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On the collectability of bullion bars

WeissWeiss Posts: 9,922 ✭✭✭✭✭

I got a new piece today in the mail (you'll have to wait until Friday ;) ), and as I was driving back from the post office I was thinking about a topic I've glanced off of in the past and I think I've even referenced here before: How silver art bars are so unloved in most of the silver stacker community.

And then I started thinking about that incredibly rare Foster bar I posted in that Friday after Thanksgiving metal porn thread. For those who didn't see it: It's a crude little 1 ounce silver bar... that is probably worth +/- $1,000. :o

And then something dawned on me: Silver art bars from the very late 1960s through the early 1970s were intended to be prized collectibles and even "long term investments", marketed in ad campaigns with fantastic designs and detail, proof finishes, limited mintages, and fancy boxes or holders. But for as long as I can remember, going back at least 25 years if not longer, they have been pretty much hated--the last kids to be picked for the team. Nobody in my area has ever wanted them. When silver was stable around $10 an ounce, you couldn't give them away. And even recently, especially when they were up against American silver eagles or even generic bullion bars like Silver Towne, silver art bars sold at spot while these other vehicles sold at $1 or $2 over melt.

Conversely, early bullion bars, like those by JM and Engelhard, or the aforementioned Foster bar and its later iterations, bars that were at best designed to be stacked in a vault, rarely if ever seen, or at worst, were destined for manufacturing; the drawing machine to be stretched into yards of wire, or the X-ray or photograph finishing business.

And unlike their fancy silver art bar relatives, the designs of these bars were utilitarian and functional: Maker, purity, weight. Serial number could be non-sequential or non-existent, and like their "mintage", completely arbitrary and unlimited.

So why is it that the bars that were intended to be rare and valuable are so unwanted, while the bars designed for investment or industry have become so sought after?

Certainly not all art bars are junk. There are legitimately rare bars that command premiums, sometimes even a small fortune. I just searched eBay for recently sold "art bars", and the highest selling single 1-ounce bar was a 1979 Greathouse Teddy Bear bar #141/175, which sold for $377 on 10-31-20.

But that search of "art bars" also turned up a single 1-ounce bar by JM with a "BMZ" logo that just sold for $465--about 25% more than that highest-selling "art bar"!

In fact, if you exclude the 1 or 2 recent sales that seem...irregular, the top 10 highest grossing recent sales of "art bars" include pieces by Foster, Englehard, Sharps Pixley, and JM.

Then again, not all "bullion" bars of that early era are worth much more than melt. I've got lots of examples of regional refineries whose 1 ounce bars are little more than a novelty. But honestly? I think I'd rather have a cool regional bullion bar than a silver art bar.

It could be that since the "limited" production art bars were hoarded and protected, their numbers remained too great to be especially valuable. But by the same token, those pieces were unwanted for so long that surely their numbers must have diminished, victims of the various silver runs and the smelter's crucible.

Or it could be that "topical" bars just didn't hold up well over time. Nobody cares about Henry Kissenger or St. Patrick's day 1975 on the dawn of 2021.

Given the choice of pristine early 1970s art bars or early bullion bars, which would you prefer? Why?

We are like children who look at print and see a serpent in the last letter but one, and a sword in the last.
--Severian the Lame

Comments

  • MeltdownMeltdown Posts: 8,603 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 2, 2020 4:18AM

    Interesting question. I think they've been both hot & cold over the years much like Commem half dollars. Currently, given recent sales I'd say they're very "cool" right now.
    I collect them still today when I find one that is interesting or I don't have yet mostly because I have a couple Dansco albums for putting them in.
    Back in the early 2000's, there was a shop here in town with 3 huge trays full of them and it was any or all for $9 each. I made pretty good profits for a time flipping them on ebay and kept quite a few of my initial collection from that place until it closed up.
    At the time, I pulled 2 Mt. Hood Coca-Cola bars from there - each sold for over $600... many other themes would sell in the $40 range and it was easy-peasy.

    Last but not least, I trust that they're pure silver just as much as I would name brand JM or Engelhard bars.

    That's my 2 cents.

  • bronco2078bronco2078 Posts: 9,961 ✭✭✭✭✭

    a lot of stuff intended to be collectible is melt. Look at franklin mint stuff from the 1970's , they put work into it .
    All that sterling , those oddball grain sized bars with flags and cars and animals etc.

  • rickoricko Posts: 98,724 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I have a few of the 'art' bars.... I think I have posted a picture of my Secretariat bar... I listened/watched all three Triple Crown races that year... Amazing memories. A couple others for special occasions or design. Other than that, I stick to ASE's. And any silver U.S. coins I come across. Cheers, RickO

  • ashelandasheland Posts: 22,561 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Like Bronco said, typically if it's made to be a collectable, not many people care, like coins. But, If it was made to be used, not collected, it seems to be more desirable.

    Over the last few years, I've grown very fond of the old poured, obscure bars...

  • WeissWeiss Posts: 9,922 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Meltdown said:

    Last but not least, I trust that they're pure silver just as much as I would name brand JM or Engelhard bars.

    I think that's an important point: The art bars I've seen that specify .999 silver are always .999 silver and are exactly 1 troy ounce.

    However, like @bronco2078 hit on: There are a lot of pieces from the same era that look a little like .999 silver art bars that are in fact sterling silver bars, often denoted in grains rather than troy ounces. A bar that is sterling silver and 500 grains weighs almost exactly 1 troy ounce.

    We are like children who look at print and see a serpent in the last letter but one, and a sword in the last.
    --Severian the Lame
  • MeltdownMeltdown Posts: 8,603 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @asheland said:

    Over the last few years, I've grown very fond of the old poured, obscure bars...

    I had a pretty good collection of old poured bars early on as well. That last run up to $50 per ounce, I toyed with the idea of selling and quadrupling my stack but didn't. I couldn't break away from my "collection" that I had spent so much time stacking. That run up was short lived, a matter of days really and I missed the opportunity. I have kicked myself for it ever since.
    I decided pretty quick in the months after that the whole reason I began stacking silver in the first place was not just to keep my money in a safe spot but to grow that income for future spending. (My original intention was to use it to help with the kids college or maybe pay off the house, something big like that)

    It was then that I decided to keep (most) of my emotion out of the equation and treat it like it was intended. I still enjoy picking up interesting pieces here and there but if that run up ever takes off again I'm much more positioned to cash it all and start again without regret.

  • WeissWeiss Posts: 9,922 ✭✭✭✭✭

    That's the key and that's my very lofty, near impossible goal: Find the really good, rare, and interesting stuff and not pay more for it than you do for modern generic pieces.

    This new piece I paid up for, but I think I got it at less than it's "worth".

    We are like children who look at print and see a serpent in the last letter but one, and a sword in the last.
    --Severian the Lame
  • ashelandasheland Posts: 22,561 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Most of what I have was bought at normal, (slight premium) pricing...

  • ashelandasheland Posts: 22,561 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Cool bars!

  • MeltdownMeltdown Posts: 8,603 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I've been trying to sell this damn album for months here with no luck. I finished my first art bar album a couple years back...
    I didn't realize I had acquired so many others. At this point, I guess I'll just start filling it up. B)

  • blitzdudeblitzdude Posts: 5,282 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I never paid over spot on any bar, regardless of size or what was stamped on it. The general rule with bullion: silver is silver although I have paid over spot for ASEs due to the fact they are the most liquid silver on planet earth.

    Just never understood bullion that was marketed as "collectible". Collectible silver are things like MS Peace/Morgan dollars.

    The whole worlds off its rocker, buy Gold™.

  • rte592rte592 Posts: 1,382 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I think the old pour stuff will always have a following.

  • LukeMarshallLukeMarshall Posts: 1,881 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I love how this became a picture thread :D

    These early 70's bars have lived through bull and and bear cycles, and as you mentioned considered junk by some only to be melted for their metal content. Somewhere along the way some figured out that these "art bars" could actually be collectible and catalogues were built around them, charting their relative rarity.

    Whereas my tastes were never with the 1970's art bars, I do have a small collection of early Pamp Suisse bars that I enjoy.

    It's all about what the people want...

  • WeissWeiss Posts: 9,922 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Funny you should comment, @LukeMarshall ;)

    We are like children who look at print and see a serpent in the last letter but one, and a sword in the last.
    --Severian the Lame
  • bronco2078bronco2078 Posts: 9,961 ✭✭✭✭✭

    what I can't grasp is new bars being peddled as worth over spot. You would have to be soft in the head to pay extra for say , a brand new pamp gold bar with some stupid design stamped on it.

    or when kilo silver started to be sold at huge markups over silver melt. Oh look its a different size ! like any size known couldn't instantly be stamped out by the thousands in a day.

    Gieger 50 gram ! extra value ? No................ awkward size spot value , like the 1000 grain size , don't create some pointless thing no one asked for then act like its special

  • ashelandasheland Posts: 22,561 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Those mining bars are sweet!

  • ashelandasheland Posts: 22,561 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Here’s a modern mining bar:

  • SmudgeSmudge Posts: 9,162 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Bars that are appealing to other collectors may do well. Lots of Coca Cola collectors so one of their bars should do well. Gun bars as well. The old technique of collecting things that draw in collectors from more than one angle is worth considering. A Colt Zippo lighter will certainly fetch a better price than a plain Zippo.

  • MeltdownMeltdown Posts: 8,603 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited December 8, 2020 8:54AM

    I've got a few of these Walla Walla, Washington 3oz bars tucked away - I've always liked them when I can find them cheap.

  • DrBusterDrBuster Posts: 5,300 ✭✭✭✭✭

    A couple years ago I did a tour of the Coke archives to kill some office time, they did not have any of the silver bars - I asked.

  • bronco2078bronco2078 Posts: 9,961 ✭✭✭✭✭

    anyway the answer is no . The side of life's highway is littered with the burnt out carcasses of shoulda coulda used to be collectible items.

    Todays rare 3.57 ounce old pour is tomorrows beanie baby. Keep a close eye on the market and exit with a profit.

    Don't be the guy who has a bunch of collectible whatsis and sits on them for 20 years then finds out they are now melt and you missed your chance.

    It can absolutely happen , it could be something as mundane as a flood of fakes out of china which makes people lose confidence in the market for that item. Its almost a given that will happen , they just haven't gotten around to your market yet.

    Flog the dollars out of the collectible items and don't get so attached that you die owning them. Your grandkids will go on pawn stars with your rare bars and trade them for pez dispensers .

    Remember you are old and everyone who likes these ugly bars is old too and when you die there will be no one to buy them.

    Go peek around the stamps forum but don't point and laugh at the old geezers , there but for the grace of God...................

  • WeissWeiss Posts: 9,922 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Everything @bronco2078 said is correct.

    But... :)

    We are like children who look at print and see a serpent in the last letter but one, and a sword in the last.
    --Severian the Lame
  • WeissWeiss Posts: 9,922 ✭✭✭✭✭

    That's a GREAT collection, @WildIdea !

    That Norman Rockwell bar is so detailed, and it's cool that there is a connection to you. And your collection of old pour smaller bars is fantastic!

    Life is too short for boring bullion, so make the chase exciting by buying the good stuff at the same price as the common stuff.

    I don't have many pure "art bars", maybe 10 or 15. Here are two that I think are pretty cool, if nothing else just because of how incredibly detailed they are. Each bought for spot:

    USSC Old Barbary Coast, type III , 1973 (USSC-198A):

    Artistic Silver Thanksgiving 1973 (art-1):

    We are like children who look at print and see a serpent in the last letter but one, and a sword in the last.
    --Severian the Lame
  • ashelandasheland Posts: 22,561 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Awesome bars!

  • bronco2078bronco2078 Posts: 9,961 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Weiss said:
    That's a GREAT collection, @WildIdea !

    That Norman Rockwell bar is so detailed, and it's cool that there is a connection to you. And your collection of old pour smaller bars is fantastic!

    Life is too short for boring bullion, so make the chase exciting by buying the good stuff at the same price as the common stuff.

    I don't have many pure "art bars", maybe 10 or 15. Here are two that I think are pretty cool, if nothing else just because of how incredibly detailed they are. Each bought for spot:

    USSC Old Barbary Coast, type III , 1973 (USSC-198A):

    This is the full house commemorative ! Those olsen twins manage to wet their beaks in everything

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