There is no denying that private mints are an excellent addition to the gold and silver market. They supply silver rounds and silver bars for an eager buying public and thus, they both contribute to greater bullion stocks in the general population, as well as providing more variety in what is available to purchase to people both in the U.S. and abroad. A diverse market is always one that provides more options for buyers of all needs and scales.
Government mints, however, are also a crucial part of the gold and silver markets. These state minting institutions are the only sources of legal tender in the world, unless the United States eventually sees the “competitive currency” idea established in law by the election of a candidate who believes in the gold standard. As such, the only genuine silver coins in existence are either historical ones, or those minted by the treasuries of the world’s governments, backed by the power of the stat’s might and resources.
Coins produced in this way are almost uniformly of extremely high production value (with some of the earlier, sketchier Chinese and Belarusian coins being exceptions to the rule). Almost all have 99.9% pure silver in their composition at a minimum – again, with the exception of China as well as the United States, which have occasionally minted coins with only 90% pure silver, for reasons known only to themselves.
Government mints may or may not sell coins directly to the public. Some have fully embraced the Internet age, such as the Perth Mint, and include an online store on their website where the latest coins can be purchased with a credit card, while supplies last.
Others do not sell directly, but include lists of authorized resellers on their websites, allowing you to find dealers located in your country and sometimes in your region or city as well; the Austrian Mint and the Canadian Mint are good examples of this type. Some mints show their latest coins on their websites but leave it entirely up to you to find a secondary dealer – the United States is a prime instance of this.
Government mints often make special issues of their coins in order to cash in further on numismatic enthusiasts. Selling silver to those who are worried about the future is big business, as is selling it to would-be investors – much like the Gold Rush of the nineteenth century in the Klondike, those who sold the picks and shovels, tents and panning equipment, were the people who actually became wealthy, rather than the miners themselves.
The governments of the world are quite happy to exchange silver and gold for money that can be gained without needing to raise the ever-unpopular taxes. This also serves to put stabilizing precious metals into the hands of the general populace as well, increasing confidence and reducing the likelihood of economic crises caused by lack of confidence. Knowing that they have a reliable store of value on hand makes people more relaxed and more willing to make bold economic decisions that benefit the whole economy.
Some of the more important mints operating in the world today, from a numismatic and bullion coin viewpoint, are described below. Several smaller mints that are of interest to the collector of unusual silver or gold bullion coins are also noted here.
The United States Mint
One of the world’s most active producers of silver and gold bullion coins, along with the Canadian, Australian, and Chinese mints, the United States Mint has existed for over 200 years, since 1792, when it was established by act of Congress. Like all of the older mints, it has a checkered history, with excellent numismatic decisions rubbing shoulders with scandals, bizarre monetary adventures, and so on. This, of course, helps to make numismatics a living, human story rather than a cold, robotic history of issues and quantities.
The primary bullion coins currently being struck by the United States Mint are Silver Eagles, Gold Eagles, and the two year old program of America the Beautiful quarters rendered in a five troy ounce silver coin, the largest coin that America has ever struck. The coins are minted in Denver, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and West Point, though only Philadelphia has the modern German coining press needed to produce the five ounce silvers.
The Royal Canadian Mint
The Royal Canadian Mint stands out from even the august and highly professional company that it competes against both because of its dedication to excellence in the etching and production of coins, and because of its use of 99.99% pure silver – silver of .9999 fineness, to use the millesimal fineness scale. The beauty of its coins and the extreme purity of the metal out of which they are fashioned make its products very popular with collectors, and these products usually sell out very quickly.
One of the interesting distinctions of the Royal Canadian Mint is the 100 kilogram (220 pound) gold “coin” which it struck recently, bearing a $1 million (Canadian) face value, though its spot value is over $5 million (U.S.), and the premium over spot is enormous as well. The Mint’s gold Maple Leaf coins come in five sizes from 1/20 troy ounce to 1 troy ounce, while the one troy ounce Silver Maple Leaf has a face value of $5 (Canadian), making it the highest face value 1 troy ounce silver coin in the world. Face value is, of course, moot, but it is still an intriguing numismatic detail.
The original Ottawa branch of the mint is now used for tooling of dies, while the actual striking of the currency is accomplished at the Winnipeg Mint. Guided tours of both mint locations are available for those whose enthusiasm for all things numismatic extends that far.
The Royal Australian Mint
Like all former British colonies, the Royal Australian Mint was originally created to serve as a local producer of English currency, but was eventually moved over to national production when a measure of independence was achieved. Though it is one of the youngest mints, having only been established in Canberra in 1965, with Prince Philip presiding at the opening ceremony, it has already carved out a vigorous place for itself among the longer-standing mints of the world.
The Royal Australian Mint produces a series of extremely high quality, pure, attractive coins that are popular with collectors from every corner of the globe. Many of the coins bear the extremely unique wildlife of the land and seas of the southern island continent, including kangaroos, koalas, kookaburras, leafy sea dragons, and others. The Mint has also produced two series of Chinese lunar coins, one of which is currently ongoing. A series of gold “Convict Heritage” coins are new for 2011, reminding Australians of their founding as a penal colony to house those convicted under draconian, tyrannical economic laws in early modern Britain. It is also producing a series of silver coins for Samoa.
The Perth Mint is the branch which produces many of the collectible coins prized by numismatic enthusiasts today. This Mint has an online store, though shipping and taxes may make it more prudent to purchase coins from local suppliers such as APMEX if you live outside Australia.
The Royal Mint of the United Kingdom
The Royal Mint of the United Kingdom is one of the world’s older mints, being centuries older than that of the United States, South Africa, China, and so on. Its storied past stretches back to 886, when King Alfred the Great founded it, some 180 years before the predatory Duke William of Normandy smashed the army of England at Hastings field and founded the current monarchy. The Norman kings moved it to the infamous Tower of London, and among those involved with its history was Sir Isaac Newton. The coins are now struck at Llantrisant, Wales.
The Silver Britannia is probably the Royal Mint’s most famous coin, and is struck annually, generally bearing some variation of the rather masculine figure of the warrior goddess on the reverse. However, the Mint produces a large number of other interesting coins as well, including collectible commemoratives relating to the recent royal wedding, a new series of gold coins bearing the images of various monarchs, starting with Henry VIII.
The Royal Mint has a fully functional web store allowing collectors to buy coins on the Internet using a credit card, though again, taxes and shipping may be steep outside the “Scepter’d Isle”.
The Austrian Mint
The Austrian Mint has a dramatic early history, due to the fact that it was founded because of a royal ransom. King Richard the Lionhearted was seized trying to sneak through Austria in disguise during one of his less successful foreign outings, and was immediately held for ransom by the local duke. The ransom was eventually paid, and the resulting windfall of precious metals caused the said Duke of Babenberg to found the mint in order to transform the bullion into coin.
Today, the Austrian Mint is mostly famed for producing the exquisitely beautiful Silver Austrian Philharmonic coins, festooned with musical instruments and honoring one of humanity’s more worthwhile pursuits. These coins are so avidly sought by collectors from all nations that they sell out almost immediately, both in their gold and silver forms. The first gold Philharmonic was introduced in 1989, and the Mint has since added silver-niobium coins and an Internet store which is active to this day.
The South African Mint
The South African Mint is chiefly notable for its production of Krugerrands, which were, for many years, the foremost gold coin of the world and whose rich orange-gold tint (thanks to alloying of copper) is instantly recognizable, as is the bulbous, knobby profile of Paul Kruger on the obverse. The South African Mint has existed for many years, but was privatized in 1988, meaning that it is a private company authorized to strike legal tender and recognized as the sole source of that tender – a highly unusual arrangement.
Besides the gold Krugerrands, the South African Mint also strikes silver coins in ¼ ounce, ½ ounce, 1 ounce, and 2 troy ounce sizes. Since 2007, a series of coins depicting flora, fauna, and people from South Africa’s parks have been minted, including such diverse subjects as a Zulu maiden, a flame lily, a loggerhead turtle, and a Nile crocodile, among others.
The Central Mint of China
The Central Mint of China has gone from being a quirky, semi-effective institution of the deadly bureaucracy of communist China to being a major producer of some of the world’s most sought after silver and gold coins, including Pandas, Fans, and Flowers. The Mint is still controlled by a fairly irrational dictatorial government, so coin issues are somewhat irregular as to timing and mintage, but the quality ranges from high to very high, and the sketchy designs of the early 1990s are a thing of the past.
The history of the Mint is fairly obscure, thanks to the difficulty of obtaining information about what goes on within this modern police state, but it is known to have been founded in 1920 and produced its first circulation coins in 1933, at a time when much of the world was still struggling futilely in the grip of the gold standard, and when China’s silver standard saved it from the Great Depression.
The Chinese Mint’s website is very spare, and most coins are bought through secondary dealers such as APMEX. Chinese coins are readily available through these means, however.
Central Bank of Russia
The Central Bank of Russia, whatever other problems the country suffers from in the wake of communism’s fall (including the rather peculiar leadership of V.V. Putin), has managed over the past few years to mint some very high quality “St. George the Victorious” coins. Although people generally associate St. George with England, he is widely venerated among Christians in Eastern Europe as well, though any image of a fellow with a spear smiting a dragon is just as likely to be the Archangel Michael.
The gold St. Georges were introduced in 2006, with a nominal face value of 50 rubles – a bit more than $3 U.S.. The silver coins, sharing the same design, were introduced in 2009, with a face value of 3 rubles, or about 20¢ U.S. each. Minting of the gold coins takes place at facilities both in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, while the silver coins are struck in Saint Petersburg exclusively.
Casa de Moneda de Mexico
Mexico’s Silver Libertads, which are perhaps the only coins on Earth to feature a bare-breasted woman on the obverse (though certain details are abstracted away), are produced by the Casa de Moneda de Mexico. The Mexican Mint was established long ago, in 1535, when the dust of Hernan Cortes’ conquest had barely settled over the new colony of New Spain. Antonio de Mendoza, Viceroy of the Spanish Crown, established the mint to strike coins from the silver delved out of the San Luis Potosi mines. The famous quality of this coinage made the Spanish treasure galleons prime targets for English buccaneers and swashbucklers such as Sir Francis Drake.
The Casa still strikes high quality coins in Mexico City and San Luis Potosi. The Mint has showrooms, but does not make home deliveries in any manner, so it is usually necessary to buy its coins through secondary services such as APMEX, regardless of whether or not you live in Mexico.
Philatelic and Numismatic Office of the Vatican City State
The Vatican – whose name means “Home of the Prophet” – is still the central hub of Catholic Christendom, and a tiny but real sovereign state within the larger area of Italy. The Vatican’s history has been a checkered one – with everything from villains of the deepest dye to remarkably heroic individuals wearing the triple crown of the Servus Servorum Dei (“Servant of the Servants of God”, the Pope) – but today it has achieved enough independence to mint its own coinage.
The Vatican Mint, also responsible for issuing medallions and stamps, strikes a limited number of fine quality silver and gold coins every year, all of which have a pontifical theme. These coins are extremely rare, as well as having superb production values, and so are very eagerly sought by collectors. They make an unusual addition to any collection, and often feature Italian Renaissance religious art on the reverse, with the current Pontiff’s portrait on the obverse.
Several pages on the Vatican website are dedicated to these coins, but they are not sold on the web by the Holy See, and it is necessary to buy them from secondary sources.
National Bank of Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan is a remote central Asian nation, with a mixed population of Russians and Tartars, nearly infinite amounts of dust, and a climate that varies between searing, potentially lethal heat in the summer, and bitter cold in the winter. Although the country is tortured by unspeakable levels of corruption, and the vast oil profits it earns are funneled into the pockets of a few oligarchs, the National Bank of Kazakhstan still managed to produce a high quality silver bullion coin in recent years.
These coins have an almost abstract design, with the stylized rearing griffon emblem of Kazakhstan, and a geometric, modernistic look with just a whiff of the Art Deco about them. Nevertheless, they are available from some international coin dealers and, since they are of the same quality and fineness as any other silver bullion coin, are bought by some collectors who specialize in rare coins.
The “Somalian” Mint
A long series of African Wildlife coins, struck in .999 fine silver, has appeared over the past decade or so, featuring beautiful depictions of one of today’s most intriguing animals, the African elephant. Somalia is a scene of civil war and warlord politics, with its fishermen driven to piracy by destructive overfishing by international trawlers taking advantage of its political weakness, and it seems that these coins were not issued by order of an existing Somali government.
However, production of them continues – at a mint in Munich, Germany – and thanks to their high quality, exquisite designs, and unusual nature, they are quite well received by the collecting public and deserve mention alongside the other, more officially minted coinages of the world.