Skip to main content

Coin Clinic: The ‘Big Three’ Certification Services

What sets the so-called “Big Three” certification services apart from the other similar services?

Each of the companies that are well-accepted as being standards of the business of coins has made their grading standards public. Each of these services is also well-funded and can afford to advertise aggressively. Some of the lesser services offer satisfactory work, however, there are also some services that ignore problems including cleaning and environmental damage to coins.

Can you help me? I have some old silver bars from the ’70s. Here are the mint names on some of them: Patrick Mint from San Francisco, U.S. Silver Corporation, Mother Lode Mint, and Foster Mint from Walla Walla in Washington.

Each of these are privately owned mints with no association to the U.S. Mint. The Patrick Mint produces 0.999 fine one troy ounce silver ingots. U.S. Silver Corporation owns the assets of Coeur Silver Valley. Mother Lode Mint produces silver and brass ingot art bars. Various size silver art bars are sold by the Foster Mint. While each of these producers may sell their products at a premium value, anticipate re-selling these ingots for their intrinsic value. 

How can I tell if the silver art bar I purchase from a private mint is genuine?

If you purchase the ingot directly from that mint, unless the company is a fraud, you should be getting what you paid for. If you purchase such an ingot on the secondary market, ensure you know the party from whom you are purchasing that item since there are many fakes. Hopefully, someone with whom you regularly do business has been careful to screen out fraudulent ingots.

Would a fake silver ingot necessarily weigh the correct amount?

Fake silver ingots are typically plated in silver, with an underlying base metal content. It depends on the base metal used if it will be equal in weight to silver while still satisfying the anticipated size of the ingot (or coin).

I’ve heard the rumor that there may be 1964 Peace dollars in private hands. If this is true why would someone be secretive about it?

It has been documented that the Denver Mint struck 316,076 1964-dated Peace dollars intended for use by the casino industry. None of the coins had been officially delivered when President Lyndon B. Johnson stopped their production and ordered all to be melted. For that reason, any of these coins found in private hands would be subject to confiscation by the Secret Service.

E-mail inquiries only. Do not send letters in the mail. Send to Because of space limitations, we are unable to publish all questions.