Editor's note: this is the final piece of an article about the rise
of silver bullion coins. The complete story originally appeared in
the July issue of Coin World.
Success begets success, and Australia in 1990 joined the growing
roster of nations issuing a 1-ounce silver bullion coin.
Following China’s lead, Australia honors a native animal, in this
case the Kookaburra (a bird known for its distinct laughing-like
call), as the subject for its silver bullion coin. The coins are
struck by the Perth Mint, which is owned by the state of Western
Australia. The coins are considered legal tender and struck in the
name of Australia.
The .999 fine silver $5 coin, in another nod to the Panda program,
changed designs annually. The denomination was altered, though, after
just two years. Since 1992, the 1-ounce silver coins are denominated $1.
Connect with Coin World:
Multiple-ounce sizes have been part of the program from the
beginning, with 2- and 10-ounce options, as well as kilogram-sized
coins (which were also offered, along with half-ounce versions, as Proofs).
The Perth Mint now offers three distinct silver bullion coin
programs. In 1999, the Perth Mint launched the second program, a
series of 1-ounce .9999 fine silver coins celebrating the annual Lunar
animal in the Chinese zodiac calendar. The multi-year program began
anew in 2008 with a second Chinese Lunar Zodiac series.
The third entry in Australia’s silver bullion program is the Koala
1-ounce .999 fine silver bullion coin, which emerged in 2007. Three
other sizes, a half-ounce, 10-ounce and kilogram coin, are offered.
Koala coins do not have a mintage limit, but rather the mintage is
determined by sales during an 18-month period.
Although not as successful as Australia in its offerings, the United
Kingdom is an issuer of silver bullion coins as well. The Britannia
silver £2 bullion coins, introduced in 1997, 10 years after a gold
bullion program began, became the flagship bullion issue for the
United Kingdom. However, the coin was initially struck from Britannia
silver, which is .958 fine. Although the .958 fine coins contain an
ounce of silver, the Britannia £2 coin gained little traction around
the world, perhaps because of the lower fineness.
The reception to the Britannia changed in 2012.
In an effort to compete with world bullion coins of higher fineness,
Royal Mint officials launched Britannia .999 fine silver and .9999
fine gold coins that year, as 2013-dated issues.
Coins of the new fineness weigh less than coins of the previous
standard because the silver of the previous coinage was alloyed with
an additional metal, copper.
Before the switch, the Britannia 1-ounce bullion coin had an
authorized mintage 100,000 pieces annually. Limited numbers of Proof
versions were issued infrequently. Since the switch, mintage
restrictions have been loosed as the Royal Mint seeks to own more of
the market. Though mintage figures have not been announced, the Royal
Mint has since had to expand bullion production facilities and add
production shifts in response to increased demand for the finer Britannia.
In 2014, the Royal Mint also began a Lunar silver bullion series,
honoring the animals of the Chinese Zodiac calendar.
Austria joins bullion market
Austria’s history as a popular silver producer got a boost nearly a
One coin that has been well-received during its relatively young
life is Austria’s Vienna Philharmonic .9999 fine silver €1.5 coin,
introduced in 2008 as an addition to a gold bullion program that has
been around since 1989.
The obverse of each Vienna Philharmonic gold and silver coin depicts
a cello, violins, Vienna horn, bassoon and harp with legend WEINER
PHILHARMONIKER about the rim. The common reverse shows the Great Organ
of the Vienna Golden Hall, home of the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra.
It also carries the denomination, weight, fineness and year of issue.
The Vienna Philharmonic silver bullion coin program enjoys
continually rising demand, unlike some series that started with a bang
only to see demand wane. The Austrian Mint has not expanded silver
offerings, but in 2016 did launch a platinum version.
Russia and beyond
Rarely encountered in the United States is the silver 3-ruble
bullion coin from Russia that made its debut in 2009, extending the
young St. George the Victorious gold bullion franchise launched in
2007. The obverse of both bullion coins shows the two-headed eagle
emblem of the Central Bank of Russia. The reverse displays an image of
Saint George the Victorious sitting on horseback and spearing a dragon.
Russia’s bullion program featured nine bullion coins to celebrate
the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, including three different 1-ounce
.999 fine silver 3-ruble coins.
Silver bullion coins aren’t the sole province of national mints, as
collectors and investors might infrequently encounter the Taku turtle
.999 fine silver $2 coin from Fiji or the Elephant .999 fine silver
100-shilling coin series from Somalia, coins struck by private minters
on behalf of the issuing nations and promoted to European and other
audiences outside of the United States.
Since 2011, Armenia has issued an annual silver bullion series
honoring the biblical Noah’s ark, which some people believe rests on a
mountain on the border of Armenia and Kurdistan. What began as a
three-coin series in 2011 (with quarter-, half- and 1-ounce sizes) was
expanded in 2012 to include 5-ounce, 10-ounce, 1-kilo and 5-kilo coins.
The Armenian program is issued under the auspices of a German firm,
Geiger Edelmetalle, and there appears to be no mintage limit for the coins.
Worldwide, demand for silver bullion coins was at record highs in
2015, if one takes U.S. Mint sales figures as an indicator, and
generally Canada’s silver sales follow behind the United States.
The Royal Canadian Mint, however, no longer discloses sales figures
for specific coins in its bullion program, noting in its most recent
annual report only that it sold 34.3 million ounces of silver bullion
in 2015, compared to 29.1 million ounces in 2014.
The figure includes special issues like the Birds of Prey bullion
coins, which each have a million-coin mintage, and it may contain
other special bullion pieces as well.
Continued entry of new private issuers into the marketplace suggests
that there is unmet demand for bullion, especially for novel designs
or from “new” places.
Whether other world mints and issuers join the fray is yet to be
seen, but the silver bullion marketplace already offers an
awe-inducing number of options for the willing collector or investor