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Copper, an alternative to silver?

Copper is a reddish industrial metal that has gone through the roof in price in recent years due to high demand from China.

Collectors often note the value of the metal in the old 95-percent copper cents that ceased being struck in 1982.

With copper at $4.27 a pound, the metallic value of the old cents is 2.82 cents, or nearly three times face value. It is, however, illegal to melt or export them, so is there a better way to invest in copper?

Walking down the aisles of the recent American Numismatic Association convention in Sacramento, Calif., I stopped by the table of Provident Precious Metals of Lavon, Texas.

In addition to the expected array of gold and silver items that coin collectors are long used to seeing, the cases also contained various copper bars and rounds.

I was told that they were of growing interest among the public who feel priced out of the gold and silver market.

That’s probably not a good reason to buy copper, but human nature being what it is, it at least seems plausible.

A one-pound bar was $9 the day I stopped by the table. It's cheap. It’s fast. You can put it in your pocket and walk away.

Now I know somebody will dispute my use of the term “cheap.” They will correctly ask that if copper is trading on the exchanges for $4.27, how can $9 be cheap?

But there is a logical difference between saying something is cheap and something is good value.

Is paying more than double the exchange price of the metal good value? That’s the question buyers will have to ask themselves.

To get the exchange prices you have to deal in contracts for 25,000 pounds.

That’s a lot of copper.

It also takes big bucks to do this even if margin is just 10 percent.

That puts us back to the little guy factor.

Is putting away a one-pound bar of copper now and again a reasonable investment or hedge against the future? That's the ultimate question buyers must ask themselves.

While they are thinking about it, they might focus on the Morgan dollar head that is stamped on it. It is eye-catching and you can always use the flat bar for a paperweight whatever your investment opinion might be.