Johnson Matthey Silver Bars

The silver bars produced by Johnson Matthey are rare enough so that, despite not being a coinage or even anything resembling one, their price has risen well above the spot price of their constituent silver. In other words, the bars are worth more in their current form than an equivalent weight of pure silver in their weight would be. The market for these bars is somewhat chaotic, and information is in many ways fragmentary, but they are still a good investment as long as you can assure yourself of their authenticity.

Johnson Matthey silver bars are not currently available from the firm itself, though it still exists, but rather are bought and sold on the secondary market. Their availability is always shaky – sometimes, you will find these bars for sale in an unexpected place, and at other times, they will be completely unavailable. The ability to buy Johnson Matthey silver bars often depends on whether any of the holders of these metal objects is offering them for sale.

Your best bet is to check honest, reliable online sources such as APMEX, the American Precious Metals Exchange, which offers a variety of coins, bars, and rounds for sale to the general public while guaranteeing their authenticity and quality. Whenever a business like this acquires some of the bars, they will offer them until they are sold out. APMEX has a “notify me” feature with all their sold out products, meaning as soon as they get a product into stock, they will email all parties who have expressed an interest.

If you are interested in Johnson Matthey bars, then be cautious about buying them, but also swift – you don’t want to miss out on a chance to obtain some that may not repeat itself for months or years.

Properties of Johnson Matthey Silver Bars

The most predictable feature of Johnson Matthey silver bars, which have been created in a bewildering diversity of shapes, sizes, and production methods, is that they are mostly 99.9% pure silver, much like the bullion coins issued by governments around the world. Due to their rarity and diverse forms, however, they also usually have a value around twice the actual spot price, which means that they are better suited to collecting and trading rather than being used as a store of value to hedge against inflation, as noted in the buying section above.

Johnson Matthey silver bars come in far too many varieties to all be described here (and, indeed, there is no central listing of production available, so there is always a chance of a “discovery”. Some of the more interesting types are described here, however.

Shipwreck bars are 5 gram (slightly less than 1/6 ounce) silver bars produced by Johnson Matthey from silver recovered out of a shipwreck. They were produced at a time in the early 1980s when the Hunts of Texas were manipulating the silver market to drive the price up, which explains their miniscule size – the purpose was to market a collectible “fractional bar” to the public at an affordable price despite the Hunt price fixing. These are highly collectible today; each bears the emblem of a sailing ship, the legend “999 Fine Silver 5 Grams”, and a serial number. At the very bottom is a small, surprisingly modest JM stamp, with a pair of crossed hammers next to it.

The so-called “Koalagram” is another rare 5 gram bar with the image of a koala on it, which is collectible enough to be worth many times its silver spot price value. There are 100 ounce bars which are still popular, 1 ounce bars, and even Lilliputian 1 gram bars from the Hunt era. Some Johnson Matthey bars are superbly finished, with beautiful detailing and crisp, precise shapes, while others are crude, ugly affairs with large whorls and dents from pouring, which are of interest only for their bullion value.

History of Johnson Matthey and Its Silver Bars

Johnson Matthey is a British-headquartered chemical company which has occasionally dabbled in the production of silver bullion bars for the international silver market. The company has existed for close to two centuries as of this writing, and still retains a precious metals division – though, as noted below, this division is not involved in the production of silver bullion bars currently.

Interestingly, Johnson Matthey began two years after the Napoleonic Wars, as a gold assaying firm in London, where its central office remains to this day despite the presence of robust branch offices in other countries, most notably the United States. Around mid-century, the firm had grown considerably, but was still involved with precious metals, including serving as the assayer and refiner for no less an institution than the Bank of England.

As with so many apparently solid, upright pillars of the business world, it is scarcely necessary to dig at all in order to unearth plenty of scandals involving Johnson Matthey. The firm made abominably bad loans, giving out more money than it actually owned to the Mermaid Theatre’s owner in the 1960s, and eventually being harmed so badly by this that other companies bought it out for the nominal price of one pound sterling (£1).

After this rescue, it continued in the same vein by deliberately dumping selenium wastewater into the Jordan River near Salt Lake City, in excess of the amount that the company is legally allowed to dump, and hiding the fact with lies about how much selenium its plant was producing. This plant was, interestingly, a precious metals processing facility. The dumping, of course, was ferreted out, and the firm was fined $3 million for its arrant flouting of environmental laws. Ironically, the company is also a producer of environmental protection technologies.

Johnson Matthey’s production of silver bars was sporadic and badly documented, but there are still many Johnson Matthey silver bars of wildly varying design, size, and properties in circulation from the times when the company has decided to enter that market. Uniquely, many of these silver bars have gained what amounts to a numismatic value – a selling price considerably in excess of the actual spot value of the silver which composes them. Often, they sell or trade for about twice the current spot price.

A precious metals division still exists in Johnson Matthey, which also has an environmental products division and a “fine chemicals” division. The precious metals division is currently involved in making silver fittings for industrial purposes, but there is always a chance that it will return to minting silver bars at some point in the future as well. In the meantime, silver enthusiasts are left with an interesting selection of argent bars to buy, sell, or hoard.

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