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Clearing Up the Misconception Between Coins and Bullion

Liberty Dollars
An image of Liberty Dollars

An often posed question is what is the difference between coins and bullion?  While this question is usually asked by coin novices, many individuals that have been in the coin or bullion industry for a while are still confused between the two terms.  In this article, we’ll help to explain the difference between the two terms, clear up any misconceptions that you may have, and attempt to answer some of the most frequently related coin and bullion questions that we receive as an Atlanta coin dealer.


Coins & Bullion Defined

First and foremost, it’s important that we define the two terms to lay the groundwork for the rest of the article.  A coin is government issued coinage that is legal tender and can be used to conduct transactions.  While not all coins are currently accepted as legal tender (i.e. Italian Lira, Spanish Pesetas, Greek Drachma) due to a change in accepted currency, the coins at one time or another were widely accepted to conduct commerce.

Bullion, on the other hand is defined as precious metals in any form, but most commonly in the form of coins, bars, rounds and ingots.  Bullion coins refer to government issued coins that contain precious metals content and that are primarily bought and sold for their intrinsic metal value as opposed to their collectible value.  Bullion in other forms, such as bars, rounds, ingots is produced by private mints.  Some of the most established and reputable private mints are Johnson Matthey and Engelhard.

Bullion Coins vs. Numismatic Coins

As alluded to above, bullion coins are primarily bought and sold for their gold, silver or platinum content as opposed to their collectible value.  The most common and popular bullion coins in the U.S. are American gold eagles, American silver eagles, and 90% silver coins.  Even though all three coin types sell at a premium over their intrinsic precious metals content, they’re still considered bullion coins, as they don’t contain any collectible value. 

On the other hand, coins that sell for considerably more than their precious metals content are referred to as collectible or numismatic coins.  Characteristics that help to identify collectible coins are those that are low mintage or rare coins, error coins, or old coins that are in pristine condition.  Additionally, bullion coins, if professionally graded and in high end condition, are commonly referred to as numismatic coins.

What About Privately Minted Coins?

The term privately minted coins is actually a misnomer.  Coins, as defined above, are government issued coinage used to conduct transactions.  Coin-shaped bullion produced by privately minted producers is referred to as rounds.  This is the case even if there is a dollar value on the round, which is somewhat common, but frowned upon by the federal government.  In fact, Bernard von NotHaus, co-founder of the Royal Hawaiian Mint, and founder of the Liberty Dollar, was charged and convicted of counterfeiting for producing privately minted rounds that resembled U.S. coinage. 

Are All Rounds, Bars & Ingots Privately Minted?

At least in the United States, all gold, silver or platinum rounds, bars and ingots are privately minted.   While the U.S. Mint produces commemorative coins that may be slightly different in shape and value than coinage minted for general circulation, no U.S. minted rounds, bars or ingots currently exist.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be at some point in the future, but if that happens to change, we’ll be sure to let our readers know.

Can Old U.S. Minted Coins Still be Used as Money?

While slightly off topic, we’re frequently asked if old U.S. coins can be used as money.  The answer is yes, but only to the extent that the same denomination coins are being used today.  For example, you can use an old Morgan or Peace silver dollar as legal tender, but old two cent, three cent, and twenty cent pieces, which are no longer minted, are considered obsolete coinage.  In other words, they can’t be used in transactions unless the recipient is willing to accept them.


In summary, coins and bullion are both valuable, but they aren’t necessarily the same.  Coins are universally accepted as money in the United States, with the exception of obsolete coinage, while bullion in other forms is primarily bought and sold for investment purposes.  Numismatic coins, in particular, are bought and sold at a premium due to their rarity and collectability, while the value of bullion coins and privately minted bullion is derived from the precious metals value of the items.

Tony Davis
Tony Davis