The world of coin collecting is interesting, but it can also be confusing. There are many terms a collector and dealer must know to navigate the collection environment confidently. Bullion and numismatic coins are two terms where understanding their differences can help with purchase decisions.
The difference between bullion and numismatic coins is how they are valued and priced regardless of spot price. Bullion coins have their price determined by their precious metal content. Numismatic coins are dependent on the market to set their prices. Semi-numismatic coins are commemorative coins.
As is always the case, there are various factors and conditions that can affect the value of either type of coin, particularly with semi-numismatic coins. So, it’s important for coin collectors to understand the differences. Read on to learn all you need to know about bullion and numismatic coins.
Some Basic Ground Rules
Because coin valuation is not always clear-cut, there are some basics that need to be understood when considering the differences between bullion and numismatic coins.
Different Types Of Coins
While the title of this article mentions two types of coins, the reality is there are really three types, although the third falls under the umbrella of “numismatic.” The third type of coin is the semi-numismatic coin. The distinction within numismatic coins is important because of how each is priced.
The other type of coins are more recent coins in circulation. These are not covered in this article at any depth because the bullion, numismatic and semi-numismatic coins and coins in recent circulation are completely different things. How they are valued, what impacts valuation or rarity, and their collectability are vastly different.
- Coins in circulation contain almost no precious metal content
- This is especially true when compared to any of the other three types of coins
- There are some coins in circulation that commemorate individuals, places or events, and these coins typically contain a higher than usual amount of precious metals
Most coins in circulation, though, are not worth much beyond their face value. The only exception to this are the commemorative coins.
That matters because technically some coins in circulation can be considered numismatic or semi-numismatic. The decider is whether the market would pay above the face value of the coin. But for now, let’s just consider the difference between bullion and numismatic coins.
What Is The Difference Between Bullion And Numismatic Coins?
Bullion and numismatic coins are the two most desirable from a coin collection perspective. The key difference is how they are valued, which can have major implications for your purchasing decisions.
Of all the collectible coins on the market, bullion coins are the most well-known inside and outside of the coin collection world. There are some famous examples:
- Canadian Gold Maple Leaf
- American Silver Eagles
- American Gold Eagles
- Australian Gold Kangaroo
- Austrian Gold Philharmonic
The chief distinction for bullion coins is how they are valued. The value is determined based on two factors:
- Market prices for the precious metal in the coins
- Weight of the precious metal in the coins
For example, a 1-ounce gold coin that has 99% or higher gold content is worth the market price for one ounce of gold. Other coins are valued at the market price multiplied by the weight of silver in the coin.
That affects the price of a bullion coin in that the market price is what collectors can expect if they sell their coins. There are almost no examples of precious metal bullion coins being worth more than the current market price of the precious metal.
Because bullion coins are dependent on precious metal market prices, their value does tend to fluctuate. When gold prices increase because of economic issues or investors trying to protect their money, the price of bullion goes up too. The opposite is true – both decrease in value – when the precious metals market experiences a selloff.
For example, if you are looking at silver ounce coins, since 2011 silver has declined in value. But in recent years, it seems to have bottomed out and is on the rise again. Gold, on the other hand, has remained steady and increased on average over the last 20 years.
If you are thinking about buying silver bullion coins, you may want to watch the market for a little longer. If you are thinking about buying gold, an investment now will likely be on the cheaper end of the deal as gold is showing no indication of beginning to lose its appeal to investors.
Note that this is not investment advice and is purely for educational purposes.
As A Hedge
There is one vein of thought that buying precious metals can serve as a hedge against a volatile market. That can work out, although it will also take up a lot of room, depending on how much you invest! Additionally, any speculative market is subject to economic volatility. If you paid market prices for silver back in 2011, for instance, you would have lost money on your investment.
The other risk of investing in bullion gold and silver is that coins rarely yield exactly what you paid for them by weight. It can be difficult to find a buyer that will honor a price if the market value of the coin is below that price. Coins are therefore not always considered a great investment.
Numismatic coins are much more nuanced. There are several factors that contribute to their value:
- Historical significance
- Precious metal content
- Coin condition
Most numismatic coins are old. That makes them rare, just because the longer a coin is in circulation, the fewer instances of that coin there tend to be. Another factor is how long they were minted for. A coin with a short run in the mid-1800s will be rare. A coin of a long run in the 1990s will likewise not be that rare.
A third aspect of rarity is association. If a coin can be associated with an event, it is almost by definition rare.
A coin’s date is important because, with few exceptions, most newer coins are not worth much beyond their face value. The one exception to this is the precious metal content in a coin. A quarter from 1944, for instance, is worth more than one from 1980 because of the silver content (the 1944 quarter has more). In this case, it’s not its age alone that makes it rare.
Some coins are more in demand than others. There is no predicting what may or may not capture the interest of collectors. Sometimes it is as simple as how a coin looks or feels. Other aspects of collectability include things like if the coin can be considered as part of a set or category of coins, making it more collectible in this case.
A coin that is associated with an event or something of historical significance can factor into its value. The following are some examples:
- Commemorative coins: Celebrating a person, event, organization or object ( for example, US Presidents, the US Bi-Centennial, Austrian Philharmonic Orchestra, the US Lunar Module Eagle)
- Time period: These are associated with a particular period of history (such as ancient Roman coins)
- Type of coin: Some coins were minted by government organizations no longer in existence (Confederate coins, coins from Nazi Germany, etc.)
Precious Metal Content
The amount of precious metal in a coin can significantly influence its overall value. Generally, however, the influence is minor unless the metal value exceeds the collectible value.
The condition of a coin, as based on the Sheldon coin grading scale, is perhaps the most important factor in determining numismatic coin value. There are two major coin assessment and valuation organizations: The Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, or NGC.
What Are Semi-Numismatic Coins?
Semi-numismatic coins are often considered a middle ground between bullion and numismatic coins. Their value is often determined as a result of both their bullion and their numismatic value. Their value is usually between that of a low-value bullion coin and a high-value numismatic coin.
Semi-numismatic coins include a class of coins that meet the following criteria:
- They are usually limited edition
- They are double struck to improve their brilliance
- They have never been touched by human hands
- They are encased in an official protective container
- They come with a Certificate of Authenticity
- Their mintage is limited
Proof coins are commonly considered semi-numismatic. Some examples include:
- American Gold and Silver Eagle coins
- Canadian Gold and Silver Snow Falcons coins
Semi-numismatic coins are valued the same way numismatic coins are valued. There are two factors that can influence semi-numismatic coins:
- Market price
The difference between bullion and numismatic coins is how they are valued. Bullion coins are market driven, while numismatic value is determined by several factors including the coin’s condition, rarity, market prices of precious metals and its historical significance.