Some people invest in precious metals such as gold and silver because they're tangible investments. Unlike a business, a gold bar or a silver coin has a value you can hold. A company may go out of business (or make wild profits), but people will always want gold and silver.

Unlike a dollar which is always a dollar, silver's price fluctuates depending on how much is available and who's willing to pay for it. This is the law of supply and demand from basic economics: if there's a fixed amount of silver available, the more people who want to buy it, the higher the price goes. If there's more silver for sale than people want to buy, the price goes down.

Silver is often sold in terms of bars (bullion) or coins (silver dollars minted by various countries). The easiest way to buy silver is with a pseudo-stock XAGUSD, which measures the cost of silver per ounce in terms of US Dollars. (In other words, the stock market symbol for silver is XAGUSD.)

The market price of silver varies.

As of the most recent market's closing, silver is worth $14.530 per ounce, up 0.97% ($0.140) from its previous price. (Remember, that's the price for a troy ounce of silver.)

The price of silver per gram is $0.47. This is, of course, the current price per ounce divided by 31.103 (the number of grams in a troy ounce).

Finally, the price of silver per pound is $174.36. This is the spot price times 12 (the number of troy ounces in a pound).

What is a Troy Ounce of Silver?

Silver is traded in units called troy ounces, or "oz". All precious metals, including gold and platinum, trade this way. Through an accident of history, the common "ounce" is technically an avoirdupois ounce. A troy ounce is slightly heavier than an avoirdupois ounce; there are twelve in a troy pound.

A troy pound is slightly smaller than the avoirdupois pound you might be used to; there are 14.58 troy ounces in that pound.

The current price of silver—also known as the spot price—is always measured in troy ounces.

While it's more difficult to convert an ounce of silver into cash, some people believe that this illiquidity is actually an advantage. Then again, if a zombie apocalypse were to occur, cash dollars and physical troy ounces of silver might be equally useless. How much silver is worth per ounce depends on multiple factors.

Many people have taken an interest in the historic ratio of the value of silver to gold. In recent times, gold has been worth much more than silver. For example, in 1980, gold was worth 37 times more than silver. In 2010, gold was worth 60 times more than silver.

Investing in Silver Coins

Because a coin is minted by a specific country with a specific design at a specific year, it may have a collectible value greater than the value of the metal itself. For example, a Morgan Silver Dollar contains less than an ounce of silver (so its raw value is between $15 and $20), but even in poor condition it can fetch several thousand dollars. In excellent or perfect condition, you might be able to sell such a coin for over half a million dollars.

This type of investing, of course, is closer to speculation than buying a silver fund or bullion. Coins aren't fungible; each coin has a specific value from its condition, country of origin, and year. Buying coins and learning their history and comparing them to each other provides a lot of enjoyment for people; there really isn't any comparison between a share of Coca-Cola you bought in 1957 or one you bought in 1975.

If you are buying silver coins for an investment, the best coins to buy tend to be:

You do of course have the option of melting down a silver coin or piece of jewelry and selling it for the current price of silver per pound on the open market, but that's the lowest value you could get for anything made of silver. (If the coin is in terrible shape, it may have zero additive value beyond its weight.)

Does Silver Investing Make Sense?

Investing in gold or silver has its disadvantages, but an investment in precious metals such as silver can be popular because a good is more tangible than a stock.

Popular isn't always right. Is it good to invest in silver?

Precious metals can be more volatile than stocks because the value of a precious metal is tied to available supply (what happens if a silver or gold mine in Canada strikes a new vein?) and industrial demand (what if a manufacturer corners the options market?). The COMEX branch of the New York Mercantile exchange handles metal trades (not just gold and silver, but copper and aluminum).

Storing bars of bullion or boxes of silver coins can be a hassle too, and liquidating them isn't as easy as clicking "Sell" at your online broker.

Precious metal investing may be worth a small part of your portfolio if you have an interest in it, but value investors can find better deals on better stocks with not much research.

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