By Al Doyle for CoinWeek....
Collectors with a "hard money" mentality who want to go beyond familiar series such as the American Silver Eagle and Canadian Maple Leaf have a growing number of options when it comes to one-ounce silver pieces.
It could take some time to obtain all the silver coinage struck by the Royal Australian Mint. The native kookaburra bird has been featured on the $1 since 1992. The design changes each year, so this is a series with a great deal of variety. Mintages (especially for the privy-marked "Kooks") are somewhat lower than for other well-known silver bullion coins, so expect to pay more for the scarcer dates.
How many other nations offer a second option in silver bullion? Not surprisingly, the kangaroo is the subject of an Australian one-ounce silver piece. As with the Kookaburra, the design changes each year on the Kangaroo $1. This is an eye-catching series with a distinctly Aussie theme. The cuddly koala bear is extremely popular, and a silver version joined the gold Koala in 2009.
Unless a collector is extremely focused, a diversion into some of the other Australian silver of the past 20 years will be hard to resist. There are a number of proof 50-cent pieces - including some square ones - that weigh in with a half ounce of silver. If big is better, go for Kookaburras from two ounces up to a kilo.
Austria's Philharmonic became one of the world's best-selling silver coins within months of its 2008 debut. Combine an ounce of silver with the mix of musical instruments on the reverse plus the high quality of Austrian Mint products, and you've got something with broad appeal. This design would become even more of a magnet for collectors in a proof finish. The face value of 1.50 euro is something that may catch the attention of those who like the odd and unusual.
Thanks to a market that extends beyond traditional numismatists, silver Pandas struck by the People's Republic of China are generally priced at premiums that take the series beyond bullion coin status.
First offered in 1983, not all of the 10-yuan Pandas weigh in at an even ounce. Ever-changing designs makes the series especially appealing to anyone who isn't locked into collecting identical-looking date sets. Smaller 5 yuan Pandas have been struck since 1993. Uncirculated and proof silver Pandas have been struck, and the PandaAmerica web site along with the Standard Catalog of World Coins are the places to view the different reverses and find mintage figures. If the full set is too much of a financial commitment, you could add a Panda or two to your holdings as type coins.
Like China, the Isle of Man has successfully tapped into the animal lover market through coin sales. In this case, it has been cats since 1988, when the native Manx cat (known for not having a tail) kicked off the one-ounce silver series. Since then, more than 20 cat breeds - including the 1900 "alley cat" of unknown and thoroughly mixed pedigree - have appeared on the 1-crown pieces.
Kittens have made a few appearances, and a wide assortment of Isle of Man coinage is struck by the privately owned Pobjoy Mint. Struck in BU and proof versions, silver Cats aren't as common as other one-ounce products, so assembling a complete set may take some persistence.
Although mintages are more in keeping with a collectible rather than a bullion coin, the Britannia is popular with hard money investors as well as numismatists. The national symbol is elegantly displayed on silver in an ever-changing mix of portraits. Debuting in 1997 as a proof-only product, business strikes were issued the following year. An unusual fineness of .958 (23 parts silver to one part copper) and a face value of 2 pounds makes the Britannia stand out from the competition.
Fractionals are struck for inclusion in proof sets and are sometimes available as singles in the secondary market. If the British Royal Mint ever decided to make the Britannia a .999 fine one-ounce silver piece with a price comparable to the Eagle, Maple Leaf and Philharmonic, they would have a big seller on their hands.
Who would have guessed that Zambia would issue a continuous run of one-ounce silver coinage? The African Wildlife series featuring elephants and other native animals has been around since 1999. Struck by a private German mint, the Zambian coinage carries a face value of 5000 kwacha, and it's definitely something the average collector doesn't own.