World mints are catering to big buyers with half-ounce silver coins

Going Topical column from Nov. 3, 2014, issue of Coin World
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 10/20/14
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Ten years ago, silver left the $5-per-ounce mark behind for good and winked at $8 an ounce. 

By 2007, the price of silver was flirting with twice that amount and by 2010, it was going steady with $20. The anticipated fling with the $50 mark almost happened in 2011 but then came the break-up. The $30 range stuck around for the next two years and then left. Throughout 2014, the price of silver has bounced back and forth between $18 and $22 per ounce, unable to commit. 

Many bullion collectors remain bullish about silver, but with an economy still in recovery they want low-cost options. Happily, world mints have been making it easier for everyone to buy silver by introducing smaller size silver coins. One ounce is no longer the rule.

To qualify for our exercise, the coin must state its own weight and purity. Pure silver (.999) and sterling (.925) are the most common standards. Some nations issue half-ounce coins annually, and in other cases they are part of a thematic series. Not all items here are true bullion coins (issued at prices relative to the precious metal value), but they meet these other requirements. Here are just eight examples to consider.

The Canadian Maple Leaf silver series is 26 years old but is never boring, thanks to many collector versions that are offshoots of the bullion series. 

The Royal Canadian Mint has issued Maple Leafs with different designs, in several sizes, unique finishes, in color, gilded, and for 2014, even imbedded with genuine jade. To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the series in 2003, an unusual hologram version was made, including a half-ounce $4 size. How this coin looks depends completely on the angle of viewing and on the quality of light present.

Between 1992 and 1998, Mexico issued a high number of silver coins showcasing the pre-Columbian history of the nation, 17 designs of which are on half-ounce silver coins. 

The Teotihuacan collection of coins was the fifth of six collections making up the pre-Columbian series. Teotihuacan coins concluded with the Disc of Death or “Disco de la Muerte” piece, a half-ounce pure silver 2-peso coin. The design includes a stone emblem of a skull surrounded by rays. 

Among the repeating Australian half-ounce silver coins are several animal designs like the Koala bullion 50-cent piece. Kookaburras, kangaroos, and great white sharks are just three of the other animals that have been feted the same way. 

Other topics honored in the half-ounce silver size include the Lunar Year, Australian Outback, Sealife, Birds, and Bush Babies. 

Niue (pronounced NEW-ay) is a small autonomous island in free association with New Zealand. For such a small island and population (1,600 residents), it issues a lot of coins. 

Some of its themes include the Chinese zodiac colored series that includes the Year of the Dragon half-ounce silver $2 coin, the Dr. Who series, Lucky Symbols, Endangered Animals, Fashion, and Cave Paintings.

Also from the New Zealand Mint are the popular annual Fiji “Taku” (Hawksbill Turtle) silver bullion coin, which has been offered in several versions and sizes following the 1-ounce size released in 2010. 

In 2012, a half-ounce $1 version was issued. But in 2013, the series was suspended because the nation of Fiji itself was suspended from the Commonwealth for failing to hold free elections. 

The popular Hawksbill Turtle design was moved to a Niue bullion coin for 2014 that goes by the simple name, “Turtle.”

All of the Turtle coins are issued by the New Zealand Mint and struck in the United States at Sunshine Minting of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. 

Britannia has graced English coins for 342 years, but Britain’s Britannia silver bullion coin has existed only since 1997, and in the half-ounce £1 size since 1998 (when Proof examples were struck — a bullion version was issued in 2011 for a special customer). An interesting fact about this series is that the fineness of the silver was changed from .958 fine silver to .999 fine beginning in 2013. 

A newcomer to bullion coins as of 2011, the Armenian Noah’s Ark coin is available in seven sizes, including the half-ounce version. The design shows a dove with an olive branch, and the ark in the distance. Geiger Edelmetalle, a private mint in Germany, strikes, advertises, and sells the Ark coins on behalf of the Republic of Armenia. 

One small Ark mystery involves the math used to connect the dram denominations and the weight of the silver. A quarter-ounce silver Ark is labeled as a 100-dram coin, and the half-ounce size, as a 200-dram piece. But the 1-ounce version carries a 500-dram denomination instead of 400 drams. And the 5-ounce coin is a 1,000-dram piece instead of a 2,500-dram coin.

In 2002, the Shawnee became the first American Indian nation to issue a coin. The Poarch Creek Nation had issued a silver dollar by 2004, followed by the Crow Nation and the Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians. Now there is a half-ounce silver option. The denomination on the undated Hunkpapa Lakota Chief Sitting Bull bullion coin reads TWENTY FIVE. It is sold by the Free Lakota Bank in Pine Ridge, S.D., in association with the American Open Currency Standard. 

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