Many people who buy silver bullion for the first time aren’t entirely sure what a silver round is, especially in relation to a legal tender coin. Simply enough, silver rounds are privately-minted bullion products that are similar in appearance to coins, but have no monetary value.
Silver rounds are bought and sold based primarily on the intrinsic value of their fine metal content—meaning the precious metals within the round. If you're unsure of how to define rounds, it can be useful to think of silver rounds as silver medallions. You may even think of them as round-shaped silver bars.
Nearly all silver rounds are .999 fine and contain 1 troy oz of fine silver. There are some exceptions that use the 2 oz size or the sterling silver (.925 fine) standard.
Silver Rounds Vs. Coins
Silver rounds typically cost less over spot than government-issued coins, partly due to their lower production costs, and partly because they lack the same technical rigor as government-issued coins. So long as they are not made to the same size and width specifications as any existing coins (a measure that prevents possible counterfeiting, especially with coin-operated vending machines), rounds may be produced in any size, thickness, or weight.
The biggest difference between silver bullion coins and rounds is the fact that coins have a face value. Coins are legal tender that is issued by a government, whether they are made of gold or silver or any other precious metals. All rounds are produced at a private mint or refinery. If the round is made by a prominent or "brand name" refiner, it may be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity (COA).
The cost savings for silver rounds add up when storing large amounts of bullion, which is why rounds are so popular with buyers who have no interest in numismatics but would like to invest in silver. Many dedicated silver stackers purchase them by the twenty-count, either in rolls or tubes, for easy storage. You can stock up on silver rounds without worrying about preserving their condition, since investors buy them purely for their bullion value (i.e. their fine silver content) and their low cost over spot.
Silver Rounds Vs. Bars
While silver rounds are generally less expensive than coins, their low price over spot are comparable to most silver bars. In fact, you can purchase 100 generic 1-ounce rounds for only a few dollars more than a single 100 oz silver bar. Rounds are also very easy to store, as they can be stacked and counted quickly. This is true of bars as well, showing that these two forms of silver bullion offer a number of similarities, as well.
Unlike large, bulk-sized bars, you can conveniently sell just a few silver rounds from your holdings at a time without having to melt them down and have them recast into new bars. This feature makes holding your money in the form of silver rounds even more attractive, as you have the flexibility to add or subtract from the precious metal holdings in small increments, as needed.
Silver Round Designs
The similarities between rounds and bars does not, however, preclude them from offering something to exonumia collectors. Over the years, different private refiners have introduced their own recognizable silver round artwork, such as the Engelhard Prospector or the Silver Trade Unit. These rounds with specific themes are often preferred by silver stackers who like bullion pieces with a potential numismatic value down the road due to their design. Although this happens far less frequently with rounds than it does with coins, there are some high-quality art rounds that eventually garner collectible appeal.
For instance, various Chinese Lunar calendar themes have appeared on 1 oz silver rounds, such as the Year of the Horse (2014) and the Year of the Goat (2015). In addition, various commemorative themes appear on art rounds, especially replicas of designs from classic coins in low relief. For example, the Saint-Gaudens design that appeared on pre-1933 $20 gold coins is extremely popular. With all the different kinds to choose from, there’s something for everyone!