The Best Way To Buy Silver: A Guide to Buying Physical Silver
Buying physical silver is one of the best ways to buy silver bullion, because it allows you to own and invest in a precious metal in its tangible form.
Of course, there are many ways investors purchase silver or speculate in the precious metals market. These may include:
- buying into a silver exchange traded fund (silver ETF) such as the iShares Silver Trust, or
- purchasing silver mining stocks.
Then there’s actually owning physical silver, which for many silver investors is the best way to buy precious metals. But that doesn’t mean that owning silver bullion is necessarily the best investment strategy for you.
However, it may be the right way to buy precious metals if you want to buy or sell silver close to its spot price and at the time and place you want to sell it.
Stacking silver rounds
While silver shares or stocks from silver mining companies have proven successful for many, at the end of the day you’re at the mercy of technology working correctly to pull the trigger on buying or selling them when you’re ready. And sometimes when you get stockbrokers involved, they may not act as quickly as you want them to in making a move. Also, physical metal can be traded between two parties on the spot without a bunch of paperwork. It can even be used for barter during emergencies.
If you’re interested in buying physical silver and want to get questions answered on what types of silver products you can buy, how and where you can buy them, and other important aspects of buying physical bullion, then this guide is for you.
The 3 Main Types of Physical Silver
You may be unfamiliar with the silver market but are probably quite familiar with silver coins. In fact, many people who wish to invest in silver likely remember using silver coins themselves in daily commerce decades ago.
In the years since silver coins were being made for circulation, silver prices have gone up—way up! And that’s why the United States began removing silver from its circulating coinage in 1965. Today, the 90% silver coins that were once used on a day-to-day basis have become great investment vehicles for people who want to buy silver—as little or much as they want.
Here are the most common types of physical silver bullion products:
1. Silver coins
90% silver coins
In addition to the 90% silver coins mentioned just above, there are also 35%, 40%, and 99.9% pure silver American coins from the United States Mint. Not to mention there are silver bullion coins from nations around the world. This includes the Royal Canadian Mint, Royal Mint in Great Britain, Perth Mint in Australia, and many other major mints. These world coins come in various sizes, shapes, denominations, and fineness, offering collectors and investors alike a plethora of enticing options for buying silver.
The main drawback to buying silver coins? A silver coin almost always carries a small but significant numismatic premium. So it will typically cost more than a silver round or silver bar of similar purity, weight, and fineness.
2. Silver rounds
99.9% Pure Silver Buffalo Round, a popular bullion product
Silver rounds, unlike coins, are unmonetized discs of silver. Rounds are either plain with inscriptions or more artistic with designs.
While not legal-tender, rounds are nevertheless quite popular with silver investors for several reasons.
- Silver rounds are visually unlike the more commonly encountered coins;
- Silver rounds generally come in standardized weights and fineness; and
- Silver rounds can be bought for a lower premium over spot than numismatic coins.
You can read more about the comparison between silver rounds and silver coins by following the link.
3. Silver bars and ingots
Various name brand silver bars
For those who want an alternative to rounds and desire silver closest to its market price, there are silver bars. Coins often trade for prices several percentage points above the spot price, but you can buy silver bars for pennies above spot.
A typical silver bar being sold at spot often isn’t very artistic, but gram-for-gram it is one of the cheapest methods for buying silver. Those with an eye for art will find bars that sport gorgeous designs, though these usually come at a slightly higher premium.
Should I Buy Silver Coins or Silver Bars?
The answer depends on your silver investing goals. If you want to buy silver at the cheapest price gram-for-gram, it may be best to buy bars. For those who want to buy legal-tender coinage, silver coins represent the better buy.
Junk silver coins represent something of a compromise. They are common numismatic coins that are too well worn for the collecting tastes of most hobbyists. Thus, they are worth only their silver value. It's one of the cheapest types of silver coin you can buy. Yet you still gain the advantage and liquid versatility of buying legal-tender silver bullion.
You can read more about silver coins vs. silver bars by following the link.
The Cheapest Way to Buy Silver
As we've seen, rounds and bars normally offer the lowest premiums. Therefore, they represent one of the better buys from the standpoint of getting the most silver content for your money.
However, this does not suggest that coins are the worst buy. In fact, coins are normally the most liquid form of silver bullion you can buy. Not only are coins more widely familiar to buyers than a private-mint bar or round, but they are also legal tender.
This offers multiple advantages. Coins can be spent as real money during emergencies and make excellent barter tools. Furthermore, in the unlikely but totally possible event that silver prices dip below the face value of the coins, the losses are capped at the face value of the coin. You simply won’t totally lose out when you buy silver coins.
Why Buying Silver Below Spot Price Is Unlikely
Many folks are hoping to find a secret source, a back alley for buying bullion at prices below spot. The reality is that unless you've an active coin dealer or bullion broker, you can't expect to find silver below spot price in a retail setting.
Dealers are wholesale-oriented buyers. They can legitimately obtain silver for prices just below spot. The reason isn't too complicated: When you're in business you've got to pay overhead and make a little profit, too. If you track silver prices, you'll see that they change by the minute. Therefore margins are extremely thin between the wholesale and retail levels.
That doesn't mean customers can't find silver at ridiculously good prices buying silver online or at a local coin shop. One example is by buying heavily worn or damaged coins.
Many brick-and-mortar and online dealers who sell rare coins are also in the business of selling silver. They may be looking to clear out large inventories of damaged silver coins to make room for their medium-priced and big-ticket coins.
But if you're particularly concerned about getting the most silver for your money, you may not want to be buying cull silver coins. These could be missing a substantial amount of silver due to excessive wear or damage.
In summary, this ages-old retail adage applies to buying silver: “you get what you pay for!” You really do.
Where to Buy Silver
Can I Buy Silver from the US Mint?
YES! Silver is available in many forms from the United States Mint, including numismatic silver coins and bullion coins.
The United States Mint catalog is filled with a variety of silver options, including:
- silver versions of circulating coins
- silver commemorative coins
- proof and other numismatic finish American Silver Eagles.
If you’re looking to buy a bullion version of, say, a 2020 American Silver Eagle straight from the mint, that is where you’ll need to turn to an authorized purchaser. APs are the only direct recipients of bullion American Silver Eagles from the United States Mint. That’s because the US Mint does not sell bullion American Silver Eagles directly to the public.
Can You Buy Silver at a Bank?
You can no longer go to a bank and expect to be paid in silver coin on demand as one could’ve done in, say, the 1960s, when circulating silver certificates were used expressly for that purpose. However, it’s still possible to find occasional silver dimes, quarters, or half dollars in loose change or in rolls from the bank. Such finds represent the rare exception rather than the rule. But persistent roll searchers have made many such lucky finds by looking through coins at the local bank.
Your best bet is always to buy silver from a reputable bullion broker or coin dealer.
How Silver Performs If the Stock Market Crashes
A lot of bullion dealers and brokers selling silver online or in magazine and TV ads throw claims around like this. They make it seem like there’s a simple linear, inverse relationship between silver prices and the stock market. In other words, their pitch is often something like, “buy silver now before the stock market goes down and silver prices go up.”
In reality, the dynamics between silver and the stock market aren’t that cut and dry. Silver, like gold, platinum, and other precious metals, represents a good hedge against inflation or other bad things that happen when the economy gets rough, often leading to a decline in stock market volume.
However, silver does not just automatically go up when the stock market goes down, even if there’s a crash. This can be proven by looking at what happened to the price of silver in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began inflicting its wrath in the United States. The stock market tanked, losing about 33% of its volume in a matter of days. What happened to silver? It also plunged in value, dropping from about $18.50 per ounce in late February 2020 to less than $12 at one point in mid-March 2020. The reasons behind this are complex and partly tied to the industrial demand for silver dropping along with the global shutdowns caused by the pandemic.
So, what should you do if you own silver and silver prices are dropping? For one, don’t panic. Prices are sure to rebound at some point, just as they did in the months following the steep drop-off in silver prices in mid-March 2020.
But you should also consider “buying low” so you can “sell high.” Countless stock investors who did this in late March and early April 2020 when the bottom fell out on Wall Street saw amazing stock returns in May 2020 and beyond as the market came back to life. Does that mean you’ll see similarly incredible returns if you buy silver when prices are low? We have no crystal ball, but such buying strategies often lend positive results for those who are patient and play the long game.
All markets, including stocks and precious metals, are subject to volatility
Similarities and Differences Between Buying Silver and Buying Other Metals
In theory, virtually all of these tips can be applied to buying physical gold or any other precious metal.
Of all the precious metals in which people commonly invest, gold, platinum, and palladium (along with the featured player here, silver) are the ones that the advice in this guide can best apply. Other precious metals, such as rhodium, are only just now becoming more accessible to the common investor in physical form. It can be both extremely rare and highly volatile in price.
Meanwhile, if you want to buy gold in its physical form, there are plenty of options available. Gold is widely available as coins, rounds, and bars. And, like silver, gold coins usually come with a higher premium than rounds or bars. Gold coins offer greater marketplace versatility and liquidity than rounds or bars. These products may not be monetized or government-backed but are cheaper. They also offer standardized purities and fineness.
The two other major players in today’s bullion arena are platinum and palladium. These two whitish metals are separate, unique elements but are similar to each other in their color and rarity. In fact, both palladium and platinum are much rarer than gold or silver.
You can buy physical platinum and palladium, which are obtainable as coins, rounds, and bars. The advice shared in this guide about buying physical silver (and gold) can be applied to buying platinum or palladium.
Silver and gold bars
If there are so many similarities in buying silver, gold, platinum, or palladium, then are there any differences? Well, there are some. For one, gold, platinum, and palladium tend to experience greater swings in pricing than silver. Not in terms of percentage, but in terms of total dollar amount, because each of these metals is much more expensive per ounce than silver. This can affect many of the buying strategies that a typical investor may consider.
You might also need to act more quickly in either buying or selling your gold, platinum, or palladium to optimize your best return on investment over the long run. And, unlike silver, which had been used in circulating United States coinage up until the early 1970s and still turns up from time to time in circulation, you have essentially no chance of finding gold, platinum, or palladium coinage in pocket change or bank rolls.
No matter what type of precious metal you’re investing in, you should always buy it from a trustworthy and reputable coin dealer or bullion broker. A lot of folks are tempted to buy precious metals on Craigslist, Facebook swap meets, Alibaba.com, or similar places. Sure, it may be advertised for cheap there. But the reality is that so many of the precious metal transactions that occur within those forums involve stolen goods or counterfeit pieces.
As you read this, the Anti-Counterfeiting Educational Foundation and Professional Numismatic Guild are handling a bevy of cases arising from transactions of fake silver, gold, platinum, and palladium coins, rounds, and bars. These fakes were often made from copper or other base metals and merely plated to look like the real McCoy. The bulk of these were bought and sold through the very venues mentioned in the previous paragraph.
The bottom line? Always buy your physical precious metals from a legitimate coin dealer or bullion broker that is vetted, accredited, and offers return policies. A few of our most popular silver bullion products are listed below.
While we hope this guide addresses all the questions you may have about how to buy physical silver or other precious metal bullion, we know that investing in physical bullion is a complex matter. Please feel free to contact our team of bullion experts to answer further questions you may have.
Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a journalist, editor, and blogger who has won multiple awards from the Numismatic Literary Guild. He has also authored numerous books, including works profiling the history of the United States Mint and United States coinage.
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