Before You Buy, Know These Key Terms

As a beginner silver investor, the first thing to do is get familiarized with a few key basic terms.

There are coins, and then there are rounds. These are two very different items and will be discussed in detail. The primary distinction is that a coin is minted by a sovereign government and can be used as legal tender with a cash value printed on the coin, such as a quarter or a nickel. When it comes to silver, the coin’s cash value is always ridiculously low compared to the actual metal content, purposely done to keep them from actually being spent in public. As a side note, ever notice how light in weight a newer penny is compared to an older penny? As cheap as they are, the government still loses money minting them.

Don’t spend this at the dollar store!

A round is created by a private mint and unlike a coin, does not have any cash value attached to them and cannot be spent in public.

A coin or round has an obverse side, which is the front and often referred to as “heads”. The reverse side is the back and often referred to as “tails”. It may not always be easy to tell which side is actually the obverse or the reverse.

Quick! How many sides does a coin have? If the answer was 3, that would be correct. The third side is the edge of the coin or round. Although it could be technically argued that the edge is “not a side”, common practice says that it is. Most coins and rounds have a reeded edge, which are the little grooves all around the coin.

Left: reeded edge. Right: smooth edge

Ag is the symbol for Silver on the Periodic Table of elements.


Silver is weighted in troy ounces. A troy ounce is different from a regular ounce also known as an Avoirdupois ounce. A good rule of thumb would be that troy ounces are used for precious metals, while regular Avoirdupois ounces are used for food items such as sugar, peanut butter, or potato chips.

The difference is 1 Troy Ounce is heavier and weighs approximately 31.1 grams, while 1 Avoirdupois Ounce weighs around 28.35 grams.

Most silver purity I’ve come across will have a coin say something like “.999 Fine”, meaning that the coin is made up of 99.9% silver content. There may also be something to the effect of .9999 or 999.9 which are just different ways of saying 99.99% silver content.


The spot price of silver is simply the current market price, which is live and constantly fluctuating. Silver is traded 23 hours a day from 6pm Eastern time on Sunday through 5pm Eastern time on Friday. Trading is closed daily from 5pm Eastern time to 6pm Eastern time. Since the spot price is constantly fluctuating, when shopping for silver items the prices of the items will constantly be changing as well. A nice advantage of browsing physical silver items during non trading hours (mainly the weekend) is that the price won’t be moving but purchases can still be made. This cannot be done on the paper silver market, at least not as far as I’m aware of.

Unfortunately, physical silver is not sold by anyone at spot price. There is a premium or additional cost added to the spot price. So when it says “as low as $2.49 over spot!”, this means the cost of the spot price of 1 troy ounce plus the additional $2.49 per item. So if the current spot price of silver is $17, this coin would cost $17 + $2.49 or $19.49 per coin.

Be aware that when it says “as low as”, it means that in order to get the best price, a large quantity of the same item would have to be purchased. So the real price for buying just 1 coin in this example could start at something like spot price plus a premium of $3.49 instead of “as low as $2.49”. On occasion certain items will say “any quantity for only $2.49 over spot!” In this instance, the price of 1 coin or 10 or 100 will be the same per item. Wallet size won’t matter when it says “any quantity”.

Something that comes up repeatedly is seeing the words Brilliant Uncirculated or BU. This refers to a coin or round that has been minted but has never gone into circulation in public. Once a coin goes into public, the handling of the coin or the rubbing of coins in pockets or dropping them into parking meters will over time degrade the quality of the coin. The coin can lose its shine or luster, and the details of the coin’s design can fade and flatten. Keeping coins and rounds in Brilliant Uncirculated condition helps maintain their value.

Let’s look at a few tips before buying.

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