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Belly up to the silver art bar?

When I first started working as a numismatic journalist in 1978, I was assigned to follow the happenings at local clubs.

I followed their activities from their newsletters and at their meetings held at conventions and shows that I was able to attend.

The time was the aftermath of the early 1970s boom in silver art bars. Remember those?

In the late 1960s, the price of silver was freed from Treasury control. A troy ounce surged from the government price of $1.2929 to $2.56 in 1968.

Naturally, this caused a stir, as a doubling in the price of silver would do today.

Companies began to turn out small silver bars to offer to collectors who took an interest in silver.

The first ones were fairly crude poured bars. Sizes had yet to be standardized as bars of 3 troy ounces were common.

As quality improved, the collectors zeroed in on the 1-ounce size and private manufacturers entered a race to see how they could distinguish one issue from another.

The art bar was born.

Collectors flocked to them.

If you look at the pages of Numismatic News in the first few years of the 1970s, the number of advertisements for bars would probably astound you.

Bars evolved into 1-ounce silver medals, though bars never disappeared.

We called the medals rounds so the public would know they were not coins.

Many coin clubs decided to jump on the bandwagon and issue anniversary medals.

The were a lot of 25th anniversaries in those days.

As all popular things, bars and medals had their cycle. Interest fell.

Clubs often did not sell out all of their holdings.

When I began to cover the clubs, one item of business at meetings often concerned what to do about the medals that remained unsold in club hands from just a few years before.

It seems crazy, but it was a problem for them. Little did anyone know that in less than two years, $50 silver would turn anyone with art bars and medals, club or collector, into Nelson Bunker Hunt wannabes.

This history spells opportunity.

While much was melted. Much still survives.

These early one-ounce pieces that are out of favor as something to be systematically collected might just be the ticket for someone to collect today.

I do not ever expect an art bar craze to develop again, but they can be a very cheap way to obtain silver bullion for much less cost over spot price than coins trade for.

You can put together a holding of silver bullion and have fun doing it.

Some early bars are scarce and have premiums, but nothing compared to what prevailed four decades ago.

These are interesting. They are historic. They are precious metal. What more can any collector ask for?

There is even a small group called the International Association of Silver Art Collectors.

Their website can be found at:

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2014 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."