What is Gold & Silver Bullion (Bullion vs. Numismatic Coins)

Clint Siegner Clint Siegner

Clint Siegner

November 1st, 2018 Comments

Precious metals investors who decide to protect their hard-earned savings from inflation and financial turmoil are quickly confronted with the next choice – what form to buy. Money Metals Exchange representatives get lots of questions from customers bombarded by conflicting information on TV, the Internet, or elsewhere. Here is some guidance on the debate of rare coins vs. bullion and how to make the right decision.

Right up front, we want to remind customers that the most crucial decision is whether to buy bullion or numismatic (aka collectible or rare coin) products. If you are an investor, the answer is bullion, while numismatics is for speculators and hobbyists, not serious investors.

The Difference Between Bullion and Numismatic Coins

numismatic rare coins vs bullion

Bullion is money itself, a tangible asset with eternal value.

Numismatic coins are also known as rare or collectible coins. If you are an investor, the answer is bullion, while numismatic coins are for speculators and hobbyists, not serious investors.

A common list of rare coins peddled by controversial "boiler room" type sales operations include pre-1933 gold coins (such as Double Eagle, US gold coins, and St. Gaudens gold coins), Morgan Silver dollars, and contemporary "proof coins" like super-marked-up American Eagle proof coins.

The pre-1933 Double Eagle gold coin and the others mentioned above are usually "slabbed coins" or "graded coins" which are stored in protective plastic cases to create the appearance of high collectible value justifying substantial mark-ups above their melt value. In many cases, these coins are not rare or valuable at all (other than the value of their actual gold or silver content). Learn more about what US coins are silver.

Why You Should Avoid Numismatic Coins

St Gaudens Gold Coins

Each numismatic coin type, each year, and each condition level has its sub-market, making it especially difficult for anyone but extremely serious collectors to make knowledgeable decisions.

Each numismatic coin type, each year, and eachcondition level has its sub-market, making itespecially difficult for anyone but extremely seriouscollectors to make knowledgeable decisions.

  1. Transaction Costs & PremiumsThe transaction costs and premiums for buying rare coins are dramatically higher than for bullion coins, bars, and rounds. Customers usually get screwed by the huge markups (and/or buy-back discounts) in the illiquid, specialized rare-coin market. That's why Money Metals Exchange has chosen to leave this field of play to other businesses.

  2. The Non-Confiscation LieNumismatics are no safer from government confiscation than low-premium bullion alternatives.

  3. Zero Tax AdvantagesThere are NO tax advantages to buying collectible coins. The IRS views all precious metals, including bullion, as "collectibles" to calculate capital gains taxes. Purchases and sales of bullion coins, bars, and rounds are not reported to the IRS except in the rarest of circumstances.

  4. Hard to Find BuyersTrying to get the best price per ounce when it is time to unload your collectible coins may entail a lengthy search for the buyer who is looking for just what you happen to have. If economic conditions get tougher, this buyer may be very difficult to find at all. Even as more and more people search for a reliable store of value in the form of gold and silver bullion, fewer may be in the market for items like rare coins that are priced higher than their intrinsic metal value.

The transaction costs for physical precious metals are revealed by the "bid/ask spread." This spread is the difference between the premium per coin or ounce that a customer pays to buy compared to the premium (or discount) that a customer receives when selling. As with any investment, the lower the bid/ask spread, the better.

This is where bullion vs. numismatic coins shines. Reputable dealers offer spreads on bullion coins, bars, and rounds in the range of 3% - 8%, depending on the particular product and the quantity desired. Numismatic coins generally have spreads of 30% - 40% and often higher! That means as soon as you buy a collectible coin you should expect it to be worth 30% - 40% less than you paid for it. No savvy investor wants to be that far upside down on day one! Money Metals Exchange representatives have taken many phone calls from customers suffering severe cases of "buyer's remorse" after sinking their savings into these illiquid rare-coin "investments."

To be sure, those so-called "rare coin" companies are making an absolute mint with their bait-and-switch tactics and their overpriced numismatic coins. And their customers are given bad advice at best – or ripped off at worst. The worst part is these rip-offs enable high-pressure "collectible coin" outfits to fund a vast array of slick TV commercials, impressive celebrity endorsements, and other "big ticket" ways to get even more unsuspecting precious metals buyers to pay far higher than is wise or necessary.

Bullion Coins, Rounds, and Bars Are the Smart, Pure Play

Buy/Sell Spread Based on
Silver Price per Ounce of $16.00
Pre-1965 Dimes/Quarters
Quantity Buy Premium Sell Discount Spread %
500 Ozs $0.82 $0.50 $1.32 8.5%
1 Oz Rounds
Quantity Buy Premium Sell Discount Spread %
500 Ozs $0.89 $0.10 $0.99 6.2%
American Eagles
Quantity Buy Premium Sell Discount Spread %
500 Ozs $2.89 $1.05 $1.84 10.7%
Buy/Sell Spread Based on
Gold Price per Ounce of $1,325.00
1 Oz Bars
Quantity Buy Premium Sell Discount Spread %
10 Ozs $40.00 $15.00 $55.00 3.8%
Canadian Maple Leafs (1-oz)
Quantity Buy Premium Sell Discount Spread %
10 Ozs $48.00 $12.00 $60.00 4.6%
American Eagles (1-oz)
Quantity Buy Premium Sell Discount Spread %
10 Ozs $64.00 $3.00 $61.00 4.6%

As with metals prices, spot prices and premiums are subject to change. Premiums as of 09/14/2023

Now that we have established why it is so important to buy bullion as opposed to rare coins for investment, the next most important consideration is to stick with the most popular bullion forms. That is why Money Metals Exchange offers the most widely traded and familiar gold and silver bullion products from bigger forms like silver and gold bars to the more popular form of bullion, coins. Our coins, rounds, and bars are stamped with their weight and purity. They are produced by government mints or reputable manufacturers. This could be important when it is time to sell your metal back. Here's why:

  1. Bullion Attracts a Large and Active Market.Virtually any dealer in the country (especially Money Metals Exchange!) will be happy to buy an American Gold Eagle from you and pay a fair price – on the spot and without question (Money Metals also offers gold eagle coins for sale). Alternatively, if you have an off-weight and unmarked bar, or something outsized such as a 1,000-ounce silver bar, you may have more trouble selling it as quickly and getting a fair price. Many dealers cannot easily re-sell that sort of item.

  2. Ease of Establishing Fair ValueThe most popular products trade near their "melt value" – the value of their metal content based on the current spot market price. There is no uncertainty. When it is time to sell your metal, you can quickly and easily determine whether or not a buyer's offer is fair.

Choosing Your Bullion Investment

The final consideration is how to choose exactly which round, bar, or bullion coin to buy. Please note that this consideration is far less crucial than those mentioned earlier. If you avoid paying way too much for numismatic coins and stick with popular bullion products, your investment will allow you to capture essentially all the gains that can be had in the gold and silver markets. That said, we believe you can best secure those gains by buying whatever option offers the lowest premium at the time of your purchase.

We expect the metal itself to produce outsized returns. So the name of the game is to acquire as many ounces as possible today and let those ounces go to work for you.

To illustrate, take a look below at this hypothetical scenario, based on Money Metals Exchange's sell pricing and buy-back pricing as of early 2014.

As this example demonstrates, even though an investor can expect Silver American Eagles to be worth $2.00-$3.00 more per ounce than the pre-1965 90% silver coins when it is time to sell, he would enjoy higher gains if he bought the pre-1965 coins because he would acquire more silver ounces for sale for his money. In an alternative scenario wherein the sell-back premiums on American Eagles rose by $1.50, enabling one to pocket nearly $43.75 per ounce (instead of just under $42.25/oz.), the investor would end up with $186,243.75 – surpassing the total return on junk silver. But sell-back premiums on pre-1965 junk silver prices today could rise, too – markedly so if there is a run on the physical market.

How to Succeed as a Precious Metals Investor

To summarize, we think precious metals investors will do best by following these guidelines:

  1. Stick with bullion coins, bars, and rounds

  2. Buy the popular bullion forms. Avoid unmarked, off-weight, or oversized bars and rounds

  3. Buy whatever offers the lowest premium to accumulate as many ounces as possible

Clint Siegner

About the Author:

Clint Siegner is a Director at Money Metals Exchange, a precious metals dealer recently named "Best in the USA" by an independent global ratings group. A graduate of Linfield College in Oregon, Siegner puts his experience in business management along with his passion for personal liberty, limited government, and honest money into the development of Money Metals' brand and reach. This includes writing extensively on the bullion markets and their intersection with policy and world affairs.