By Al Doyle for CoinWeek....
Are you a collector or an investor? The answer doesn't have to be an either/or proposition. More than a few coin enthusiasts have a favorite series or two they pursue as a hobby while investing in gold and silver bullion for financial insurance.
That's the ideal situation, but what about the person who operates on a slim margin? Never mind being diversified. Collecting on the cheap or picking up a few ounces of silver at a time - but not both - would seem to be the realistic choice. It's a common dilemma, so which option is best? To quote Yogi Berra, when you come to a fork in the road, take it. In other words, be a numismatist and a cost-conscious hard money bug at the same time.
So how does a person play both games on a shoestring budget? Obtain silver in the form of various one-ounce silver coins and build date sets. Do this on a steady basis, and you'll eventually have a nice pile of silver along with a diversified collection of coins that are usually available for a small premium over melt value.
In addition to acquiring a position in a popular precious metal, there are some logical reasons for working on date sets of American Eagles, Canadian Maple Leaf silver and other popular series. Advanced grading skills aren't needed. Some shoppers prefer certified Eagles in MS-69 or MS-70, but save some money by selecting better-looking "raw" pieces.
Produced for more than a quarter century, the silver Eagle series is long enough to prevent many collectors from buying all 27 dates at once. With a lone exception, the balance of the series can be had for bullion-related prices.
1996 (mintage 3,603,386) is the important date in the series. Other silver Eagles struck from 1994 to 1998 weren't produced in significantly higher numbers than the 1996, yet they sell for much less than the key coin. Depending on the source, the '96 sells for $70 to $90, with discounts available for purchases of 20-piece rolls.
The silver Eagle is popular with collectors and bullion investors around the world, which means finding a buyer down the road will be the least of your problems. If the business strikes aren't enough to satisfy the craving for this attractive coin, take it up to the next level and go for a set of proofs. They are somewhat more costly than BUs ($70 and up), but the buyer gets a big blast of snow-white cameo devices for the premium. If tackling the whole set is too much, add a proof or two to a business strike set.
The Canadian Maple Leaf nearly matches the Eagle for longevity, as this popular silver disk debuted in 1988. While it's easy to assume the two series are alike, this won't be the case for those who insist on completeness when building a set.
Collectors who want to fill every possible hole are going to have to acquire numerous Maples bearing privy marks that were struck for special events and anniversaries as well as coins honoring the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The RCM has also issued colorzied and hologrammed silver Maple Leafs, which adds another dimension to the series. While they may not display the distinct foliage of Canada's trademark tree, wolves, bears and other wildlife have appeared on one-ounce silver pieces of recent years
Silver Maple Leaf enthusiasts will need to acquire a trip of dates with a fraction of the mintage of the 1996 silver Eagle. Just 326,244 of the .9999 pieces were struck in 1995, and that number dropped to 250,445 in 1996. If those mintages aren't low enough to attract attention, the 1997 (100,970) is the sought-after key to the series. The 1992 (mintage 343,800) can also take a little searching. Check eBay and the web sites of Canadian coin dealers to get a handle on current prices for the better dates.
It isn't necessary to pursue the privy-marked silver Maples - a number of which have mintages of just 5000 - to enjoy the series. Unlike the silver Eagle, there is only one proof silver Maple Leaf. It was issued in 1989 to honor the 10th anniversary of the gold Maple Leaf series.
Mexico and the well-known Libertad series rounds out the North American side of government-issued one-ounce silver coinage. First struck in 1982, the portrait of the elegant Winged Victory statue at the corner of Reforma and Insurgentes in Mexico City was a major artistic upgrade from the drab-looking "onzas" of 1979 to 1981.
Although the Libertad has plenty of eye appeal, sales have usually lagged behind the Eagle and Maple Leaf. More aggressive marketing and promotion could boost demand. Annual mintages of 100,000, 67,000 and 95,000 from 1997 to 1999 provide collectors with a challenge as well as identifiable keys to the series.
Proof silver Libertads tend to be struck in far lower quantities than the proof silver Eagle. Those who drool at the thought of low mintages should be drawn to Libertads such as the 1983 (mintage 998), 1993 and 1994 (5,002 apiece), 1995 and 1996 (2,000 each), 1997 (1,500), 1998 (500), 1999 (600), 2000 (1,600), 2001 (1,000) and 2002 to 2009 (2,500 to 3,500 annually).
What makes the silver Libertad different than its competitors is the assortment of fractionals that have been struck over the years. Collectors can choose from BUs and proofs in 1/20, 1/10, 1/4 and 1/2-ounce planchets. The smaller Libertads are issued in far lesser numbers than the one-ouncer, so prices tend to be well above melt value. If you're shopping for a big hunk of silver, consider the two-ounce and five-ounce versions.
Part 2 will cover some of the more popular silver bullion coins from the rest of the world, including a collectible series from an unlikely source.