This is the first part of a feature by Rita Laws about the growth
in popular 5-ounce silver coins around the world.
Three decades ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a
prediction that pure silver legal tender world coins weighing 5 ounces
would be plentiful in the future. But thanks to the large silver
medals and coins that preceded them, and to the popularity of bullion
coinage, the “5-ouncer” has developed a loyal following.
Since 1986 when the world’s first 5-ounce true coin appeared, more
than two dozen nations have joined this special coin club, including
places on every continent except Antarctica. Most of these giants are
marketed as bullion coins with collectible Proof versions also
available, but some are made for only one market or the other.
When the United States Mint began producing them in 2010, 5-ounce
coins officially left the label of “fad” behind for good.
Another reason they are here to stay is that their existence is not
wholly dependent on the up and down value of silver. When the price of
silver is low, investors and collectors want to buy them and when
silver’s price is high, the attention silver attracts brings in new
buyers and collectors. Furthermore, in addition to being a convenient
way to buy bullion, buyers like them for the designs made possible by
such a large surface.
Like so many coin types in numismatics, the present-day 5-ounce coin
is the result of an evolutionary process with several contributing
factors. A few are the creativity of the medallic arts, popularity of
large silver commemorative coins, changes in silver purity levels, and
the emergence of bullion coinage.
Big silver medals and medallic coinage are the grandparents of the
5-ounce coin. These are coin-like but not coins. To be a coin, an
object must be legal tender with an assigned denomination in its
nation of issue.
Medals have no legal tender value whether struck by private or
government mints, but they do impact coinage design over time,
especially when a medal type proves popular with collectors. Medallic
coinage typically resembles the coinage of a nation by design, but
bears no denomination.
Large medals ranging in silver weight from 3 to 5 ounces and more
were regularly issued by many nations before 1986 and created a
following among collectors of medals and those who wanted to collect
or invest in silver.
Many of these went above and beyond the “coin silver” standard of
.900 fine to the sterling standard of .925 fine. A few mints did
something progressive for the times by producing medals made of truly
pure .99 fine silver.
The Medallic Art Co. was one of many private companies making big
silver medals throughout the final decades of the 20th century. A
typical weight for one of these was 4.3 ounces, like the circa 1970
Kennedy and Apollo 11 medal. This medal was marked on the edge as
being made of .999 fine (pure) silver.
The design was popular because it told the story of an important
decade. On one side was a 1961 quote from the president saying that
the United States should put a man on the moon before the end of the
decade. The other side showed that very event and its date, July 20, 1969.
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