Silver 101

I've seen several people asking about buying silver, the mechanics and the financial aspects of it, so I thought I'd put all my thoughts in one place for now and future reference. This article is aimed at true beginners, those who have never bought, sold, owned, or invested in silver, and who have not researched any aspects of doing so. For those who have dipped their toe in the water, it might fill in some holes. This is all from my own experience and reading, I make no attempt for it to be a thoroughly researched and wholly comprehensive primer on all aspects of owning and investing in precious metals.

As always, check my facts, figures, and math yourself before relying on any of this. Even I can make mistakes.

I'll look at the pricing of silver in various forms, the mechanics of buying, and some thoughts on the investment aspects. While silver and gold are often considered interchangable, there are some differences in all aspects. I'll only be talking about silver, since it is often called the "poor man's gold", and that probably means that 80% of the people who might read this are going to be primarily interested in silver.

--Forms and Pricing

Silver comes in many forms, but it is roughly divided into bullion, coins, and fabricated items. The last is outside the scope of this article, but briefly, it means anything made of silver such as silverware, jewelry, or household and decorative items. These are difficult to use as an investment vehicle, because the purity and weight are different for each example. Sterling silver is 92.5% silver by weight, but other alloys are common, as is silver plate which only contains relatively minute amounts of actual silver.

For investment purposes, bullion is the standard by which monetary silver is measured. Bullion is usually defined as .999 fine, meaning there is only 1/10 of one percent of other materials in it. It is essentially "pure" silver, as pure as it can reasonably be made (though it can be sometimes found in even purer form, .9999 or better).

Bullion is measured in troy ounces, which are 1/12 of a pound as opposed to 1/16 for the standard (avoirdupois) ounce used to measure nearly everything else in the US. A troy ounce is just over 32 grams. When someone talks of "an ounce" of silver, they always mean 1 troy ounce.

Bullion can be had in units of anywhere from a half ounce or so up to 5000 ounce bars sold at major commodities exchanges. The most common forms are 1 oz "rounds", and 5, 10, or 100 ounce bars. Other weights are more unusual, including odd sized nuggets or "homemade" bars. If you are not experienced with silver, it is best to stick to the standard weights.

Coins are any coin minted by a government. For the purposes of this discussion, I'll stick to US coins, but the variety of coins made throughout the world is enormous and could be the subject of an entire book in itself (and probably has been).

There's a bit of a gray area in this distinction. 1 oz "generic" rounds are usually minted to look like coins, and are often in fact stamped with a date. Though some of these have some collectible value, and some earn a slightly higher premium, they should not be confused with government-issued coinage, and they have no "face" value. This is not an attempt to fool anyone, it is just a standard practice for making silver rounds more attractive, and declaring the weight, purity, and origination of the piece. Silver bars will often be stamped with the name and logo of the mining company or some other entity whose name is taken as an assurance of quality and has assayed and weighed the bar.

On the other side, many countries issue bullion coins. A common example is the US Silver Eagle. Canada, Australia, Austria, and most European countries have their own versions, usually in one troy ounce coins, but sometimes as large as kilograms. The Silver Eagle is one ounce of .999 fine silver with a nominal face value of $1. These do carry some collectible and numismatic value, usually of just a few dollars over the spot market price for silver.

The most commonly used US coinage for investment purposes is "junk" silver coins. The term "junk" comes from coin collecting, and refers to old coins that have little to no collectible value due to condition or simply because the year and mint combination is too common.

In the US, these are pre-1964 dimes, quarters, and half dollars containing 90% silver by weight, excluding those year or mint mark combinations that remain collectible. They are convenient because the silver quality and weight are very consistent (see my caveat on that later), and the mintage is good assurance that they are in fact what they claim to be. One very important feature is that among these three types of coins, the proportion of silver by weight to face value is consistent.

There are other US silver coins that have been minted as well, such as "Morgan" Dollars and "war" nickels, but these do not hold the same proportion of silver to face as the standard dimes, quarters, and halves, so it takes a little more work to understand the pricing. They are still valid ways to invest in silver, but it's not as convenient, and, especially with silver dollars, the price can include some collectible value above the value of the silver.

The standard junk coins contain .72 ounces of silver for every $1 of face value. So a dime has .072 ounces, ten dimes, four quarters, or two halves (or any combination totalling $1) have .72 ounces. Though their silver content is 90% by weight, a dollar's worth does not weigh a full ounce, so it is important to remember that number, .72, and disregard the 90%.

As I write this, the current spot price is around $30.00 per ounce, and I'll use that number for pricing examples from here on. This price varies by quite a bit, silver is a very volatile commodity, so it is important to know the current spot as closely as possible to the time you are planning to buy or sell. and are excellent resources for nearly up to the minute pricing as well as articles on investing and predictions of the market. The price has been over $31.00 this week, was as low as $16 about a year ago, and is currently in a significant medium-term uptrend.

A one ounce round is worth $30. A 5000 ounce COMEX bar will cost you about $150,000. Dimes are worth $30 times .072, or around $2.20 each. The price for any collection of these coins can be calculated by taking the total face value times .72 times 30 (or whatever the current spot is). Shave and a haircut is two bits, or $.25 face, or 30 x .25 x .72 = ~5.50 if that quarter is silver. I'll be rounding a lot of the examples, but if you are going to buy silver, it is worth getting out a calculator and doing it correctly. If you want a ballpark figure that you can do in your head, consider that .72 is very close to 3/4, and it makes the rough calculation easier.

--Buying Silver

You can buy or sell online through any number of silver sellers, or locally at a bricks and mortar coin or jewelry store. It is also possible to find private buyers and sellers through things like eBay or Craigslist, but of course that is "buyer beware". It is possible to find better deals this way, but it takes more work. I would not recommend someone who has never bought or sold silver before to use these avenues.

No matter where you buy or sell, there will be a premium attached. This is how the seller or buyer makes a profit. Coin or jewelry dealers do not try to play the market and make money from market moves, they sell a convenience and thus expect to make a profit on every transaction.

My favorite method is a local store. I can see what I am getting, I can form a relationship with the seller, and I can pay cash. These are all important to me, but if they are not as important to you, or if there are few dealers - or only dealers that charge very high premiums - in your area, online might be a better way to go. In either case, the math is the same, except that you have to account for shipping costs when buying online.

The premiums I see are typically $1.50 per ounce for bullion, and $.50 per one dollar of face for junk coins. That means that to buy a one ounce round, you will pay $31.50. To buy $1 worth of junk, you will pay about $22.10, that is $21.60 for the silver and $.50 for the dealer's premium. You will generally pay the same premium if you sell, reducing the amount you receive by this amount, so if you plan to play the market this way, realize you will pay $3.00 per ounce to buy and then sell back, so the price must move more than $3.00 just for you to break even.

Beware some of the "we buy gold" dealers. These are often, but not always, fly by night operators who rely on advertising and naive customers so as to low-ball their offers far below the market price and any reasonable premium charged by other dealers. As always, shop around and know what the prices really mean in relation to the market silver price, and you won't get taken.

The mechanics of actually buying are simple. It's as easy as placing an order online. At a local store, it just means going in and asking what they have and what the price is. At this time there is no paperwork or anything needed to purchase, it is as simple as buying anything else off the shelf at a retail store, aside from the bit of math needed to understand the pricing. There can be some tax paperwork needed when you sell, but this varies, and is likely to change as new Federal and IRS regulations take effect.

When you do buy from a local retailer, it pays to pay attention. Particularly at stores that are primarily jewelry stores, the clerks are not always very knowledgable, and not always good at math. They can and do make mistakes, sometimes in their favor, sometimes in yours. If it a mistake in their favor, you should be ready to correct it by knowing what price and premium you expect to pay. If it is a mistake in your favor, you can decide you want to buy more than you planned, or, my preference, to let them know about it in the interests of honesty and maintaining a good relationship. Of course, if a retailer seems to make a lot of "mistakes" in his own favor, you might want to consider finding another dealer.

It is also possible sometimes to get better coins by staying alert. This takes some knowledge of what different examples are worth, but such knowledge is not a pre-requisite to buying, it is just gravy if you do know it and can spot an opportunity. As an example, I was recently buying rounds and spotted a Lakota minted round among them. These are not worth a lot extra, but they can bring a bit more when sold than standard rounds. Bullion stamped from certain agencies, such as Englehart or AMark can also be worth slightly more than others, so it is worth preferentially taking these if you have a choice. US Silver Eagles are, rarely, sold as generic silver, and it is definitely worth grabbing those if they are offered at the same price as generic bullion.

--Why to Buy Silver

There's three main reasons to buy silver. Most of these also apply to gold, but that's not in my budget, and probably not in yours, so I'll ignore gold for now. (For comparison, it currently takes about 48 ounces of silver to buy one ounce of gold.) There's some overlap, they need not be mutually exclusive, but they are distinct reasons, and it is a good idea to think about your goals before buying.

The first possibility is simply investing, trying to buy low and then sell high - or sell high and then buy low. The second is to protect your savings from inflation over the medium to long term. The third is to be ready for the collapse of civilization so that you can buy meat instead of having to eat DIY Soylent Green.

The purposes you settle on will help you to decide the mix of forms of silver you'll want to buy. Silver is silver, after all, and fungibility is one of the key properties that make a good monetary metal, but each form has its own advantages and disadvantages. In addition, surprisingly, the different forms are subject to subtly different market conditions. These conditions can and have resulted in significant real-world effects. The most notable among them is, as happened about a year ago and seems to be starting again, is a shortage of physical bullion in small units on the street.

There are four main forms to consider. Of course the actual forms you can obtain silver in are almost infinite, but most break down into these four main categories. I will leave out fabricated silver products, as those are fairly unimportant from an investment perspective, and the subject is very complicated. Though some are nice to have, and I'd rather have, say, a silver money clip than a chromed steel or polished zinc one, they are not a convenient form for significant silver holdings. I'm also leaving out collectible coins because it is also a complicated area, carries risks unrelated to the market for silver, and the prices include a much less tangible and predictable collectible value component.

--Forms of Silver

The forms are (by my own definitions): paper, small-unit bullion, large-unit bullion, and junk coins. Paper is just that, certificates of some kind that are traded on financial exchanges. They can be things like silver futures or options on COMEX or NYMEX, or shares in SLV, a silver-holding ETF traded on the NYSE. It can also include warehouse certificates sold by many online precious metals sellers, where you "own" physical silver that the company stores and manages for you somewhat like a bank account.

Small bullion is rounds or bars up to about ten ounces or so. Large bullion is bars of a hundred ounces up to the 5000 ounce COMEX bar. Junk coins are as described above, pre-1964 US dimes, quarters, and halves, along with other US denominations and foreign coinage, that has little to no collectible value beyond the value of the silver they contain.

I'll quickly break down the main advantage and disadvantages of each. The main criteria are divisibility (the ability to deal with small amounts as well as large amounts), security, liquidity (the ability to buy or sell arbitrary amounts quickly), storage, and transaction costs.

Paper: Low transaction cost and very liquid, easy to manage large quantities, can be bought on margin, but paper is risky if you worry about some kind of systemic problems in the markets, and fairly expensive transaction costs for small quantities. It can also be difficult or expensive to convert paper holdings into reeal physical posession.

Small bullion: Can be acquired over time with small investments, reasonably liquid, easily stored and transported, but higher transaction costs and difficult to store in large quantities. Liquidity can vary.

Large bullion: Can have lower transaction costs (but not always), easier to store large quantities, but often hard to sell, very difficult to divide, and its more of a target for theives (either freelance or in uniform).

Junk coins: Very divisible, more recognizable and acceptable in a Mad Max scenario, easier to afford small quantities, and fairly liquid, but, can have very high transaction costs, its difficult to manage in large quantities, and the actual silver content can be inconsistent due to wear.

Another factor is, of course, exposure to prying eyes of all sorts. Buying physical silver with cash from private sellers, and selling it the same way, practically eliminates this issue.

--Silver Markets

You can see from the above that the needs of various silver investors differs, sometimes by quite a bit. So while there is typically thought to be one single silver price, there are in fact at least three separate markets for silver: paper, small-unit physical, and large-unit physical, and the price at which supply and demand will clear can vary between them. Add in the fact that silver is a very significant industrial metal, and it can confuse the market even further.

There is the widespread thought that metals markets, gold and especially silver, are being manipulated by governments and large banks. I think that this is almost certainly the case, though to what extent their manipulations are effective is difficult if not impossible to gauge precisely. This manipulation is almost certainly downward, keeping the price artifically low, which is a huge boon to we small buyers who are looking for medium to long term accumulation.

There is a downside, though. Because of the price suppression, the price can be forced down below what the market requires to assure an adequate supply of physical metal. This is further exsacerbated by the fact that the paper market is far larger than the total of physical silver existing in the world. While this is not usually a problem (most paper contracts cancel each other out at expiration time), increases in demand for physical execution of a contract can squeeze the supply at the large-unit end. And small units, in addition to being a market of their own, are usually made from larger bars, so the supply fluctuations propogate to all levels, but at varying rates.

There is also some thought that this supply squeeze could one day soon accelerate to the point where demands for physical delivery on the exchanges cannot be fulfilled, thus breaking the commodities exchanges in a way very similar to a run on a bank.

More importantly, the phenomenon of the paper markets exceeding true supply, and the fact that small buyers may demand more physical silver in small units than the worldwide spot price indicates, means that small bullion supplies can become hard to find. Even if large bars are plentiful, the mintage of rounds and small bars may not be. This was the case about a year ago, when the coin shops had to turn people away because their shelves were empty or contained only large bars, online retailers had to restrict their sales, and places like eBay showed a going price that was a couple of dollars higher than the spot. It seems to be happening again, with my local coin stores' shelves looking barren.

These things usually correct themselves, but it can take time, and if you are trying to buy on regular intervals, you may find it hard to do so. If you find this to be the case, keep your powder dry, keep that money at the ready and watch for new supply to be available. This is a case where having a relationship with a local dealer can pay off. If you are a regular and let them know you are in the market to buy, they will sometimes be willing to contact you when they get some in to give you an early shot at it. You may have less choice, say between rounds and junk, but you may at least have the opportunity to buy something.

--Different Ways of Investing

If you are only investing, playing the market over relatively short terms, paper is the way to go. So long as you deal in large enough quantities, the transaction costs can be trivial, and the markets are liquid enough to buy and sell rapidly to take advantage of price moves on whatever scale you choose to work with. Bullion or junk coins carry too high a transaction cost to use for playing the market effectively. And the transaction costs scale with quanttity, where a brokerage fee for paper instruments is basically the same whether you buy ten ounces or a thousand. Beware, there is some talk of shenanigans in the SLV ETF in particular, (and it's gold counterpart, GLD), and there is some question about reliable redeemability. Also, due to technicalities in the way SLV is adjusted to the market, long term holdings see a slow but significant degradation of the price compared to the spot price for silver. If you choose to go this route, read up on it and understand their pricing mechanisms thoroughly.

If your budget is low and you want to protect your savings over the medium to long term, small bullion is the way to go. you can buy a little at a time, you won't have much issue with storage, and you'll always have the phyisical silver. Transaction costs are higher, and selling it is a little harder, but if you're going to hold it a while, that doesn't matter as much. And with small bullion, you can sell a few ounces later if you need to without having to liquidate large bars.

If you have a higher budget and want to protect a large amount of savings over the long term, large bullion might be better. It's easier to count and move around a few one-hundred ounce bars than it is to do so with a few hundred one-ounce rounds. Selling will be harder, and it is impractical to divide a large bar to sell only part of it, but again, for long-term holdings this is not as much of an issue.

If you're worried about Mad Max World.... first, don't. I'm not saying it can't happen, or that it's not good to be ready for it, but don't lose sleep over it. It's a fairly unlikely scenario in the near future, and even if it is going to happen, all you can do is prepare for it by doing things you should be doing anyway. Make preparedness, in everything including "real" money holdings, just a part of your basic approach to life. Don't sacrifice living now for preparing for some disaster scenario that may or may not come.

On the other hand, don't leave yourself wide open to it. Having silver or gold, food storage, tools, supplies, etc., is a good idea no matter what. Lots of small disasters can happen, and you're far better off having an ability to get through them independent of the infrastructure most people depend on. But think of it as gaining capacities, skills, and supplies as insurance, not as a major shift in lifestyle in and of itself.

Incorporate your silver acquisitions into that rather than specifically tailoring it to the disaster scenario. For this kind of preparedness, a mix of junk silver and small bullion is best. Junk, particularly dimes, comes in small enough quantities that it can be used to buy, say, a sandwich or a bag of produce, or a few gallons of gas without having to get "change" from a round. A dime is currently worth about $2.20, two dimes are a little more than a gallon of gas right now, but close enough.

A silver round is worth about $30. If you want a sandwich, the seller would have to "break" your round into coins, so in any case, those coins, should you find yourself in a scenario where every day trade is done in silver, will be necessary. Rounds are still useful for larger purchases, and much more convenient to carry and trade with than a pocket full of dimes would be.

In any case, your goals may be some mix of any of these four. You can mix and match your holdings to suit.

--Silver and "Intrinsic Value"

A note about silver's (and gold's) "intrinsic value" is important here, particularly in the context of the "Mad Max" scenario. Precious metals have no intrinsic value. Nothing does, value is always what some person values something at, it is always subjective. It is possible that gold and silver could become utterly worthless to most people and on the markets.

Nor, however, is the value merely arbitrary, or some "social consensus" as some people would say. Gold and silver have properties that make them most suitable for the functions of money, which are to mediate exchange, and to store value so that it can be preserved between exchanges, and so that exchanges can be time-shifted. A barter exchange can only occur when there is a "coincidence of wants", when a buyer wants what a seller has *and* the seller wants what the buyer has at the same time and in the same place. A medium of exchange means that the seller can take money and be reasonably assured of using it to acquire what he wants at a later time, and from different people.

Gold and silver have these properties in degree and combinations found in no other materials. Among them are fungibility (all silver is the same, whatever form it is in), divisibility, portability, durability, and scarcity. This means not that the value is objective, but that it is based on objective qualities that serve a specific purpose. A substance used as money has to be of consistent make up in order for it to be used widely among varying people for varying purposes, it has to not degrade over time so it can "store value". It has to be easily broken into smaller units. It has to be easily carried and stored. And it has to be rare enough, and increases in supply difficult and expensive enough, that there won't suddenly be a huge increase in the supply for arbitrary reasons.

Gold and Silver do not have intrinsic value, but their value is far more likely to hold up over time than things that do not have these properties. While paper money has some of these properties as well, and even to a greater degree for some of them than metal, the one property it is most notably lacking is scarcity. Don't assume that your wealth is perfectly safe once converted to gold and silver, understand that it is merely safer than if it is stored in paper. Diversify your holdings so that your risk is not all on one thing.

--Mechanics of Buying

For practical purposes, I'll focus on small bullion and junk coins, both because that is where my experience is, and because I think for most people reading this, the small-scale savings protection and preparedness are going to be the main goals. I won't get into selling, as I rarely do so, but the mechanics and price calculations are the mirror image of buying. Most coin and/or jewelry stores, as well as online dealers, who sell silver will also buy it on roughly the same terms, though the premiums may or may not be the same when they buy as when they sell. As always, ask and shop around before making any major sale, and be sure you completely understand the terms and how the premiums and spot price combine to determine your actual proceeeds.

If you want to play the market in paper, there is a ton of information out there. Start an account with a discount broker, understand the fee structure, and learn about ETFs, the futures market, and futures options.

If you want to trade large bullion, you can get 100, 500, and sometimes 1000 ounce bars online, or at local coin stores, though availability locally will be spotty. One option that is very worth looking at if you are thinking in the 1000 ounce range is to buy a futures contract that expires within a month, and don't ever sell it. Once that contract expires, you now 1000 ounces in a single bar, whether you like it or not. After it expires, your broker or someone from the exchange will contact you for a delivery address and arrangements to pay the shipping cost, and you'll get an 80 lb brick dropped on your doorstep within a week or so. The advantage of this is that the shipping and brokerage costs will be several hundred dollars less than the $1500 (give or take) premium you would pay for buying 1000 ounces from a dealer.

Or, if you want to go that route, don't have the money now, and are confident you will be able to come up with it in the future, you can buy a longer term futures contract on margin (if you have good credit), save up the full price, and pay for it over time until expiration. If you change your mind, or find you cannot come up with the money, you can sell the contract and only pay the brokerage fees, plus realizing any gain or loss that occured during the time you held it. The advantage of this route is that you can lock in the purchase price before having sufficient funds to fully buy the bar.

This process might seem intimidating, but I have personal friends who have done it, and it's surprisingly simple to do, assuming you are prepared to spend $30,000 + fees for 1000 ounces, or $150,000+ for a 5000 ounce contract.

Assuming you are interested in small bullion and junk, if you have never bought silver before, I suggest you go, today, to the nearest coin shop and take the plunge. You can shop around for the best premiums if you like, or look online, but I really suggest just doing your first buy locally, even if the premium is not the best. Start with a small amount, maybe $100, more or less depending on your budget, and just do it. If you pay a few dollars more in premiums, chalk it up to education. You can always spend more time findng the best possible deal later, after you have a little experience.

Lets say you have $100, and want to spend the whole thing on silver. You will need to buy some rounds and some junk, which is good, you can get experience with both. In the two days I've spent on and off writing this, the spot price has dropped from $30.00 an ounce to $28.69, so lets do the math for real.

Assuming your coin shop is using the up to the minute price (which won't always be the case, but it should be close), and their premium is $1.50 for bullion and $.50/$1 of face (which can also vary widely, but it is typical of what I see in my city), we can calculate what you can buy with your $100. Ask the clerk any questions you have, they are there to sell you stuff, and they're used to new buyers coming in with questions, especially these days. If they're not happy about it, go somewhere else.

Each round will cost you $28.69 + $1.50, or $30.19. You can buy up to three of them for $100, and make the difference up with dimes, but lets say you want two rounds and the rest dimes, which is a mix I typically shoot for, roughly half and half give or take. Two rounds will cost $60.38 (there should be no sales tax), leaving you $39.62 for dimes.

Each dime costs (getting out my calculator), $2.07 (rounded), plus $.05 premium (1/10 of $.50), for a total of $2.12. 18 dimes will then cost you $38.16. You'll spend $98.54, and walk out with your change plus two one ounce rounds and 18 dimes. Thats a total of 3.13 ounces. Before you walk out, ask the clerk if they have any plastic coin tubes to hold dimes. If they do, it will cost you about what your change was, though sometimes they will just give them to you for free. It makes it easier to store the dimes. You can get them for silver rounds as well.

When buying, they will often give you a choice of rounds, if they have enough availability. You can choose on whatever basis you like, in general there will be no difference in market price when you sell them. Do look for rounds that are stamped with "1 Troy ounce" and ".999 fine silver". Some rounds do not have this, and while it is unlikely they will actually not have the correct size and purity, it is possible, and it is best to avoid the risk. Pieces lacking that stamp may also be harder to sell in the future.

Whe buying junk, be aware that very old and worn coins will have less silver content, sometimes significantly so as a percentage. This is particularly the case with the older "Mercury" dimes that have a bust of Mercury on the front. Though they were minted with exactly the same amount of silver, these are often noticably thinner from wear than newer "Roosevelt" dimes (though those can be severly worn as well). It is traditional to deal in junk based strictly on face value, but some buyers are now choosing to go by weight, so it is possible you may lose some value due to wear in the future, and you will in any case be getting a tiny amount less silver for your money. The dealer should be willing to substitute newer or less worn dimes for these worn examples, but that is not always the case.

Also, I tend to stay away from quarters and halves. There is nothing wrong with them, but I find the dime and the ounce to be the best mix for my different purposes. Quarters would be useful in a Mad Max scenario, as they allow a granularity of weights not possible with only dimes and halves, but that is not a major concern for me. You may feel differently, but there are enough people who think the same way that quarters and halves are just a little bit harder to sell, so dealers will often try to sell you those preferentially if you don't specify which denominations you want.

In the future, decide how much you want to buy, and the mix of bullion and junk you want to have. The two main strategies for deciding when to buy are "buy on the dips", or "dollar cost average". The first tries to play the market a little bit by buying when the price is relatively low, buying less or none after a run-up and more when the price pulls back a bit. Dollar cost averaging means buying a set dollar amount at regular intervals, which has the effect of buying less at higher prices and more when the price is low, but takes the aspect of trying to outguess the market out of it. In either case, if your goal is to hold the silver for a while to protect the purchasing price of your savings, small moves in the price are not significant factors in the big picture. Dollar cost averaging is the best way to maximize your purchases without running the risk of the market outguessing you and either missing an opportunity to buy low or missing a run-up while holding cash instead of silver.

--This is What Freeom Sounds Like

After you leave, take the rounds out of any protective plastic slip-case they are in (they don't usually come with them, but sometimes do), and pour out a few dimes into your hand. Shake them around and listen to the sound real money makes. Hear that nice melodious tinkle? I think that is a beautiful sound. Learn what it sounds like. Compare it to the dull, lifeless sound a handful of modern coins makes. It's a nice audible verification that you have real silver in your hand, but also I have several times identified silver in a handful of change just by the sound. Also, notice that silver has a relatively dull, milky white color, almost yellowish in comparison to the harsh, almost bluish/"silver" tint of modern coins. Learn to spot that color as well. Though it is now extremely rare to find silver in cirulation, it does happen. I once got half a roll of silver quarters from a register at Burger King, now worth over $100, for $5 because I recognized the sound and nobody else knew anything about silver. But in any case, just enjoy the sound. It's one of the sounds of freedom.