SILVER 101/GO SOUTH OF THE BORDER
by Al Doyle for CoinWeek ……….
Need something a bit different and artistic to satisfy your silver fix? Look no further than Mexico.
Currently one of three nations with silver production of more than 100 million ounces annually, Mexico has a long history of silver coinage. Much of the money in circulation in America from the 1700s to 1857 and beyond consisted of Mexican pieces ranging from the dinky 1/2 real (valued at 6 1/4 cents) to the renowned 8 reales. According to legend, this was the coin that George Washington supposedly threw across the Delaware River.
The Casa de Moneda (Mexico City Mint) still strikes a variety of silver pieces. Unlike the U.S. and Canada, Mexico’s Libertad silver bullion issues range from 1/20 ounce to 5 ounces. The one-ounce Libertad is the cornerstone piece of modern Mexican silver, and it’s a well-known alternative to Eagles and Maple Leafs.
Bland-looking Onzas marked Mexico’s entry into modern silver bullion coinage in 1980. The switch to the much more eye-appealing Angel design (which comes from the famed statue at the intersection of Reforma and Insurgentes in Mexico City) was made in 1982. The reverse is also worthy of praise, as it features a nicely detailed rendition of the national emblem.
As with any other series, the collector who wants to build a complete set of Libertads will need to hunt down some lower-mintage dates. That list includes the 1997 (100,000 struck), 1998 (67,000), 1999 (95,000) and 2007 (200,000). There’s another challenge for the person who likes one-ounce Mexican silver.
Despite having a head start as compared to the silver Eagle and Maple Leaf, the Libertad lags well behind those market leaders. The Mexican product’s second-tier status can be blamed on lethargic marketing efforts, and it means the coins won’t be found in every local shop. EBay and larger shows are good sources for missing and scarce dates.
Looking for a modern numismatic challenge? Check out fractional Libertad silver. Pick out the 1/20, 1/10, 1/4 /or 1/2-ounce series, and you’ll find that putting together complete sets of recent series isn’t always a slam dunk.
Mintages are one indicator of the elusiveness of certain dates. Just 6,400 1/20 onza silver Libertads were struck in 1998, and the mintage crept up to 8,001 in 1999. If that sounds low, take a look at figures for these years.
Statistics for the 1998 and 1999-dated 1/10, 1/4 and 1/2-ounce silver Libertads are virtually identical to the 1/20-ounce version. As for the 21st century, just 9,277 business strike 1/10-ounce silver Libertads carry a 2005 date. That number plunged to 3,500 in 2007 before rising to a still-modest 10,000 in 2008 and 2009. It’s a similar situation for the 1/2 ounce Libertads of 2005 to 2009. Five-piece silver Libertad proof sets have been issued annually, and single pieces are available on eBay as well as from world coin specialists.
The 1968 Summer Olympics were held in Mexico City, and a 25-peso commemorative has become a bullion option for hard-money types. More than 27 million pieces were struck, so this isn’t a rare item except in the highest reaches of the grading scale. The .720 fine coin contains .5209 ounce of silver, and varieties exist.
A 1972-dated coin of the same fineness and weight as the Olympic commem features a portrait of Mexican national hero Benito Juarez. Exactly 2 million were struck, and it sells for modest premiums over spot.
The .720 alloy dates back to 1919 when a new 50-centavo piece debuted. Silver pesos of the same design and composition followed a year later. Both coins were issued until 1945, and the fineness was stamped near the top of the obverse. Circulated specimens sometimes sell for close to melt. 1935-dated 50 centavos were minted on .420 fine planchets.
If you need a break from 90 percent and circulated dollars or want some variety in your silver holdings, take a numismatic trip to Mexico. You won’t be disappointed.