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Silver Rounds vs. Coins: Understanding the Difference

John-Rothans

Written by John Rothans

Apr 19, 2024

No matter how the financial industry changes or what new digital currencies are developed, precious metals are still considered a powerful and oftentimes preferred vehicle for wealth protection. That reputation goes back thousands of years, and there’s no sign that precious metals like silver and gold are going to lose their allure any time soon.

Today, many people are turning their attention to these ancient forms of currency and modern-day assets—especially silver, one of the most approachable precious metals for beginners because of its affordability, straightforward valuation, and accessibility. If you aren’t quite ready to purchase gold, silver may be a great entry-level precious metal.

That said, you may still wish to learn some basics before making your first physical silver purchase. Let’s compare two common types of physical silver: silver rounds vs. coins. They have similarities, but also distinct differences. Understanding the differences between silver rounds and coins can help you make more informed decisions when considering silver for either private ownership or ownership within a precious metals IRA .

Silver Rounds vs. Coins


A silver round and a silver coin may sound like the same thing, but any numismatist—someone who studies currency—will tell you they are very different in their details.

Physically, silver rounds and silver coins appear to be similar; both generally have a disc-like shape and a detailed finish. They can also share the same dimensions, though certain diameters of coins or rounds are known to veteran buyers as indications of where the round was produced or, for coins, its issuing nation. For example, an American Silver Eagle coin has a diameter of 40.6 mm, while the diameter of the Canadian Silver Maple is 38 mm. Another similarity is that silver rounds and silver coins are both made in different weights, which typically range from 1/10 oz. to 1 Troy oz.

However, significant factors exist that set silver coins and rounds apart. The largest factor is legal-tender status. In numismatic terms, a silver piece is only considered a coin if it has been issued under the authority of a government and features a legal-tender denomination. In other words, if it looks like a coin but isn’t “real money,” it’s likely a round. This coinage status, as well as the purposes behind the creation of physical silver pieces, sets coins and rounds apart.

Silver Coins


Both silver coins and silver rounds can be part of your financial strategy for protecting and preserving wealth. However, one type of silver may be more advantageous than the other. Anyone who plans to buy silver coins may benefit from understanding where they originated and why they are still used today.

Below are some details on the different types of silver coins and why they are used.

Types of Silver Coins


The most common types of silver coins include:

Silver Bullion Coins—modern silver bullion coins are notable for being legal-tender coins made from silver that’s 99.9% pure or finer. Because of this high purity, silver bullion coin prices tend to be near the “spot” or “melt” price for silver. Some countries have their own official silver bullion coins. The American Silver Eagle is the United States’ official silver bullion coin, with its purity guaranteed by the U.S. government. American Silver Eagles are also eligible for inclusion in precious metals IRAs under the rules set by the IRS.

Numismatic Silver Coins—when a silver coin is considered rare, particularly beautiful, or historically significant, it may be referred to as a numismatic silver coin. Numismatic silver coins often feature higher premiums than bullion coins of the same weight because their market price is based on additional factors like rarity, unique history, and graded condition.

Semi-Numismatic Silver Coins—“semi-numismatic” is a term that some use to define modern coins that are not necessarily rare, but still possess appeal beyond that of bullion coins. This may include proof versions of modern bullion coins, which feature frosted designs and mirrored fields, silver coins specially produced for collectors, and modern silver coins that have been professionally graded. These types of coins are priced based on the spot price of their silver content as well as their purity and collectability.

Silver Dollars—while the American Silver Eagle is technically $1 U.S. legal tender, the term “silver dollar” more commonly refers to vintage U.S. dollar coins, which circulated in commerce and were 90% pure silver. That said, the U.S. Mint still occasionally sells limited-edition silver dollar proof coins. While all these coins share a $1 denomination, they sell for far larger amounts based on their precious metal weight, purity, and numismatic appeal.

Why the Morgan Silver Dollar Is Different
The Morgan Silver Dollar may be the most widely collected vintage silver dollar in U.S. history. Minted from 90% pure silver, these coins were originally produced from 1878 to 1904, then for one more year in 1921. As coins used in daily commerce, Morgans circulated heavily, making the search for pristine examples of specific dates and mintages a true passion for many collectors.

Historical Significance of Silver Coins


Few people realize that silver, not gold, is the first known form of fully functional money, having been used as money by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia as early as 3100 B.C. In ancient cultures, physical silver also became a signifier of wealth.

The intrinsic, widely held value of silver made it the perfect coinage for merchants that traded in various countries. Early examples of silver coins include the Greek drachma and Roman denarii. Many years later, England and Spain were among the top producers of minted silver coins that had designated denominations, set purity levels, and were marked to prove authenticity.

The currency practices of ancient cultures continued over the years. When the United States was founded in 1776 , it didn’t have currency of its own. Instead, the U.S. government declared certain coins from other nations to be acceptable as legal tender, including Spanish silver reales.

Today, silver coins from ancient civilizations are highly collectible. They tend to be rare and hold historical significance that many collectors consider to be priceless.

Stable Monetary Exchange


One reason silver and other precious metals have continued to be produced as coins and rounds is because they are recognized around the world as currency and/or stores of wealth. Because they were minted by multiple empires and governments, silver coins created reliability and stability in monetary exchanges, providing a trusted medium of exchange to facilitate global commerce. These ancient coins often displayed mint marks as a sign of where and by whom they were produced, just like the coins of today.

Modern Wealth Protection


In modern times, silver coins are rarely used as currency for making purchases. Instead, they are most often used for wealth protection. Precious metals like silver can be used as a part of a financial strategy aimed at hedging against currency devaluation and economic uncertainty. Owning silver coins is one way to help improve portfolio diversification, which can provide additional protection during market downturns and recessions.

Silver Rounds


Silver rounds are essentially any silver pieces that do not display a legal-tender denomination. Because of this lack of legal-tender status, rounds are not approved for use as a currency, even though many rounds are produced from 99.99% pure silver.

Origin and Production


Even though they look like coins, silver rounds do not meet the definition of coinage. Rather than being produced by a government mint, silver rounds are often issued by private mints and therefore don’t have legal-tender status. This may be helpful to keep in mind when examining silver rounds for purchase, as many are non-legal-tender replicas of popular vintage silver coins.

Also, while a silver round may have its metal weight and fineness embossed on its surface, that information isn’t necessarily guaranteed to be accurate. Private mints may offer guarantees, but many buyers prefer to trust the government guarantees that back the weight and purity of officially issued silver coinage.

Design Flexibility


What silver rounds lack in their official status they can make up for with a variety in size and design. Because they are not constrained by legal-tender limitations, rounds have greater freedom in their designs. (The Coinage Act of 1972, for example, required all U.S. coins to display an “impression emblematic of liberty” as well as the inscription “LIBERTY.”) There’s much more customization even in the diameter and thickness of a silver round.

Variety of Designs That Can Create Collector Appeal


Like other physical forms of precious metals, a silver round has the potential to become a collector’s item. Vintage legal-tender silver coins tend to be more collectible than silver rounds, but silver rounds may attract collectors interested in the specific subject matter of a round’s design.

Silver Coins or Rounds: What to Consider Before Purchasing


Should I buy silver coins or rounds? If you’re still asking this question, here are a few key considerations that may help you make that decision.

Wealth and Portfolio Diversification: Silver Coins or Rounds?


If you plan to use silver in a portfolio or precious metals IRA, then silver coins may be the better option. Silver coins with legal-tender status and government guarantees tend to make them a more trusted asset.

These factors play into the premiums that are paid for silver coins and silver rounds. The purity and weight guarantee of silver coins typically puts them at a higher premium. This guarantee can also make silver coins easier to sell compared to silver rounds.

Another thing many buyers seriously consider is the risk of counterfeiting. While many private mints are trusted producers of quality products, the relative lack of government oversight means that silver rounds are more easily counterfeited compared to coins. This has become even more true in recent years because government mints have employed a technique known as microminting for security purposes. An example of this is the microminted maple leaf found on the Canadian Silver Maple Leaf produced by the Royal Canadian Mint.

Preferences for Collectability vs. Reliability


Your choice between silver coins and rounds may come down to personal preference and how much risk you’re willing to take. Silver coins offer more reliability because of their official status; there’s more assurance in how much they may be worth in the future relative to silver’s spot price. And while many silver coins are purchased by collectors or produced with collectors in mind, certain silver rounds may also end up being collectible, which could influence the perceived worth of rounds in the eyes of some purchasers.

Budget


While silver is more affordable than gold, cost is still a factor for many people who are new to precious metals. Silver coins are usually priced a little over silver spot prices , and silver rounds are priced comparably to wholesale bullion. As a result, rounds are often available at a lower premium than silver coins.

Silver Rounds vs Coins: Key Points to Know


The differences between silver rounds and coins may not always be obvious to a novice, which is why it may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the types of each precious metal available and their unique characteristics before making a purchase. Even though silver coins and silver rounds can look very similar, how and by whom they are made can make a big difference in how much they cost, how easy they will be to sell, and how much growth potential and protection they may provide to a portfolio.

Here are some of the most significant differences between silver coins and silver rounds that may help you make your buying decision:

  • Silver coins are legal tender and may be used as currency.
  • Silver coins are guaranteed by the governments that issue them.
  • Silver coins are usually priced above silver spot prices, whereas silver round prices may be comparable to wholesale bullion prices.
  • Silver rounds may have greater flexibility in their possible designs.
  • Silver coins are often considered the better option for IRAs.

Interested in other precious metals? Get our free Gold Information Kit to find out why so many people are turning to precious metals as alternative assets.

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