Here is a spread of early 20th century silver piastre trade coins from the colony of French Indo-China. Prices for these silver trade dollars, and others like them, have steadily risen over the past 10 years - particularly for problem free specimens in good condition.
In 1865 U.S. journalist Horace Greeley popularized the rallying cry "Go west, young man". The phrase was originally meant to encourage the enterprising and ambitious to strike out for fortune in the rugged expanses of the Western United States. And yet, if you travel far enough west, you inevitably find yourself in the exotic and mysterious Far East.
In the 19th century, China, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia were not only sources of exotic philosophies and bizarre plants and animals, but also luxury goods of all descriptions. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that the unfamiliar, yet beguiling, cultures of the Far East fascinated the West. Antique silver trade dollars - large coins minted to promote commerce in the region - perfectly exemplified this Western obsession with all things East Asian.
During the mid 19th century European trade with the Far East grew dramatically. Europe imported massive quantities of Chinese silk, porcelain and tea, along with many other East Asian luxury goods. However, the merchants of the Far East - and China in particular - would only accept silver bullion in exchange for their wares.
As the 19th century progressed and the European powers established colonial territories in East Asia, the need for standardized silver trade coins to facilitate commerce became acute. As a result, the greatest empires and nations of the age - France, Great Britain, Japan and the U.S. - all minted impressively heavy silver trade dollars for exclusive use in the distant Far East trade.
Although I use the phrase "silver trade dollars" as a catchall term in this guide, calling these coins silver trade crowns would be more technically accurate. A "crown" in coin collecting traditionally referred to an old British 5 shilling silver coin. However, the term has also been adopted by the collecting community to refer to any silver coin that is similarly large in size.
Foreign silver crowns are avidly sought by coin collectors due to their imposing dimensions and captivating designs. Silver trade dollars of the Far East are no exception to this rule. With diameters generally varying between 38 and 39 millimeters (1.5 to 1.54 inches), they are similar in size to the venerable U.S. silver dollar.
In addition, these East Asian trade coins were struck from high purity, 900 fine (90%) silver. They were among the largest, most splendid coins ever intended for general circulation. Nothing impresses a potential trade partner like a massive hunk of almost pure silver.
Tragically, these historic silver trade dollars were usually treated as common bullion. Although originally minted by the tens of millions, over the decades vast quantities have been damaged, excessively worn or melted down. Consequently, these artistically crafted treasures of a bygone era are not nearly as plentiful as official mintage figures would indicate, particularly for examples in better condition.
One of the most beautiful and iconic of these silver trade dollars is the French Indo-China piastre. Over a period of about 30 years in the late 19 century, France accumulated several territories that it eventually consolidated into French Indo-China. The present-day countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were all part of this colony. At the time, the French Empire was second only to the British Empire in terms of prestige.
In order to facilitate trade in French Indo-China, France introduced a new currency unit called the piastre de commerce. The piastre was minted to a standard of 24.49 grams (0.7875 troy ounces) of pure silver. The series ran from 1885 to 1928 and featured the personification of Liberty seated on the front.
The figure of seated Liberty on the coin looks uncannily like the Statue of Liberty in New York City's harbor. This isn't just a coincidence. France gave the famous landmark to the United States in 1886 as a gift for its (belated) 100th anniversary. The reverse has a simple, yet elegant, wreath surrounded by a legend with the coin's weight and fineness.
In 1895 the weight of the French Indo-China piastre was slightly reduced to 24.30 grams (0.7812 troy ounces) of fine silver. However, the purity and design of the coin was left unaltered. The French Indo-China piastre was minted primarily in Paris, but coins dated 1921 and 1922 were struck in Birmingham, Osaka or Hanoi.
French Indo-China Silver Piastre Coins For Sale
Another silver trade dollar that is extremely popular with collectors today is the British trade dollar. In the early 1890s, the British began looking for a new currency to promote commerce with China, as well as Britain's expansive East Asian possessions. As a result, the British trade dollar was minted from 1895 to 1935. This coveted coin saw heavy circulation in Burma, British Malaya, British Borneo, Singapore and Hong Kong.
This attractive silver trade dollar shows Britannia - the personification of the mighty British Empire - standing proudly with her trident and shield on the obverse while the reverse displays the denomination in both the Chinese and Malay languages. The British trade dollar contained 24.26 grams (0.7800 troy ounces) of fine silver and was minted in both Bombay (present day Mumbai) and Calcutta (present day Kolkata).
British Silver Trade Dollars For Sale
The Japanese also felt the need to maintain their commercial interests by striking a silver trade dollar. In 1897 Japan pulled over 20 million of its silver one yen coins from circulation and countermarked them with the Japanese word "gin" or silver. These demonetized coins were then exported as bullion pieces to the Imperial Japanese possessions of Taiwan, Korea and Manchuria. The "gin" countermark denoting these as special trade pieces was stamped on the reverse of the coins, to either the left of the denomination (indicating the Osaka mint) or the right (indicating the Tokyo mint).
The Japanese silver one yen coin contained 24.26 grams (0.7800 troy ounces) of fine silver and was struck from 1874 to 1897. It featured an Asian-style dragon on the obverse and the stately Japanese imperial crest, along with a wreath and the denomination on the reverse. These remarkable Japanese silver trade dollars were a far cry from the feudal-style, "samurai money" the Tokugawa shogunate had struck just a few decades before.
Japanese Countermarked Silver One Yen Coins For Sale
Not to be outdone by its trade rivals, the United States also minted an East Asian silver trade dollar that is extremely popular with collectors today. But this silver trade coin had a story behind it.
In the early 1870s the United States had two problems. First, it needed to find a way to off-load massive quantities of silver that had been discovered in Nevada's famous Comstock Lode. Second, the U.S. was worried about the competitiveness of its existing silver dollar in the Far East trade versus the preeminent coin of Chinese commerce at the time, the silver Mexican 8 reales. Foreign silver coins other than the Mexican 8 reales - like the U.S. dollar - were often significantly discounted in transactions.
As a way to address both problems at once, the U.S. authorized the striking of a special, slightly heavier version of the silver dollar. This resulted in the U.S. trade dollar, a coin struck from 1873 to 1885 that was intended to circulate solely in China and the Far East. The U.S. trade dollar showed Liberty seated on the front and an eagle with wings spread on the back of the coin. The coin was struck in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Carson City (in Nevada) to a standard of 24.49 grams (0.7874 troy ounces) of pure silver.
U.S. Silver Trade Dollars For Sale
An ambitious connoisseur could assemble a very impressive traditional collection of these large, enticing silver coins by date and mint. Alternatively, one could assemble a good "short set" by acquiring a single example of each type of trade crown - a French Indo-China piastre de commerce, a British trade dollar, a "gin" countermarked Japanese yen and a U.S. trade dollar.
Another fine set would be a French Indo-China piastre from every decade of its production run - one from the 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s and finally the 1920s. This type of abbreviated set would work well with the British trade dollar as well.
Yet another variant would be collecting every different date of a U.S. trade dollar struck at a particular mint. A San Francisco U.S. trade dollar set would consist of six common-date coins and be eminently achievable. On the other hand, a Carson City set - although the same number of coins - would be substantially more challenging and expensive to assemble due to their lower mintages and high collector demand.
When purchasing silver trade dollars it is important to acquire coins in Very Fine (VF) or better condition. Coins in VF condition will retain most details on figures and devices, although the exact grading varies by the coin series. One potential exception to this rule is key date coins, where a lower grade may be acceptable.
For example, the 1878 Carson City U.S. trade dollar only had a mintage of 97,000 pieces. But according to U.S. mint records, 44,148 trade dollars were melted in that year. Almost all of these were undoubtedly 1878 issues from the Carson City mint. So it is likely that net issuance was only around 50,000 specimens, with many of those subsequently destroyed or heavily damaged. Therefore, unless your budget is unlimited, acquiring an 1878 Carson City trade dollar below VF condition may not only be acceptable, but your only realistic option.
The other primary consideration when choosing silver trade dollars is ensuring the coins are problem free. It is imperative to avoid pieces that are scratched, holed or damaged in any way. It is also wise to bypass coins that have been harshly cleaned at some point in their lives. A well-worn coin that is brilliantly lustrous is suspect and highly likely to have been cleaned. Instead, look for examples with original surfaces even if it means the coin is toned, dark or slightly tarnished.
Some trade pieces have chopmarks. These are Chinese characters stamped onto the coin by private Chinese banks or moneychangers to guarantee their silver content. In years past, chopmarked coins were considered damaged and thus traded at a discount to non-chopmarked examples.
However, this outdated opinion may be changing as the market for these attractive coins matures and becomes more sophisticated. At a minimum, chopmarks on a silver trade crown prove that the coin in question definitely circulated in the Far East - and more specifically the Chinese market.
With their impressive size, precious metal content and historical significance, silver trade dollars are highly desirable investments. In fact, as of early 2018, prices for these stunning coins have risen by almost 50% in just the last few years alone!
In spite of these rising prices, good examples of common date French Indo-China piastre and British silver trade dollars are still available in the $50 to $250 range. Countermarked Japanese one yen pieces run slightly more, with pricing starting at around $100. U.S. trade dollars are the most expensive of the group with common date varieties in reasonable condition trading for over $200.
Scarce or key dates of any of the series can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to several thousands of dollars, depending on condition. Key dates of the U.S. trade dollar in particular are difficult to find and correspondingly expensive. However, even an abridged set of these celebrated Far East silver trade coins would constitute a magnificent and compelling tangible asset.
It has been more than 150 years since Horace Greely's famous pronouncement to "Go west, young man". With the rise of China in the modern age, Horace Greeley's illustrious advice to seek fortune on the edges of the globe has stood the test of time. And there are few finer ways of honoring the spirit of that astute motto than by investing in the silver trade dollars of East Asia.
Here is a superb example of a 2006 one troy ounce U.S. Gold Buffalo coin. Although not traditionally considered collectors' pieces, modern gold bullion coins that possess strong designs and low mintages will inevitably become favorites of the numismatic community.
Perfection is a something that most of us have chased at one time or another. Unfortunately, perfection is a notoriously fickle thing. Almost everything in the world has its quirks or flaws. Regardless of how great your mobile phone might have seemed at the wireless dealer, once you've used it for a month, you know its shortcomings. Likewise, your late-model car may look great from a distance, but get up close and the ugly little scratches and dents become all too visible. Even our interpersonal relationships have their warts, rarely achieving the ideals that we initially envision for them.
However, there is one thing in life where perfection isn't just possible, but is practically mandatory - gold bullion coins. These paragons of tangible wealth nearly transcend the material world in their quest for absolute perfection. Struck by the most well-respected government mints from around the world, these internationally recognized bullion pieces are minted from the very purest gold, using the very latest industrial processes. Free from even the smallest of blemishes, gold bullion coins embody the ideal of physical perfection. In a world of digital crypto-currencies and virtual offshore accounts, gold bullion coins are pristine, physical treasure that you can hold in the palm of your hand.
Collecting gold bullion coins offers the aspiring numismatic connoisseur a lot of advantages over collecting older coins. First, bullion coins are made out of gold, giving them an immediate cachet that more pedestrian coinage lacks. And these masterpieces in gold are also usually struck in a variety of sizes to accommodate every budget. Governments mint everything from small, but affordable 1/20 troy ounce gold bullion coins right up to impressively hefty one troy ounce examples.
Another overlooked benefit of gold bullion coins is that there are rarely any key or rare dates. This puts a complete collection of most bullion series within the reach of the average collector. This contrasts markedly with traditional coin collecting, where ultra-expensive key dates often render complete sets unrealistic.
Finally, the monetary risk of collecting gold bullion coins is generally quite limited because most of what you are paying for is bullion value. Under normal circumstances, high quality, collector-oriented gold bullion coins with substantial numismatic potential can be purchased for a modest 5% to 25% over spot. Even for very rare pieces, the premiums are rarely more than 50% over spot.
The Mexican Libertad is one of these great gold bullion coin bargains. In fact, I view it as the hidden investment sleeper of the gold bullion coin world. Struck intermittently from 1981 until the present, gold Libertads come in one troy ounce, 1/2 ounce, 1/4 ounce, 1/10 ounce and 1/20 ounce sizes. From 1981 until 1988 the Mexican gold Libertad series was struck in 0.900 fine gold, but starting in 1991 the composition was changed to pure 24 karat gold.
The gold Libertad obverse features Mexico City's famous Angel of Independence statue in the foreground flanked by the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl in the background. Mexico's national emblem, a golden eagle tearing apart a rattlesnake while sitting atop a cactus, graces the reverse. Libertad gold coins underwent a redesign in the year 2000. Although the major design elements were not changed, they were updated to a more modern aesthetic.
The Mexican Libertad is one of the lowest mintage regular issue gold bullion coins available in the market today. Excluding the first year of production, when mintages were significantly higher, the one troy ounce Libertad gold bullion coin has averaged less than 15,000 specimens per annum. As shockingly low as this number might seem, the mintages on the gold Libertad fractional coins are even lower. Gold Libertad proofs have the lowest mintages at all, with numbers struggling to reach the four-figure mark in many cases.
Mexican Libertad Gold Bullion Coins For Sale
The Australian Gold Nugget/Kangaroo is another great bullion series for the aspiring collector or investor. First minted in 1986, the Nugget/Kangaroo features a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on the obverse. The reverse featured famous Australian gold nuggets for the first three years of production before switching over to kangaroos, hence the reason the series is commonly called the Nugget/Kangaroo. As an added incentive for investors, the kangaroo design on the reserve is altered every year to increase collector interest.
Minted in pure gold, the Australian Gold Nugget/Kangaroo has been struck in sizes ranging from the monstrous 1 kilogram (32.15 troy ounces) coin to the diminutive 1/20 of a troy ounce (1.56 grams) coin. Mintages have generally been modest, with the 1 troy ounce gold Nugget/Kangaroo averaging only 152,000 specimens every year from 1986 to 2016. The maximum mintage was 2013 when just over 341,000 examples were coined.
Australian Kangaroo/Nugget Gold Bullion Coins For Sale
China's entry in the global gold bullion coin competition, the Chinese Panda, was first issued in 1982. Struck from 99.9% pure gold, Chinese Panda coins feature Beijing's famed 15th century Taoist Temple of Heaven on the front. The back has a depiction of a Chinese giant panda in a natural setting that is redesigned every year.
From the series' inception in 1982 until 2015, Pandas were struck in 1 troy ounce, 1/2 ounce, 1/4 ounce, 1/10 ounce and 1/20 ounce sizes. However, starting in 2016, the Chinese authorities decided to embrace the metric system. As a result, more recent Chinese gold Panda coins have been issued in 30 gram, 15 gram, 8 gram, 3 gram and 1 gram sizes.
Chinese Pandas are some of the most popular modern gold bullion coins with collectors due to their attractive designs and quintessentially Chinese cultural themes. In addition, mintages have been very limited for a bullion issue, with 1 troy ounce pieces averaging an annual mintage of less than 60,000 annually from 1982 through 2006. Due to their perennial popularity, the Chinese government increased mintage numbers modestly starting in 2007.
Chinese Panda Gold Bullion Coins For Sale
The final gold bullion coin I want to showcase is the American Buffalo. These .9999 fine pure gold coins feature an adaptation of the acclaimed U.S. Buffalo Nickel, which was originally minted between 1913 and 1938. The U.S. Buffalo gold coin has original artist James Earle Fraser's iconic Indian head bust on the obverse and his powerful rendition of a wild bison on the reverse.
Unlike most other gold bullion series, the U.S. Gold Buffalo is a relative newcomer, having only premiered in 2006. American Gold Buffaloes are also the first coins the U.S. mint ever struck from pure, unalloyed gold. With the exception of 2008, when 1/2, 1/4 and 1/10 ounce pieces were also struck, the mint has made the curious decision to issue the coins in only one denomination - the one troy ounce size.
Mintages for U.S. Gold Buffaloes are surprisingly low for a popular U.S. bullion series. Except for the first year of issue, 2006, one troy ounce pieces have averaged just over 225,000 minted every year. These mintages include both uncirculated bullion coins and proof collector coins. These numbers are exceptionally low compared to its counterpart program, the American Gold Eagle bullion series, which has averaged over 600,000 one troy ounce coins per year.
U.S. Buffalo Gold Bullion Coins For Sale
For those collectors who are looking for even more exclusive gold bullion coins, the U.S. mint recently released a set of three very special issues. These bullion pieces borrow iconic U.S. coin designs from the early 20th century - the Mercury dime, Standing Liberty quarter and Walking Liberty half dollar - beautifully rendered in pure 24 karat gold. These three classic American coins were faithfully updated and released in 2016 on the 100th anniversary of their original issue in 1916.
The 2016 U.S. Walking Liberty Centennial gold half dollar weighs a full 1/2 troy ounce of .9999 fine gold and measures 1.063 inches (27.00 mm) in diameter. The front of the coin depicts Liberty confidently striding forward while the sun rises majestically behind her on the horizon. The reverse of the Walking Liberty Centennial gold piece features an American bald eagle nobly perched on a rocky outcropping. The original Walking Liberty half dollar design was so well loved that it was also adopted for the obverse design for the ubiquitous American Silver Eagle bullion coin.
2016 U.S. Gold Walking Liberty Half Dollars For Sale
The 2016 U.S. Standing Liberty Centennial gold quarter weighs 1/4 of a troy ounce of pure gold and has a diameter of 0.866 inches (22.00 mm). The obverse shows the personification of Liberty standing serenely with a shield in her left hand and an olive branch in her right hand. The reverse depicts an eagle in flight with its wings outstretched.
2016 U.S. Gold Standing Liberty Quarters For Sale
The 2016 U.S. Mercury Dime Centennial gold coin is struck from 1/10 of a troy ounce of 24 karat gold and is heavier than the original silver Mercury dime. The gold Mercury dime measures 0.650 inches (16.50 mm) in diameter. The front shows the head of winged Liberty, which is often identified with the ancient Roman god Mercury, while the reverse features a Roman fasces entwined with an olive branch.
2016 U.S. Gold Mercury Dimes For Sale
These three gold centennial issues have extremely limited mintages: 125,000 pieces for the dime, 100,000 for the quarter and only 70,000 for the half dollar. These coins are also notable because their original silver analogs often suffered from weak strikes due to the complexity of their designs. This is an oversight that the United States mint was finally able to rectify with modern minting technology, giving collectors the opportunity to own some truly iconic gold coins in stunningly pristine condition.
However, in my opinion, the ultimate gold bullion coin for the truly discerning collector is the 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle. The name is quite a mouthful, but this coin is worthy of its weighty title. It is a one troy ounce bullion piece struck from pure 24 karat, .9999 fine gold. But any similarity with lesser bullion coins promptly ends there. In order to understand why the 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle is so special, you need to first know the history behind this unique piece of numismatic Americana.
In the early 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt wanted to give the burgeoning American nation a coinage to rival that of the ancient Greeks. Ancient Greek coinage has been renowned through the millennia for its incomparable beauty, in particular its high relief designs. High relief is when a coin's devices (designs) are substantially raised above its flat background, or field, giving an impressive, almost sculptural effect.
President Roosevelt commissioned renowned artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create new dies for the U.S. double eagle, or $20 gold piece. Saint-Gaudens then designed the legendary St. Gaudens double eagle, which has been copied and adapted many times over the years. It features a robed lady Liberty boldly moving forward while holding a torch in her right hand and an olive branch in her left hand. The reverse portrays a noble American eagle soaring over a brilliant sunrise.
However, when Saint-Gaudens tried to have these magnificent new coins struck at the mint he ran into technical problems. The design was rendered in such high relief that the minting technology of the time was not up to the task of fully striking the coins. Consequently, the dies had to be redesigned in lower relief in order to accommodate the minting technology available.
Only 11,250 high relief double eagles were struck in 1907 for circulation before the dies were changed. These special high relief gold coins are especially coveted by knowledgeable U.S. coin collectors. In perennially high demand, prices generally start in the low five-figures for worn examples and rapidly escalate for nicer specimens.
In 2009, the U.S. Mint decided to finally right this historical wrong. Its Director, Ed Moy, resurrected the original high relief St. Gaudens double eagle design and adapted it into a limited edition, one troy ounce gold bullion coin. Except this time, the mint would make sure it would be fully struck in gloriously high relief as sculpture Augustus Saint-Gaudens originally intended.
Saint-Gauden's original plaster dies were pulled out of their hundred year storage at the U.S. Mint and digitally scanned. With the resulting digital design, the die was updated with the year, 2009, and the motto "In God We Trust", which was not present on the original 1907 version. In addition, four stars were added to the existing 46 stars around the rim of the obverse to reflect the additional four states that had joined the Union since 1907.
And with that, a masterpiece was born. The 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle measures 1.0630 inches (27.00) mm across and an unbelievable 0.1575 inches (4.00 mm) in thickness. These impressive gold bullion coins have been meticulously struck in the highest relief and to the most exacting standards. In fact, the standards were so exacting that it took a century before the technology was developed to make them a reality. And, of course, the mintage for this one year type is low, with only 115,178 pieces in existence.
2009 U.S. Gold Ultra High Relief Double Eagles For Sale
Nearly all of the gold bullion coins I've presented here are pure, 24 karat gold. While that is partially coincidence, there is also a solid financial reason to recommend it: attrition. Because pure gold is very soft, circulating gold coins have traditionally been alloyed with a small amount of other metals (primarily copper and silver) in order to harden and toughen the gold. However, gold bullion coins are not intended for circulation and can, therefore, be made from pure gold.
But as a result, 24 karat gold bullion coins frequently acquire scuffs, scrapes, rim bumps or other minor damage if they are mishandled. This doesn't impair their value as bullion pieces, but it does render them unacceptable to serious coin collectors. So the already small populations of the collectible gold bullion coins listed above will inevitably be whittled down further over time via carelessness and accidents. The remaining pristine coins will, predictably, appreciate in value as they become rarer.
There are a host of other very popular gold bullion coins that I have not mentioned. These include American Gold Eagles, Canadian Maple Leafs, British Britannias, Austrian Philharmonics and South African Krugerrands. I want to make it clear that while these coins certainly have some collectible attributes, it is unlikely they will ever be as desirable as the gold bullion coins specifically highlighted in this article.
Mintage plays a significant role here. The Mexican Libertad, Australian Nugget/Kangaroo, Chinese Panda and U.S. Buffalo series have never had a mintage higher than one million pieces in any year through 2016. However, American Gold Eagle and Canadian Maple Leaf mintages have commonly exceeded this amount. Since 2013, British Britannias have only been limited in supply by the number of coins the market will absorb in any given year. South African Krugerrands, one of the only gold bullion coins available in the 1960s and 1970s, were struck by the tens of millions during that period. High mintages for gold bullion coin series are not conducive to future numismatic price appreciation and should be avoided.
Another factor that makes certain gold bullion coins more collectible than others is design. Modern coins, particularly commemorative coins, have been notorious for decades for the overall poor quality of their designs. The specific bullion issues discussed in this article buck the trend, making truly aesthetically pleasing designs available to the collecting community.
In contrast, many lesser gold bullion coins wallow in their own stylistic mediocrity, content to be thoroughly uninspiring, albeit utilitarian. There are degrees of nuance here, of course. Canadian Maple Leafs and American Gold Eagles both have reasonably pleasing, although not exceptional, design, but are rendered less desirable by their high mintages. Specially struck proof and burnished uncirculated American Gold Eagle issues are special exceptions, as they have very low annual mintages of tens of thousands or fewer.
In any case, it is important to collect what you like. But if numismatically-oriented investment return is important to you, then low mintage figures coupled with compelling design is a must. While larger 1 troy ounce gold bullion coins should theoretically be more desirable than smaller examples, this size advantage may be offset by the lower mintages and better affordability that fractional issues enjoy.
Condition, as always, is also a key factor. Because modern gold bullion coins are manufactured to such high standards, imperfections that would normally be acceptable on older collector coins are absolutely forbidden here. Examples include scratches, nicks, scrapes or any other damage visible without magnification. Modern gold bullion coins are one of the few collecting areas where absolute perfection is almost a necessity.
Gold Bullion Coin Sets For Sale
Prices for gold bullion coins usually track the spot price of gold fairly closely. Common date one troy ounce U.S. Gold Buffaloes and Australian Nugget/Kangaroos sell for relatively small marks ups of about 5% to 10% over bullion value. Expect to pay a bit more for one ounce Chinese Pandas and Mexican Libertads. The premiums on these bullion pieces can range from about 8% on the low end to well over 100% for some of the rare Chinese Pandas.
The 2016 U.S. Centennial gold coins also command substantial premiums over their bullion value. Currently, the alluring U.S. Walking Liberty gold half dollar trades with a premium that is about 40% over spot. The gold Standing Liberty quarter and Mercury dime both have higher premiums than this. But these elevated premiums are to be expected, as smaller gold bullion coins usually have higher premiums than their larger counterparts.
The outstanding 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle sports a hefty 50% premium right now. However, its premium has been even higher in the recent past. Honestly, a 50% premium over spot seems pretty tame to me for the ultimate gold bullion coin, but you can make your own assessment.
It is the height of irony that we live in an age when the world's central banks pursue rampant inflationism while their national mints simultaneously strike tremendously beautiful and profoundly collectible gold bullion coins. Consider it a sign of the times, a reflection of the developed world's monetary cognitive dissonance. Whatever its cause, don't let this opportunity slip by you. Gold bullion coins currently offer one of the lowest risk investment options for the savvy coin collector or shrewd tangible asset investor.
Here is a fine example of a nishu-kin (2 shu) gold coin minted during the Japanese Tokugawa shogunate between 1832 and 1858. The pale gold color is due to the fact that this coin, like most Japanese gold coins of the period, was minted from a gold-silver alloy known as electrum. Tokugawa era Japanese gold coins are often called "samurai money" as an ode to their feudal origins.
We live in a fake world. We are surrounded by fake wood, fake leather and even fake breasts. A world overrun by imitations isn't a particularly new phenomenon either. Even the ancient Romans were deceived by unscrupulous merchants who peddled brass as gold to the unwary. The counterfeit has been with us for a very, very long time.
In modern times, ingenious humans have found innumerable ways to imitate the finer (and by implication more expensive) things in life. But these unconvincing copies are pale facsimiles - mere shadows - of the real article. Those who understand these subtleties also know that genuine items of great beauty and real value are still available for those willing to take the time to look.
Feudal-era Japanese gold coins are one interesting possibility. Minted from the early 17th century until just after the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1869, these distinctly Asian coins reflect the rich samurai culture of feudal Japan. Feudal Japanese gold coins are remnants of a time when Japan was still largely agrarian, feudal and isolated. At this point in its history, Japan was ruled by traditional samurai lords who had cultivated their warrior philosophy for more than a millennium.
The monetary system of Tokugawa era Japan consisted of a disorganized mish-mash of bronze, silver, electrum (an alloy of gold and silver) and gold coins issued in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Theoretically, 16 shu equaled 4 bu, which also equaled 1 ryo. But, in reality, coins traded by weight as bullion pieces. Shu denominations, the smallest of the three, were often, but not always, minted in silver. Bu coins were either silver or gold. Larger denomination ryo coins were exclusively gold.
The Japanese word for silver is "gin" and their word for gold is "kin". Therefore, a one bu silver coin would be called an ichibu gin, which translates as "one-bu silver". Likewise, a similar one bu coin in gold would be called an ichibu kin, or "one-bu gold". Most Tokugawa period Japanese gold coins available in the market today are smaller one (ichi) or two (ni) shu or bu denominations. These coins are called isshu-kin (one-shu gold), nishu-kin (two-shu gold), ichibu-kin (one-bu gold) and nibu-kin (two-bu gold), respectively.
These smaller shu and bu Japanese gold coins from the Tokugawa shogunate have an unusual rectangular shape surrounded by finely beaded borders that is reminiscent of a miniature bar or ingot. Covered in exotic Japanese calligraphy and stylized paulownia flowers, shu and bu gold coins unequivocally exude the style of traditional samurai Japan. The warm, soft glow of their electrum alloy accentuates the intricate details of the pieces, giving them a compellingly tactile sensibility.
Tokugawa Shogunate Shu Japanese Gold Coins For Sale
Due to their high purchasing power, most Japanese gold coins only received light wear. Instead, everyday purchases in Tokugawa era Japan were made using lower value copper or silver coinage. Gold coins were generally hoarded by those lucky enough to acquire them.
For over 250 years, from 1600 to 1868, warlords known as the Tokugawa shogunate ruled over a Japan divided into fiefdoms, each controlled by a local daimyo, or samurai lord. But this traditional feudal structure began to deteriorate in the face of external threats. After maintaining strict international isolation for over 200 years, Japan finally opened to foreign influence and trade when U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry's infamous “Black Ships” entered Edo (Tokyo) Bay in 1853. Japan then spent the next two decades immersed in a complex crosscurrent of radical new ideas and intense political turmoil known as the Bakamatsu period.
The old ways were changing. A progressive faction that wished to modernize the island nation struggled against reactionary samurai forces that wanted to isolate the country again. These conservative samurai elevated the Japanese emperor, who had previously been a figurehead, to an almost mythical status while rallying around the slogan, “Revere the emperor, expel the barbarians (foreigners).”
Ultimately, this internal conflict undermined the rotting, ineffective Tokugawa shogunate, leading to its collapse in 1868. This ushered in the Meiji era, a time of rapid modernization and industrialization in Japan. Feudal Japan and the samurai warriors who ruled over it were irrevocably lost to the mists of time.
The Tokugawa shogunate, like many governments throughout history, had an overspending problem. Maintaining the excessively lavish lifestyle of the shogun and supporting his numerous retainers required more money than the government could easily collect via taxes. It also didn't help that most peasant farmers paid their taxes in the form of rice instead of money. Consequently, the Tokugawa regime almost continuously debased the currency during its lengthy reign.
Japanese gold coins from the early Tokugawa shogunate started the 17th century with a fairly high purity of over 84% fine. By the mid 19th century some of these Tokugawa shogunate gold coins had fallen to just over 12% fine gold. Debasement didn't occur in a strictly chronologically linear manner however; the purity of feudal Japanese gold coins varied widely, depending on the denomination and era struck. The shogunate diluted their gold coins with silver instead of a baser metal like copper, leading to the many electrum (gold-silver) issues of the late Tokugawa era.
Tokugawa Shogunate Bu Japanese Gold Coins For Sale
The nishu-kin (2 shu) gold coins most commonly found for sale today were minted between 1832 and 1858, in the Tenpo era. They are composed of 30% gold and 70% silver and measure approximately 13 mm (0.51 inches) long by 7 mm (0.28 inches) wide. They weigh about 1.62 grams (0.052 troy ounces) each. These small, intriguing coins are "samurai money" in the truest sense of the term.
Their larger nibu-kin (2 bu) cousins have four times the nominal face value of the smaller nishu-kin coins, but are otherwise quite similar. The nibu-kin type most frequently seen on the market today was produced during the upheaval of the very early Meiji era in 1868 and 1869. These Japanese gold coins circulated in the tumultuous period of rapid change immediately following the disintegration of the Tokugawa shogunate.
These late shogunate nibu-kin coins are composed of 22% gold and 78% silver and measure 19 mm (0.75 inches) long by 11 mm (0.43 inches) wide. They weigh around 3.00 grams (0.096 troy ounces) each and were the last Japanese coins made in the old, bar style. All later coins of the Meiji era were minted in the Western, machine-struck, round style that is familiar to us today.
For those looking for the ultimate in samurai money, larger denomination gold coins were also produced: the koban (1 ryo), goryoban (5 ryo) and oban (10 ryo) denominations. These impressively large coins circulated exclusively as bullion pieces, trading by weight. The massive goryoban and oban coins are extremely rare and can command astronomical prices (up to several tens of thousands of dollars each) when they do come to market. The smaller koban pieces are more common, though still scarce and highly desirable.
These large, Tokugawa-era Japanese gold coins are oval in shape, with flowing script and artistic flower seals against a background of horizontal grooves or crenulations. The reverse is blank except for scattered hallmark stamps and sometimes an era indicator. Few gold coins are as profoundly attractive as these masterpieces of the feudal Japanese coiner's art. As a result, they are in perpetually high demand with prices to match.
Tokugawa Shogunate Koban and Oban Japanese Gold Coins For Sale
Regardless of the creeping infiltration of the pseudo into the modern world there is one thing that is certain – Japanese gold coins of the Tokugawa shogunate are as genuine - as real - as it gets. As with most coins, the price of these cultural treasures is dependent on condition, rarity and the era minted. It is recommended that that investors look for specimens that are damage-free and possess good eye appeal.
The more common nishu-kin (2 shu) and nibu-kin (2 bu) examples from the 19th century generally trade in the $50 to $300 range per coin, while koban typically start above $600. Prices quickly escalate for scarcer pieces from the 18th century or earlier, especially kobans and other large denominations. For investment purposes, acquiring more common examples in Very Fine or better in condition would be advisable. Fine condition or better is acceptable for larger denominations or scarcer specimens. Condition becomes a secondary consideration for extremely rare pieces, assuming they can be found at all.
The Tokugawa shogunate was a simpler time of noble samurai, elegant geisha and rough peasant farmers that succumbed to the encroachment of the modern era. Feudal Japanese gold coins represent a satisfying and captivating way to acquire a physical link to this near mythical period in Japanese history. In a world where so much is so artificial, a collection of gold "samurai money" possesses an allure that is difficult to deny.
Pictured is a fine example of the iconic "bullseye" type Islamic medieval gold dinars struck by the Egyptian Fatimid dynasty during the 10th and 11th centuries AD. Fatimid Egypt was quite wealthy due to its strategic position on the busy trade routes between India and Europe.
Our daily lives can be monotonous affairs. We drag ourselves out of bed every morning, suffer a punishing commute, grind it out at work all day and then trudge home. Then we are expected to repeat this routine daily for the next 40 years straight. One possible way to avert this disagreeable lifestyle is to become a connoisseur of the fine arts. Pursing such a rewarding avocation allows the aspiring art aficionado to experience splendidly fascinating items in his daily life.
And there are few kinds of art more alluring, exotic and accessible than the medieval gold dinar coins of the early Islamic caliphates. They are glittering pieces of the distant past - tangible reminders of a bygone era of shimmering oases, ancient cities and dazzling palaces in faraway lands.
Unlike Europe, which fell into the Dark Ages after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Islam experienced a centuries long cultural flowering. The Islamic golden age spanned from circa 650 AD to 1258 AD, when Baghdad was sacked by the Mongols. This enlightened period featured religious toleration as well as significant advances in the fields of philosophy, science, mathematics and medicine.
A major intellectual center for the Islamic world called the House of Wisdom was founded in Baghdad during this time. Muslims also established the world's first degree granting universities in the 9th and 10th centuries. Countless ancient Greek and Roman texts were translated into Arabic during Islam's golden age, preserving the priceless knowledge of those classical civilizations. Muslim mathematicians developed advanced maths such as algebra and algorithms. Innovative Muslim chemists of the 8th century even invented the distillation process that made hard liquors possible!
The Islamic dinar, a nearly pure gold coin of about 4 grams, was a high denomination piece widely used in medieval international trade. Europe, in contrast to the Muslim world, was an impoverished backwater in this era, with little trade outside the Byzantine Empire. As a consequence, almost none of the European nations struck gold coins during this time, with the exception of the Byzantines.
Affordable Medieval Gold Dinars For Sale
The early Islamic caliphates, on the other hand, were obscenely wealthy due to their extensive trade relations with sub-Saharan Africa, India and even China. Because of this robust commerce, gold dinar coins of the early Islamic Caliphates had relatively high mintages and thus survived in reasonable quantities to the present. In addition to the dinar, fractional gold coins were also sometimes struck in quarter and half units.
Islam has a general prohibition on displaying images in art - human or otherwise. Most Islamic art is therefore non-representational in nature, instead consisting of intricate, geometric patterns or elaborate, ornamental calligraphy. Consequently, the coinage of Muslim kingdoms was struck with highly stylized Arabic (or Persian) calligraphy on both sides.
This style of Islamic coinage was a distinctive break from the ancient Greek and Roman tradition of placing rulers, gods or animals on coins. This resulted in a breathtakingly beautiful, as well as tantalizingly exotic Islamic-style coinage that was minted for hundreds of years across dozens of Muslim dynasties.
Medieval Gold Dinars of Other Dynasties For Sale
Muslims use their own unique dating system known as the Hijri calendar which is based on a lunar calendar of approximately 354 days. This Islamic calendar commenced in the year 622 AD (on the Western calendar) when Muhammad and his followers fled from Mecca to Medina in the event known as the Hijra. This event also gives the Hijri calendar its name. The abbreviation for the Hijri calendar is "AH" and will oftentimes be found in date descriptions of Islamic coins put up for sale online or in dealer catalogues.
Islamic coins were some of the first coins to be struck with dates, something that didn't regularly happen on European coinage for almost another 800 years. Mint names are also often encountered on medieval Islamic coinage, allowing a collector to identify the city where a coin was struck.
The Umayyad Caliphate (661-750 AD) was the second great Islamic state after the death of the prophet Muhammad and controlled a massive territory, stretching from Spain in the west to Afghanistan in the east. The ancient metropolis of Damascus was the Umayyad Caliphate's capital city. The first uniquely Islamic coinage, stylistically speaking, was minted starting in 696 AD during the reign of the 5th Umayyad Caliph, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.
Umayyad Medieval Gold Dinars For Sale
During the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258 AD), Islamic civilization reached the pinnacle of its golden age. Extending from Tunisia in the west to Pakistan in the east, the Abbasid Caliphate's capital was Baghdad. The greatest ruler of the dynasty, Harun al-Rashid (reigned 786-809 AD), not only founded The House of Wisdom but also featured prominently in the classic Arabic literary work "One Thousand and One Nights". Gold dinar coins of the famous Harun al-Rashid were struck in substantial numbers and can frequently be found today at reasonable prices.
Abbasid Medieval Gold Dinars For Sale
The Fatimid Caliphate (909-1171 AD) was a splinter dynasty from the Abbasid Caliphate that ruled from Morocco in the west to Syria in the east. The Fatimid's center of power was in Egypt. This led them to found the city of Cairo specifically to be their capital.
Most gold dinar coins of the Fatimid Caliphate, although adhering to the canonical Muslim tradition of Arabic script on both sides, have a style of calligraphy that is readily identifiable as uniquely Egyptian. The calligraphy of Fatimid coinage is often strongly reminiscent of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, even though it is in Kufic (medieval Arabic) script. The iconic Fatimid "bullseye" type gold dinar coins are especially coveted by discerning collectors for their attractive appearance.
Fatimid Medieval Gold Dinars For Sale
A desirable specimen of an early Islamic gold dinar should have modest wear; aim for a grade of Very Fine (VF) or better. In addition, a crisp strike, good centering and fine style are all highly desirable. Examples that have been bent, holed or excessively clipped should be avoided.
Clipping was an ancient form of fraud in which shears were use to shave off very thin strips of metal around the edge of the coin. If done properly, the coin was almost imperceptibly smaller in diameter and could be easily passed back into circulation at full face value. The coin clipper kept the metal shavings from the coin and eventually, after clipping many coins, would have pilfered a substantial amount of gold.
Coin collecting has been called "The Hobby of Kings" because it was once the exclusive domain of royalty and other wealthy nobles. If coin collecting truly is the hobby of kings, then gold coins are surely its zenith. Islamic medieval gold dinars are among the most advantageous ways to invest in the burgeoning Islamic art market. Prices range from about $250 for common, but still desirable, pieces to well over $1,000 for pristine or rare examples.
Keep in mind that there are countless other Islamic dynasties beyond the three major caliphates that have been highlighted in this article. Many of these smaller kingdoms also struck gold coins that are very collectible. While gold coins from these minor dynasties are especially undervalued in today's marketplace, all medieval gold dinars represent a beguiling, exotic gateway to the refined and profitable world of the hobby of kings.