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.