Thursday, March 8, 2012

Silver by any other name

Silver By Any Other Name ...

I am bringing these over from the High Frequency Traitor Site since that may be dying any time now. 

For those of you who are interested in setting aside some silver there are a multitude of opportunities and options out there. The classic system centers around the various one ounce rounds of pure silver (Eagles, maple leafs, and philharmonics being the most common). However, this is certainly not the only option and I would argue not necessarily the best option.

The “Philly-Leaf-Eagle” forms of Silver (here after refered to as “Phleas”) have several problems in my view. First, they usually come with some sort of fee over and above the actual price of the silver resulting in the collector having to pay more than the “official” price for what they are buying. I do not know about you, but it would irritate me to have to pay $6 for one of those infamous “$5 mildly warm and not ready” pizzas. Second, because of the common knowledge of the basically instantaneously updated price of silver and the previously mentioned fees there is absolutely no possibility of ever scoring a deal when buying pure silver unless you get insanely lucky on Ebay. Finally, while these bulk coins are certainly pretty and well executed and there is a ‘charm’ to having a hoard of the same thing (dreams of the Demi Moore bed scene from Indecent Proposal), They really are rather boring when you think about them as a collectible item, especially once you know about the options.

So what are these options you
might ask? There are three commonly available alternatives to the ‘Phleas’ crowd: Casino Silver Strikes, The vast world of Sterling Silver, and weird world of high quality national coinage (usually centered around the U.S. Mint). Each of these options has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. There are certainly other forms of silver available, but these three offer all the strengths of the Phleas, none of their weaknesses, and a unique strength all there own. As a final note about purchasing silver, the last great opportunity to collect silver, and especially to get a deal on the collecting is on Ebay. It usually works out that your pay about the going rate, but if you watch what you are doing, and stick to your price, you can still get great deals on silver through the online auction service. The remainder of this article will focus on Casino Silver strikes. Future articles will discuss the other two options and navigating Ebay.

A $1 token from the Pioneer Casino dated 1980.

A history of the Casino usage of Silver is a rather simple story but does stretch back several decades. Back in the 60’s some Vegas Casinos launched a promotion where they made poker chips out of silver and then awarded them in various automated games. These chips had a stated value printed on them ($7) and could be cashed in for that value. Since the value was considerably higher than the value of the silver used in the chip most patrons cashed in the “Silver Strikes” as they were called, when they closed their gambling stay. These early coins were made out of Sterling Silver and were made in the shape of a poker chip. However, these early examples are fairly rare and the people who collect the casino coins tend to drive the price up to such a degree that it is hard to find them for less than the mid 30 dollar range. The most important points for this article are that the two basic concepts of the Casino Strike were set in this early period: the weight (about 2/3 of an ounce of silver per coin), and the promotional nature ensured that the printed value was notably higher than the nominal value of the silver in the chip, thus the vast majority stayed in Casino hands. Inherent value (silver content) combined with limited supply equals instant collectability. This process was disrupted by Nixon’s ending of the gold standard and the Hunt brothers shenanigans in the 70’s. Both of which led to some rather dubious $1 “Gaming Tokens” in the early 80’. But after the silver collapse of the early eighties, Casinos revived the practice, this time in pure silver, and with a large brass ring surrounding the silver making an even larger and more impressive appearing chip.

From Left the $1, $7, $10, & $20 Strikes.


What followed was four basic forms of these Casino Silver Strikes. The first and by far the most common was the $10 Silver strike. They were handed out in Slot Machines as a special winner promotion. These coins were available anywhere you found slot machines and were made in very large numbers for all casinos and slot machine operators. These $10 Strikes have the now standard inner pure silver disc surrounded by an outer brass ring and have the casino logo on one side and some decoration on the other. Next came the much rarer $7 Strikes which were throw backs to the originals with the all Silver coin, still weighing about 2/3 of an ounce, but now made of pure silver. In the 90’s two more forms appeared, the $20 and the $40 Silver strikes. These are larger in size and weight, made out of pure silver with a Heavy Gold Electroplate (5 microns thick YIPPEEE!) over the central designs. The effect sort of reverses the standard look of a Silver Strike.

A $7 silver strike dated 1995 from Riverside Casino.

My collection contains mainly the $10 Strikes, but I do have a few of the later $7 and $20 strikes as well. I do not collect the early sterling Strikes as there are much more effective ways of obtaining Sterling Silver. And I do not collect the $40 Strikes as the principle difference involves the amount of area that gets the Heavy Gold Electroplate and I do not feel that this justifies the doubled cost from the $20 Strikes. The $7 strikes are generally more expensive than the $10 strikes because there were significantly less of them made. While the $20 strikes also were made in lesser numbers they do not get the heavy attention of collectors and thus some excellent buys are possible, but as always you have to watch.

A $10 Strike from Riverside Casino dated 1995.

The Strengths of the Casino Strikes are that you can generally get them at less than actual silver weight value. At $30 an ounce for pure silver, 2/3 of an ounce would be $20. Back in February when Silver was $30 an ounce I could buy Silver strikes for about $15-$18, postage included. Now they range in at between $20 and $25, but you can still get them for less if you work at looking. The second advantage these Strikes offer involves their design. One side will have the Casino issuing them, the other will have some sort of decoration. Usually these decorated sides were done in themes and a series of strikes issued each year. This allows the collector to not only accumulate ounces of pure Silver, but also allows various themed art work to be collected as well. The third advantage involves dependability. The Casino world is a cut throat business if any casino released less quality silver than they advertised the competing Casinos would make sure this information reached the public thus hurting the rival business.

A $20 Strike from the Pioneer Casino.

Next time we will examine the world of Sterling Silver with special consideration of private mint collections. Future missives will examine Sterling Silver governmental coinage, The 90% governmental coinage, oft termed “Junk coins, and finally the “joys” of finding things on ebay.

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