are collections for the U.N. These have the added benefit of usually including a first day Stamp in conjunction with the Silver.

For others, perhaps it is the joy of collecting sets on a yearly basis. Three holidays are the standard of this field (Christmas, Mothers Day and Fathers Day) and something like this Christmas Bar could serve as a standard for your collection.

Still others find some topic in History that they fancy and can enjoy collecting Sterling themed on almost anything. Here are a couple of Locomotive Bars.

These Locomotive Bars serve to point out one danger in this realm of collecting. The Mints almost always issued the Sterling in Two different sizes. Some sellers can be less than forth coming on the size of what they are selling. If the price seems too good to be true, you are probably looking at one of the smaller versions of the item in question.

As a final benefit I would offer that these Mint items come in a variety of sizes and weights. The Franklin Mint offered its regular collectors the tokens below as a small gift for buying a years worth of offerings. They were issued each year starting in 1970 and were free at the time. They started standardized at the size of a quarter (6.5 grams). “Members” received a Sterling Silver round, “Collectors Society Members” received a 24 karat gold electroplated sterling silver round. In 1980 the Mint reduced the size of the coins to that of a dime (2.6 grams), but continued the Sterling and Gold plated Sterling versions. Such rounds of reasonable price, recognized size, and standardized content offer many advantages and a multitude of uses making them one of the very best ways to get into this avenue of silver.

As a final note, before you discount the electroplated gold I would point out to any reader that the weight of the Gold is between .3 and .5 of a gram on the larger coins. At current Gold prices .3 grams of 24 karat gold is worth about $15, or a bit over twice the sterling value of the round itself. On the smaller rounds issued after 1980 the Gold weight is between .1 and .2 grams. This gold would again basically double the value of the Sterling in the token.

Well that takes care of the introduction to Mint Sterling products. Naturally if there are any questions feel free to post them in the comments. Next time I will take a look at the Sterling world of International coinage.