Bullion in bar form has long been viewed as a convenient way of trading in precious metals. But is it collectible?
That might seem like a foolish question from anyone who lived through the one-ounce silver bar collecting boom of the early 1970s, or who regularly buys one-ounce theme pieces sold by many companies to celebrate births and anniversaries and special events.
Also, bars of gold or silver bullion from sunken shipwrecks like the S.S. Central America are collected as historical artifacts. They change hands in numismatic auctions and in private treaty sales.
So bars certainly have a place as collectible items. The question is how big a place.
I had a recent email from someone who wanted to know about how to properly store 10-ounce bars for the long term. The writer was clearly a collector and was concerned about preserving what he has acquired.
Perhaps I am out of touch, but I have long thought of multiple-ounce bars as something one throws in a safe, safe deposit box or some sort of bonded warehouse as a convenient means of storing wealth in the form of precious metals.
Condition? I had a 100-ounce silver bar that I purchased in 1969 that I sold in 1978 to help keep my finances on an even keel. While I did not store it in a bucket of slop, other than putting it in a safe deposit box, I did not give the idea of preservation any further thought. When I sold it, was bought as so much bullion.
A lot of time has passed since then.
Here we are in the year 2014. Not long after the email from the collector arrived in my inbox, there came an announcement from the Royal Canadian Mint that it is introducing a new 10-ounce silver bar.
This new bar is .9999 fine, has a reeded edge and is serially numbered. It is struck like a coin rather than cast in a mold.
The design of the bar is generic, but it looks great. There are numerous Maple Leaf symbols of the mint on the reverse and a seal-like design on the obverse.
As is the purpose of all bars, it is to be traded as a convenient means of holding bullion, but it has a special finish that the RCM calls its “signature bullion finish.”
How should it be stored?
Does a bar like this need a special holder?
Will value in the future be higher for bars preserved in holders versus those that were simply stored somewhere as I stored my bar so long ago?
If large bars become widely collected as one-ounce bars did, will we see proof surfaces, matte surfaces, regular uncirculated surfaces used to differentiate pricing? Will bars be graded by how well struck they are and by points of wear?
All of this could happen or none of it depending on how widespread such differentiation becomes.
Obviously, if you set my old cast bar next to a more modern bar you will appreciate how much improved production methods have become in the last half century.
In the bullion booms that followed the early 1970s, most of the one-ounce bars simply were valued by the quantity of silver they represented and thrown into the melting pot, though some scarce pieces have come down through the years with premium values. It will be interesting to see how a potential collector angle will develop.
By the way, I did Google bar holders to see that there are hard plastic holders for certain bars. That is certainly a step down the road of collectibility.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2013 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."