How to Organize a Coin Collection > or maybe how not to...
Def: Bullion - Gold or silver in bulk before coining, or valued by weight.
Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French, in the sense ‘a mint,’ variant of
Old French bouillon, based on Latin bullire ‘to boil' or melt.
Bullion Coins & Bars
Bullion coins describe contemporary precious metal coins minted by official agencies for investment purposes. Historically, most currencies were in the form of bullion coins, silver and gold being the most common metals. Some bullion coins have been used as currency throughout the 20th century. Modern bullion coins generally do not enter common circulation despite having legal tender status and nominal face value. Some modern bullion coins, such as the platinum, gold and silver American eagles, are produced as both business strike and collectible proof and uncirculated versions. Collectible versions are often sold at a significant premium over their actual bullion value, usually based on rarity and condition.
Reputable sources should always be considered and with a large number of fakes that have entered the markets over the last few decades, gold and silver bullion can be a risk. The purity of the metal content should always be on the coin somewhere to denote to the buyer what is the metal percentage. 22 Karat gold is often considered pure and silver usually is marked .95, .999 or Sterling which is 92.5 percent by law. As of late, there have been copper bullion zodiac coins for sale as art pieces and there is usually a bronze set created in the same design as the silver or gold bullion sets, but not always. It is not uncommon to find a new set of 12 coins done in bronze, and then later find out there were silver sets created as well. It has been my experience that the design means everything, with excellent designs and high precious metal content always being a good investment.
Several Zodiac series commemorative bullion sets have incorporated gemstones from amethyst to zircon into their designs and these often sell at a premium. Gemstones sometime just adorn the designs to highlight certain aspects of the bullion piece or to match the zodiac sign assigned stone. Some sets incorporate diamonds into the constellations to act as stars in the night sky. While this does add raw value to these pieces, it can be difficult to ascertain what the real value of the gemstones are without consulting a certified gemologist.
Some of the More Famous U. S. Zodiac Bullion Sets...
Gilroy Roberts / Franklin Mint (1968-1970 CE)
Probably one of the best marketed and available zodiac series are those of the Franklin Mint. Shortly after the Franklin Mint was founded in 1965, they hired Gilroy Roberts away from the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and had him design a set of zodiac medals. These were originally issued in 1968-70 as medals, charms, pendants, earrings, key chains, tie tacks, and cufflinks. The most common medals are 39mm, but the Franklin Mint also produced 32mm medals in 1968 and a series of 13mm medals in 1970. All have a very artistic image of the zodiac sign with the Latin name around widely spaced in capital letters, and the distinctive GR monogram below. The sigil is worked into the main design.
The 32mm and 39mm medals were made in both bronze and sterling silver; the 13mm and 20mm were only made in sterling silver. There are a number of different edges. The 32mm bronze medals seem to all have plain edges, while the 39mm bronze has been seen with plain edges, plain edges with the inscription FRANKLIN MINT BRONZE, and examples like BRONZE [FM]  [P]. The [FM] hallmark stands for Franklin Mint and looks like an F with a small M as the crossbar. The  means it was made in 1970, and the [P] means it was manufactured proof (as opposed to being merely proof-like). There are also wall plaques that were made in bronze and .999 silver at 200mm. Only 100 of the silver plaques and 300 of the bronze wall hangings of each birth sign were made.
Many Zodiac collectors consider this to be the set to have and I would agree, as they are very easy to come by and not very expensive. With patients, one can collect full sets of these fairly quickly. The 20mm and 32 mm size medals are the most difficult ones to come by and I very rarely see them. You have to look for fakes as well, as there are quite a few counterfeit silver ones that took the bronze medals, plated them in silver or ones that are cast in pot metal designed to look like silver. Ask to see the hallmark on the edges if you want to be sure they are authentic and if you purchase a full set, they should come with a Certificate of Authenticity from the Franklin Mint. Examples below:
Wall plaque Examples:
The Danbury Mint / Becton Collection (1970 CE)
The Danbury Mint of Norwalk, Connecticut issued a set of zodiac medals in 1970 in bronze, sterling silver, and copper-nickel. Each medal has an image on the obverse with the Latin name and dates beneath, while the reverse has the sigil, attributes of those born under the sign, the "best" day, lucky "colour", and lucky number. These are Commonly called the Becton Collection.
The sterling silver and some of the bronze medals are hallmarked on the edge. The hallmarked medals have the artist initials "NB" between the sign name and the animal picture on the obverse. Below the reverse inscription is a Danbury Mint hallmark cursive [d] over [m] with a non-cursive capital [H] next to it. On some medals this hallmark is clear, but on others, it is very faint. All the medals have a proof-like field except for the cupro-nickel which has a pebbled field. Sometimes these will come with a plastic shrink wrap container or in a printed cardboard booklet that they all fit in. Having this will increase the value and helps confirm they are the original issues. Examples below:
The Tentex Set (1983 CE)
The 12 piece collection produced by Tentex, Inc. was issued in 1983 and features one troy ounce, pure silver medals (.999) for each sign of the Zodiac. The obverse depicts the name of the Zodiac and the reverse gives a brief description of the characteristics of someone born under that sign. On rare occasions these can be found in the original red folder they were issued in with a silver trident stamp. Many collectors of bullion will prefer these over the Gilroy Roberts set because these are minted in .999 silver.
I have seen two obverse designs on this particular design. The original that was done by the Astro Mint in 1974 in white metal or brass and another done by Tentex in 1983 in pure silver. Examples below:
The Whittnauer Mint Zodiac Bullion (1974 CE)
These were produced in several varieties including Troy ounce silver, bronze, and 24k plated bronze. Many of these were sold as bullion collector pieces, put into 40mm jewelry findings and sold as pendants for necklaces (kind of heavy to wear) and many had necklace rings cast onto the original design to go directly to the jewelry market. Rarely, you can find the front design with a blank back done in a half ounce (32mm size) that was also done with a necklace ring in other non-precious metals. I am unsure if they were done by the original mint, or they are just fake copies.
They are a very unique design, highly stylized and I know of no other zodiac sets that share their design aesthetics. The Obverse is a kind of Vitruvian Man with the zodiac sign name and the dates with a mystic feel to the design. As of late I have been unable to track down the artists who worked on these but their initials are on the designs they did. Designed by: AM, MS, and MA. These are fairly rare, with several of them being very difficult to find. Collecting a complete set of them will take years to decades of looking. Examples below:
1/2 Ounce Pendant
Memento Mori / SM Mint (2015 CE)
Admittedly, these coins cross between two areas of collecting being that they are art rounds and bullion at the same time. I decided to include them here since they are made in one-ounce copper, silver and 1/10 oz. gold sets of twelve. These were designed by two artists. Renown tattoo artist Kiana Roo and another unknown artist who picked up after she stopped working on the project. The designs are highly stylized and very unique. The runs are very short on these, and as a result, they have been selling for a much higher premium over spot metal prices. SM Mint is listed as the supplier and seems to have very high standards for the bullion rounds and heavy QA before they are released.
The .999 copper run is listed at 2000 pieces, the .999 silver at 500 and the .9999 gold strikes at only 99 sets. Each coin in silver and copper has a stamped edge with the number in the run. All the silver and copper rounds are done in an antiqued brushed satin proof finish and each metal set has its own obverse design with aid in reducing counterfeit coins being produced.
Mount Everest Mint Bars (1974 CE)
These copper art bars are all over eBay and not difficult to find, but for some reason, the full set of the one-ounce copper bars will demand $300.00. Don't pay it. They're copper and you will never get that money back. The silver bars of the same design are difficult to find. From what I can tell, only 1000 sets of the silver one-ounce bars were minted. They are done in .999 copper proofs or .999 silver. They are often up for auction as individuals, but if you can find the complete set in the original wooden box, then you might have something worth paying the premium for. I think I found my copper set for $30. Examples below:
Gold Obverse w/capsule
Edge Serial # Stamp Example
American Royal Mint Zodiac Bars
These silver bars are a bit of an enigma as they were done by the American Royal Mint and the dies still seem to be circulating but it says limited edition. The denomination is clearly marked at 15 grains of .999 silver. Grains are not a common measurement in modern days, but here is the math:
The Gram is a metric system unit of mass. It is one thousandth (1/1000) of the metric system base unit, kilogram (2.2 lbs.). It is a very commonly used unit of mass in daily life in Europe and in the U.S. in many industries. The abbreviation is "g". The Grain is a unit of mass and based upon the average mass of a single seed of cereal, wheat, barley, etc. One pound is equal to 7000 grains. It is also used to measure the hardness of water and the mass of gunpowder. With these, the abbreviation is "gr".
One U.S. ounce is just over 28 grams, and I have a few of these bars, but to tell you the truth, they seem much more like the 1/2 ounce size bars in terms of size and weight, so this is confusing to me, since the math comes out to about a 1 gram or 1/28th of an ounce. I have no explanation except the 15 grains must be wrong on the bars I've seen. Officially they weigh about .31ounces each. What is the meaning of the discrepancy? After a bit of research, I determined that they are silver PLATED over another metal, probably copper or brass. So the silver plating weight is 15 grains. (Don't pay bullion prices for these!)
Either way, I consider these bars to be the most attractive bars and I favor their design over any other bars I have seen to date. Examples below:
• 1 Grain = 0.0648 Grams (or 64.79891 milligrams)
Silver Half Ounce Bullion Rounds
I stumble across these every once in a while. They are difficult to find and don't come up very often on any of the auction sites. I have been unable to track down who created these or when. I include them in the bullion section as that is what they are, I just happen to have no mint or date or circulation numbers on them. I am pretty certain that they were also made back in the 1970s, probably when silver prices were higher and the mint decided to do 1/2 ounce sizes to keep the purchase price down.
If anyone has any information on these, I would appreciate it if you sent it to me.
There are two sets in circulation and I have some of each of these, but I have been looking to complete them for over 20 years and I have yet to see them all.
Set 1 Example:
Detail of Pisces
Dahlonega Mint 1/4 Ounce Silver Set
Here is another great example of silver bullion that has an unknown date. I have only found seven of these medallions so far and I have been looking for over a decade trying to track them down. I don't see 1/4 ounce bullion very often, so I believe these to be very rare and I already know they are quite hard to find. I am not sure why they are stamped as "Dahlonega Mint Fine Silver" as the Mint is known for producing only gold coins back in the mid-1800s. Maybe these were struck as a novelty by the mint as a way to get visitors because it still gives tours. I am actively looking for more information on this bullion set.
Capeway Coins Copper Rounds (2016/17 CE)
As America's oldest private mint, Osborne traces its roots back to 1835 when Andrew Jackson was our president and there was no such thing as a legal tender banknote. They produced this set of Copper bullion coins for the collector's market about a 15 years ago and recently sold the designs to Capeway Coins. These are listed as one A.D.V.P. ounce which is just a way of saying they are not a standard Troy ounce, but instead are a U.S. standard ounce.
These were originally released through he Osborn Mint back in 2003 as high relief cameos in an antiqued finish. Here's the ad to prove it!
Click to Download PDF of the Ad
U.S. Etched Silver Rounds (2016/17 CE)
These have recently been offered as Silver bullion rounds in 1 Troy Ounce, .999 purity in brilliant uncirculated condition. I find the designs on these to be very simple. They are not stamped or produced from dies, they are listed as impact engraved (not sure what that is). They are listed as a product of the U.S.A. and I have been told that they are produced by Monarch Precious Medals.
The designs are simple positives or negatives of zodiac designs with all the 12 signs in a ring around the outside of the front. The reverse simply lists the name, dates, and qualities of each month's sign. The images can from digital stock art photography. See examples below.
Stock Art examples I found...
Non-US Zodiac Bullion
How to Organize a Coin Collection > or maybe how not to...
Canada & Mexico
Our two closest neighbors will often come out bullion sets in silver and sometimes gold. I have only a few of these and I have no complete sets. I have shied away from Canadian sets mostly because I think they are overpriced most of the time and the western zodiac sets have been lackluster in design. They have produced several Eastern Zodiac sets that are quite beautiful but again, they seem overpriced to me. Mexico also creates some very nice pure silver bullion half ounce sets over a few years and I have managed to get some of these. I like these quite a bit and evidently so do some other mints because parts of the Mexican designs have been sold to other countries and territories to use.
Mexican Half Ounce Starry Set (1987 CE)
I have no idea how many sets of these were made because when you call the Mexican mint to try to get circulation numbers or even any idea of who designed them or if they sold any parts of the designs to any other mint, you pretty much get the idea they have absolutely no idea of what has been done more than 6 months ago. They do not seem to keep good records, or any records at all on bullion coins and mint runs older than now. Maybe there is someone there who does, but I have yet to find them. So this set is intriguing to me because it was fun to try to find these as they seem quite rare. They are marked on both sided with the Mexican Mint mark and 1/2 ounce FINE .999 silver.
Official Mexican Mint Mark
Mexican Alphonse Mucha Half Ounce Set (CE 1994 / Current)
This is a fairly recent set that I was able to track down without too much difficulty, and some of these come up on eBay from time to time at usually about 2x spot silver prices. I have been a fan of Alphonse Mucha for many years and I love his style of Art Nouveau. When the mint started selling these, I spent quite a few months getting them all, as they were released over the period of about six years. As of note, these designs were sold to the Niue Islands who used them in the creation of their commemorative dollars that you can see in the "Non-Circulating Currency" page. The silver content is so high on these (.999) that they started toning very quickly and its hard to get them without some patina on them. Examples below:
Canadian National Mint (the 1980's? CE)
I am unsure of the dates of manufacture for these bullion rounds, but I am guessing that they were done back in the 1980s. They are very clearly marked 1 Troy ounce .999 Fine silver on the front with a simpler style to their design. I have seen two obverse designs, the only difference is that one says "Product of USA" and the other says "Product of Canada". These are also pretty rare and I usually only see them surface when inflation goes up and silver goes over $22.00 an ounce. Otherwise, you will rarely see more than two or three show up on eBay over the course of a year. The mintmark on these very clearly indicates that they were done by the National Mint in Canada (a private collector's mint). Examples below:
Official National Mint Mark
National Mint Silver Bars
These are also all over eBay and I include them here as they were created by the National Collectors mint.
As you can see these are also 1 troy ounce but I have never seen circulation numbers on these.
Timothy Eaton Silver Rounds
Timothy Eaton $50 Gift coin Zodiac Medallion made of .9999 pure silver and weights exactly one troy ounce. The front of the coin depicts Timothy Eaton. The reverse depicts the astrological symbol Aries. Commemorative 1 oz Silver .9999 pure silver minted by Johnson Matthew Limited. These are quite Rare and they go for a premium as Mr. Eaton is one of the most important retail businesses in Canada's history. He's a bit of a national hero crossing into collectors who also gather up Canadian coinage and Johnson Matthey (JM) collectors. I am not certain how many of these silver sets were made, but possibly only 500.
COA and Bullion Details Examples:
Well, it goes without saying that just about anything of value that comes from China is suspect. Its unfortunate but true with a nation that takes pride in producing cheap rip-offs of other peoples goods. This is very true with silver bullion as well, with many fakes on the market, counterfeit coins are being made from casts of the original Central Mint designs and silver plated over pot metal guts. Even the COA's and boxes are sometimes copied to make the set look all the more original. Having said all that...the Chinese mints do produce some type of Zodiac coin (Lunar or Solar) almost every year since about the 1980s. Some of these are quite well executed and the Chinese mints now produce coins and medals that rival any mint just about anywhere.
Shanghai Mint 60 gram Silver Rounds (2012 / 2015 CE)
Of course, once I say all the troublesome things about collecting from China, I completely break my own rules in several ways with this set that I could not resist. I almost never collect painted coins (most of the time I just feel that the painting is covering up bad design) and I really don't like ordering through foreign mints, but in this case, I simply had to get these. I loved the designs, the way the colors highlighted the Zodiac signs and the fact that a Mint that usually only does Eastern Zodiac sets, did this western Zodiac design. The Proof field with the complete matte designs along with the enamel coloring struck me as state of the art mint capabilities. In addition, each sign came with its appropriately colored crystal that was countersunk in the obverse side. Of all the contemporary Zodiac sets I have seen produced in the last twenty years, these are my absolute favorite designs and my hat is off to the mint and the designers (Full Janus, Zhu Xihua and Rudan Leaves). These come in beautiful boxes with their COA and I felt that you could not counterfeit these without spending more money just to make them than what they sell for on the open market. In addition, several of these only had minting of about 550 and are already difficult to find. These are large, 60mm medals with fully colorized sides and weigh in at 60 grams of .999 silver. Examples below:
There is little I can dig up on European zodiac bullion traditions but I know that they stretch way back. I see glimmers here and there of interesting sets and individual coins that come up for sale in the U.S. and European markets. Often these are bronze or silver, but sometimes I see gold sets too. With the creation of the European union, I have seen a consolidation of many of the monetary designs and many standards have been put in place, but commemorative
and bullion are still produced at the individual mint level
and is not regulated by the Central European Bank...yet.
There seems to be an almost underground
market for the older bullion coins and medals
and I have yet to crack it, but auction houses
and collectors seem to be selling more
discreetly than the eBay services that us
Americans have become so used to dealing
with. I do get the impression that medals,
coinage, currency, and bullion are held much more tightly to the chest and valued more than the general viewpoints in the United States and many countries seem to view this as a part the heritage and history of their countries.
Here is an example of a zodiac set I found while searching in Google for something completely different. I was amazed at the beauty of the design. The obverse indicated 90% gold. I thought the Libra scales weighing the heart vs. the wallet was clever.
When I went to look at the website where the images originated from, it took me to an Italian auction house to a private auction that had recently taken place. The selling price was unlisted and no trace of the winner could be found. It did say that the bullion coins were from an estate and it soon disappeared from the web, but I managed to keep a record of it simply because the designs were breathtaking.
Russian Federation and Territories
Russian often produces Zodiac based bullion, but they seem to always have some sort of monetary denomination. You will find the Russian and Slavic States coins in the Non-Circulating currency section. It includes Russia, Belarus, Transnistria (Moldovia), Ukraine and some other examples of Russian Territories. These coins are very high quality and are often stunningly designed by their perspective country's famous artists, adding to the cultural heritage of the country's mint. These usually sell at two to three times of spot metal prices.
As of note - with popularity comes counterfeiters and China has definitely taken a stab at copying some of the more popular Russian designs.
Russian Federation Coat of Arms