In 1971, the United States abandoned the gold and silver standards, effectively decoupling the value of the U.S. dollar from all precious metals. Since then, the value of the U.S. dollar has been dependent on the supply of and demand for currency rather than precious metals. In the 21st century, investing in silver is a good way for investors to protect their wealth from inflation, deflation, and currency devaluation, according to industry experts.
Silver bars and silver coins are available from a variety of sources, including mail-order retailers, specialty stores, and online markets like eBay. Because the supply of silver is finite and the demand for silver for industrial applications continues to expand, the value of silver should rise continuously. It is important for a precious metals investor to know what the markings on silver bars mean, as these markings help the investor identify the best deals.
There are a few factors that determine the price for a silver bar: purity; weight of the bar; the current market price for silver, or spot price; and a variable referred to as the "premium over spot price." When assessing listings for silver bars, the investor needs to look for the "three nines fine" mark, a mark that shows the weight of the bar, and any branding that identifies the fabricator.
In silver trading, silver bullion bars are fine silver or "three nines fine" bars. All silver bullion bars bought and sold in international commodities trading and for investment have the number 999 stamped into them. This number refers to millesimal fineness, which is the accepted standard for describing the purity of precious metals; expressed by a number that shows the parts per thousand of pure metal by mass in an alloy.
For example, sterling silver is not pure silver. Pure silver is quite soft and malleable. To make sterling silver objects such as pitchers, bowls, and flatware, manufacturers harden the silver by mixing in other metals. A sterling silver Tiffany pitcher stamped with the number 925 consists of an alloy made up of 92.5 percent fine silver by mass. The rest, 7.5 percent of the alloy by mass, is a mix of other metals. Bars of fine silver sit at the top end of the purity scale and consist of 99.9 percent silver. They feature a stamp indicating such. The remaining 0.1 percent is a mix of impurities.
Precious metal fabricators stamp silver bars with the weight of the bar. This is measured in troy ounces and expressed as either a numeral or the number spelled out, followed by "troy ounce," "ounce," or "oz."
In 1928, an Act of Congress adopted the troy ounce as the standard measurement to gauge the mass of precious metals in the U.S. One troy ounce is slightly heavier than an everyday ounce, or avoirdupois ounce. Equal to 1.09 avoirdupois ounces, the troy ounce originated in Roman times when bronze of varying weights functioned as currency across the Roman Empire.
The weight of the silver bar along with the purity of the silver determines the market price of the bar. The spot price is the current market price for silver. If the spot price is $20 per ounce, and a silver bar weighs 5 ounces, then the market price for the bar is $100. However, the asking price for a silver bar does not always add up to the current market price of silver. The most commonly traded silver bars are 1-ounce, 5-ounce, 10-ounce, and 100-ounce bars.
Due to their small size, 1-ounce silver bars are easy to transport, store, and secure. The standard dimensions for a 1-ounce silver bar are 1.9 inches by 1.1 inches by 0.1 inches. These silver bars are small enough to store in a baseball card folder. One-ounce silver bars are widely available and popular with new investors.
The 5-ounce silver bar is not as common as the smaller 1-ounce silver bar. It too has modest dimensions of 2.4 inches by 1.3 inches by 0.2 inches. These silver bars are not as easy to store as 1-ounce bars, but because all 5-ounce silver bars conform to a standard shape and size, they are easy to stack.
The 10-ounce silver bar is a good investment. A decent-sized chunk of fine silver, it is light enough to transport and small enough to secure in a domestic safe. The measurements for a 10-ounce silver bar are 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches by 0.3 inches.
The heaviest commonly traded silver bar is the 100-ounce bar. The typical dimensions are 6.5 inches by 2.5 inches by 1.25 inches. Depending on the fabricator, the length and width of the bar may vary a bit from the typical measurements. While these bars are hefty, an investor should have no trouble finding a secure place in his home to keep a few 100-ounce silver bars. However, a serious investor may have to consider engaging the services of a security company to store his silver.
If the current spot price for silver is $20 per ounce, one would expect a 1-ounce silver bar to retail for $20. However, the listing price for a silver bar is more often than not a few dollars more per ounce than the spot price. The difference in price is the "premium over spot price." The premium, determined by the weight of the bar, includes the cost of fabrication.
Although it seems counterintuitive, lighter silver bars carry a higher premium than heavier silver bars. Fabrication costs for smaller silver bars are higher per ounce than fabrication costs for 100-ounce bars. While 1-ounce silver bars are more plentiful, 100-ounce bars tend to sell faster, because the premium on a 100-ounce bar is lower per ounce than a 1-ounce bar. Therefore, it is more cost-effective to buy one hefty 100-ounce silver bar than 100 one-ounce silver bars.
Of course, the choice of weight comes down to how much the investor is willing to invest in silver. For smaller silver bars, the premium over spot price can range from $2 per ounce to as much as $5 per ounce. Premium over spot prices can also vary from one fabricator to another, so it pays to shop around.
Fabrication costs, weight, and purity aside, another factor to consider is the brand. When it comes to shoes, electronics, clothing, and other consumer goods, the notable brands attract premium prices, and it is no different with silver bars. Some brands of silver bars are more in demand than others. Hence, it is important for an investor to know how to identify the fabricators by their brands. The four major fabricators are Johnson Matthey, Engelhard, Silvertowne, and NTR Metals. The table below lists these fabricators and describes their brand stamp, found on each bar.
The initials J and M enclosed within a rectangle with a symbol consisting of a pick and mallet
Some bars carry the acronym JMC or JMAC
The name of the fabricator spelled out in full
On the back, the name may be repeated over and over, forming a pattern
A silver miner leading an equipment-laden mule
The "T" in Silvertowne is often styled as an old-fashioned mining pick
Enclosed within a rectangle, the head of a mining pick spans the name of the company
Ultimately, a 5-ounce bar of fine silver from Silvertowne has the same spot price as a 5-ounce bar of fine silver from Engelhard. However, the demand for particular brands and aesthetics does influence prices. Bars that are shiny and new command higher prices than tarnished silver bars. Silver art bars with ornate lettering and artwork fetch higher prices than anonymous, utilitarian-looking silver bars. Serious investors find great deals by ignoring what the silver bar looks like and concentrating on the purity, the weight, and the premium over spot price.
eBay is a ready source for investors in precious metals. To begin a search for silver bars on eBay, start by entering a description of the item you are looking for into the search bar on the eBay homepage. If you would rather just browse the available listings, enter a general query like " silver bars&" into the search bar and hit the Enter key.
On the results page, you can narrow the listings by selecting relevant search filters in the refinements menu. For example, you can specify the weight of the silver and the brand. If you have a particular budget in mind, enter your minimum and maximum price into the appropriate fields in the refinements menu and the local search engine shows only those listings for silver bars that fall within your budget.
A difficult economy spurs many to invest in gold and silver to protect their wealth from the vagaries of the global market. Because of its ready availability, many of those investing in precious metals for the first time choose to invest in silver over gold, which is more expensive. Because the demand for silver continues to increase and the supply is limited, the price of silver continues to rise.
Whether an investor is shopping for 1-ounce bars or 100-ounce bars, it is important that the investor knows how to interpret the markings on silver bars. Purity, weight, and brand recognition all affect the listing prices for silver bars. An investor who can easily interpret markings on silver bars is in a better position to make an informed purchasing decision. For a wide selection of fine silver bars, visit eBay and start searching.