Thursday, March 8, 2012

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”.

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