Precious Metals: A Prepper’s Guide to Gold and Silver

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by Anonymous 411, The Organic Prepper:

Have you been reading about all the recommendations that preppers stock up on precious metals? If you want to buy gold or silver or have some you want to know more about before you sell then this article is for you. Many people have gold, silver, or coin and paper money collections they inherited and know next to nothing about the items. You need to educate yourself on what you have before you try to sell them so you can get the best price. And if you are looking to buy, you don’t want to pay too much.

Some people accumulate and keep 90% silver U.S. coins, silver bars or gold coins and bars. They keep these coins as a “store of value” for several reasons.

  1. A speculative investment in hope of higher values in the future.
  2. A hedge against inflation. Some say inflation is minimal now, but my grocery bill has more than doubled over the last 7.5 years. Has yours?
  3. A hedge against the collapse of the dollar and other economic disasters (like that narrowly averted event 8 years ago).
  4. For future use in barter situations.

Silver

As of right now, the value of silver coins is based on their “Spot Price”. Here is a quick and easy list of precious metals spot prices provided by Kitco.com. These prices are updated approximately every 5 minutes.

Before you deal in precious metals you MUST know what you have, exactly! This is true to a lesser extent with other barter items.

For 90% silver dimes, quarters, and half dollars (U. S. coins dated 1964 and earlier) first you must know how much silver your coins contain. This is sometimes called Actual Silver Weight (ASW).

  • Circulated 90% coins contain about 0.715 troy ounces of silver for each $1 face value.
  • Un-circulated (BU) 90% coins contain about 0.723 troy ounces of silver for each $1 face value.

Now you must determine how much $1.00 face value is worth.

This is calculated:

Spot Price * 0.715 = “Factor”, for example: $15.52 (Spot Price) * 0.715 = 11.09 (Factor)

Count the face value of your coins and get a “total face value”.

To determine “Melt Value”: Face Value * Factor = Melt Value. For example:

$1.00 (total face value) * 11.09 (Factor) = $11.09 (Melt Value)

$2.00 (total face value) * 11.09 (Factor) = $22.18 (Melt Value)

$2.75 (total face value) * 11.09 (Factor) = $30.50 (Melt Value)

$5.00 (total face value) * 11.09 (Factor) = $55.45 (Melt Value)

In the above calculations I used 0.715. This is a good number for circulated (not new, worn) US silver dimes, quarters, and halves. Uncirculated (new, sometimes called BU (Brilliant Uncirculated)) actually contain 0.723 (Troy ounce of pure silver).

The actual price a dealer will pay for 90% silver varies upon how much demand there is from buyers and on whether the price of silver is going up or down. If the silver price is moving down, as it is as I write this, the lower the dealer’s buy price will be. Today, probably $1 (per $1 face value) below Melt Value, or maybe a bit lower. If the price of silver is moving up rapidly, then dealers may pay more than Melt Value. The difference between what a dealer will pay and what they will sell for is called “the spread”.

40% Silver Half Dollars

Half dollars made between 1965 and 1970 were only 40% silver. You can use the same formula above, except use .28 rather than .715. For example: $15.52 (Spot Price) * 0.28 = 4.34 (Factor).

$1.00 (total face value) * 4.34 (Factor) = $4.34

$2.00 (total face value) * 4.34 (Factor) = $8.68

$2.50 (total face value) * 4.34 (Factor) = $10.85

$5.00 total (face value) * 4.34 (Factor) = $21.70

What I said about “the spread” above is also true about 40% silver half dollars, except more so as these 40% coins are not as popular as 90% silver coins.

Silver Dollars

The value of Silver Dollars (1935 and earlier) is calculated differently.  These silver dollars actually contain more silver than $1.00 face value of dimes, quarters, and halves. Whereas $1.00 face value of uncirculated dimes, quarters, and halves contain 0.723 Troy ounce of silver a new Silver Dollar contains 0.77344 Troy ounce of pure silver. $15.52 (Spot price) * .77344 = $12.00 (melt value). However, demand for silver dollars causes their value to be greater than their silver content. As I write this the price of a reasonably decent circulated, common date silver dollar is around $15 each. Dealers at coin shows generally ask $20. As you can see this is 1 ½ to 2 times the melt value. This higher value is called a “premium”.

When you go to buy or sell U.S. silver coins you should calculate the Melt Value and try to determine the market value before you meet with the coin dealer or pawnbroker. Coin dealers usually offer the highest prices. The best place to sell silver coins is usually at a coin show because of the competition between the dealers causes them to offer higher prices.

If you are buying silver (and gold too), dealers will demand payment in full, in CASH. But cash is good for the buyer too. This way if you are buying, you are anonymous.

Bullion Silver Bars and Rounds

Silver can be bought and sold in one troy ounce bars, 10 troy ounce bars, and 100 troy ounce bars. These must be marked “.999 fine silver” or “.999” and give the number of ounces, or don’t buy them. Melt value is much simpler here, it’s just the spot price times the number of ounces.

Silver rounds are typically only available in one troy ounce size. The Silver Eagle rounds are made by the U.S. Mint and usually sell for $3 over silver spot price. Other types of silver rounds sell for close to silver spot price.

Sterling Silver

Most sterling silver is in fine flatware, i.e. forks, spoons, etc. ALL sterling silver is marked with the word “sterling” or marked “.925” or “925”, usually on the back of each piece. This is because is sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver (fineness). Sterling knives are only partly silver. The blades are stainless steel and the handle, while sterling silver, is hollow. The handle is generally assumed to be a ½ troy ounce, although smaller handles are 1/3 ounce. Some coffee and tea sets are sterling silver, i.e. trays, coffee pots, teapots, sugar bowls, creamers. Again, they will be marked “sterling”. If any of these are marked “silver plate” or something similar or have no marking, then they are not sterling silver and for the purposes of discussion here, are worthless. Sterling silver jewelry is usually marked “925” although some are marked “sterling”. If it is not marked with either, it’s not sterling silver.

Gold

Gold is more valuable than silver.

Gold Bullion Coins

Many country’s mints make today (or have made in the past) gold coins that trade near the spot price of gold. These coins contain varying amounts of gold.

Below is a chart of many of these coins:

Country Name of coin Actual Gold Weight/Troy Ounces
USA $50 Eagle 1.00
$25 Eagle 0.50
$10 Eagle 0.25
$5 Eagle 0.10
Austria 1 Ducat 0.11
4 Ducat 0.44
10 Corona 0.098
20 Corona 0.196
100 Corona 0.98
Canada $50 Maple Leaf 1.00
$25 Maple Leaf 0.50
$10 Maple Leaf 0.25
$5 Maple Leaf 0.10
China Panda 1.00
½ ounce Panda 0.50
¼ ounce Panda 0.25
1/10 ounce Panda 0.10
England Sovereign (new and old) 0.2354
France 20 Franc, Rooster 0.1867
Germany 20 Mark 0.2305
Mexico 50 Pesos 1.2056
20 Pesos 0.4822
10 Pesos 0.2411
5 Pesos 0.1206
2 ½ Pesos 0.0603
2 Pesos 0.0482
Mexico Libertad 1.00
½ Libertad 0.50
¼ Libertad 0.25
Russia 10 Rubles 0.2489
5 Rubles 0.1244
South Africa Krugerrand 1.00
½ Krugerrand 0.50
¼ Krugerrand 0.25
1/10 Krugerrand 0.10
Swiss 20 Franc, Vren 0.1867

U.S. Collectible Gold Coins

The following U.S. gold coins were minted during the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Some dates/mints sell for near the spot gold price. Better grade specimens and scarce date and mints are collectible and sell for premium prices.

Face Value Actual Gold Weight/Troy Ounces
$20 0.96750
$10 0.48375
$5 0.24187
$3 – all are collectible 0.14512
$2 ½ – all are collectible 0.12094
$1 – all are collectible 0.04837

Bullion Gold Bars

Gold bars can be found in one troy ounce, less than one troy ounce size bars and 10 troy ounce bars. A number of counterfeit 10-ounce bars have been reported in recent years, so I wouldn’t buy any of those.

All gold bars will be marked with their fineness and weight or don’t buy them.

Gold Jewelry

Gold jewelry is typically 18-karat (18K), 14-karat (14K) or 10-karat (10K), although other fineness’s exist.

  • 18K gold is .75% gold (fineness)
  • 14K gold is .585% gold (fineness)
  • 10K gold is .417% gold (fineness)

Like sterling silver, all gold must be marked with it’s fineness, typically 18K, 14K, or 10K. These marks are inside the band and may be well worn. If it says “gold fill” or “GS” then it’s just gold plated and for the purposes of discussion here, it’s worthless.

Weighing Gold Jewelry and Sterling Silver

First, let me say that the “troy ounce” is different from the normal cooking ounce. There are 12 troy ounces per pound vs. 16 for cooking ounces. With all precious metals, we are using troy ounces.

To calculate the melt value of gold jewelry or sterling silver, you must first weight them, typically in grams. If you don’t have a gram scale, you can buy one or ask the dealer what the weight in grams is. To calculate the value: weight in grams / 31.1 (grams per troy ounce) * fineness * gold spot price.

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