Precious metal math for fun and profit

by Burne51



In the prepper pantheon of Gold, Guns and Grain, precious metals seem to rank second in the amount of discussion and thought given over to them, behind boomsticks.


Whether it’s the need for a new gold standard; how much silver to keep handy and in what form; how to hide and protect one’s stash (a twofer!); where’s the market going; and when’s the collapse of the dollar coming, the verdict, among preppers at least, is in: fiat money bad; real money good.


“Free market money makes people more free. It makes it harder to control them or steal their property. By enhancing their freedom, free market money enhances their prosperity. And by curbing the ability of governments to finance endless wars and endless programs of wealth redistribution, free market money starves the monster into submission until its muscles atrophy and it can be led back into its cage and bound down by the limits of constitutions and sterner stuff.” – Jim Davidson, Being Sovereign. His recommendation: “Issue your own money, or choose a free market money when you offer tender in payment or accept it.”


It’s important that concerned citizens begin to take steps into a world of free market money, as it is to explore other areas of personal sovereignty and market freedom. One thing that implies is the renewed use of gold, silver and, I’d argue, copper, in day-to-day commerce.


Gold, silver and copper US coins are out of circulation and not being produced (and save your nickels!). And the rogue US government, in the Bernard von NotHaus Liberty Dollar case, shows that it’s willing to go to any length to destroy anything and anyone allegedly competing with its unconstitutional, assumed monopoly on the issuance of pseudo coins and paper fiat money.


With the spot price of gold around $1,600 and silver at $40, even the lowly Roosevelt dime is worth about $3 in melt value, assuming your brother could spare you one. Buying a ten-cent cigar and getting change back is cumbersome and daunting. What to do?


Enter the folks at Shire Silver(.com), a group of New Hampshire Hobbits recently linked from James Rawles’ indispensable SurvivalBlog (.com). The Shire folk produce and sell laminated business cards with either one or five grams of gold, silver or copper wire embedded in them, to help get people used to paying for things with honest weights of known commodities. They also offer a how-to for producing the laminated cards. In the making of free market money, the reputation of the moneyer is critical: make an honest dollar and you’re in business; shave your weights and debase your currency and you’ll survive the tar and feathers, if you’re lucky – which is why tyrants try to keep a monopoly on violence, too, but that’s talk for another day.


A large part of the mission of Shire Silver is educational. Most folks simply don’t know how to value small quantities of precious metals and compute their worth in day-to-day situations, which makes precious metals difficult to use in trade and therefore unlikely to be used. That can be remedied.


With a bow to the Hobbits of the Silver Shire, and another to the resilient communities of John Robb’s Global Guerillas, here’s a brief open-source tutorial on calculating the value of silver or copper, designed to be set and fit legibly on the reverse of a standard business card. As a bonus, I include a few word problems involving realistic scenarios, for instruction and practice, followed by the answers. A gold version is in the works … or I’ll use yours!


For the obverse of such cards, I recommend at minimum the weight and purity of the metal of choice; some sort of identification of the moneyer; the approximate date of creation; and perhaps a serial number or limited edition number, for the collector’s market. Artwork of your choice is encouraged, but I’d avoid heads of liberty, eagles, etc.


Here’s the instructional text of the card, which I set in Arial, Century, and Arial Narrow:

What’s it worth to ‘ya, buddy? [silver (Ag) and copper (Cu)]

“Paper money eventually returns

to its intrinsic value – zero.” Voltaire (1694—1778)

$1,000 face value of circulated pre-1965 US Ag coins contains about 715 Troy ounces (T oz.) of 99.9% pure Ag by weight. 1 T oz. = 31.1 grams (gm.) / .032 T oz. = 1 gm. / The gram weight of pure Ag for US coins is about: Dollar = 22.24 / Half dollar = 11.12 / Quarter = 5.56 / Dime = 2.24. Sterling Ag is 92.5% pure; US Ag coins, 90.0%. Convert and multiply: weight in T oz. X today’s spot price X % purity = value. Spot prices at           99.9% pure Cu is weighed in avoirdupois (bathroom-scale) pounds (lb.). 453.6 gm. = 1 lb., and 1 gm. = 0.0022 lb. Pre-1982 pennies hold about 2.95 gm. of pure Cu = .0065 lb. The same math applies, but use lb. in place of T oz. for Cu values.


That the market spot price for silver is quoted in Troy ounces for .999 pure metal, and that for pure copper is in bathroom-scale pounds, just like your lard ass, should be common knowledge, dammit. For the problems, I used a spot price for silver of $39.25/T oz., and for copper, $4.40/lb.


Problem #1 – Dick finds 37 Sterling silver forks at a yard sale, and his pocket scale tells him that each one weighs about 8 grams. He’s willing to pay up to 50% of the spot price of silver for them. How much is he willing to offer for all the forks?


Problem #2 – Jane buys an old dresser at the thrift store for $40, and finds a bunch of old silver US coins under some paper in the bottom drawer. They add up to $2.45 in face value. What’s the silver value of the coins on today’s market?


Problem #3 – While out jogging, Sally picks up a 99.9% pure solid silver earring that weighs 5 grams. What’s it worth?


Problem #4 – Spot’s been demolishing old houses – legally – and has 175 pounds of old copper pipes and wiring, which is made of an alloy of pure copper plus 15% zinc. What’s the copper worth?


Problem #5 – Your dad gives you his penny jar. It holds 999 pennies and you find that 2/3 of them are dated before 1982. What is the copper value of those old pennies?


Please don’t argue with me about weights and alloys; I made ‘em all up. Here are the answers: #1 = $171.95; #2 = $68.48; $3 = $6.28; #4 = $654.50; #5 = $19.05


I’ve double checked them all, but that doesn’t mean they’re correct. I’ll show my work if asked. Please try to refrain from calling me too many names if I’ve screwed up; let’s refine and move forward. It’s my hope that by exercising some gumption and some basic math skills we can hasten the advent of a free society of free markets and free people. Happy Trails!





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  1. I have a very stupid question, but I need a very real answer. Does pre-65 coins mean coins dated 1964 and below or 1965 and below? Are 1965 coins as “valuable” as 1964 or 1966? I’m sorry.

  2. There is another problem with the calculations. Regardless of what the “price” of gold or silver is you need a buyer and they have to be buying it with something you want. If you have gold and I have food what is your gold worth then? Maybe nothing. Maybe a cup of rice for an ounce of gold. What if there are no buyers what is it worth?

    Second; what if Uncle Sam makes possessing and selling/buying gold and silver illegal. It has happened before. They will give you some paper money for your gold but the price will not be market price. If you don’t sell it to them they will take it. What’s it worth? I couldn’t even legally trade a cup of rice for an ounce of gold if the government makes it illegal to own or sell/trade.

  3. Just an FYI. When I created the Shire Silver concept/model, it was in response to the raid on the Liberty Dollar. One of their major flaws was the centralized production and distribution system – basically, they had a head that could be cut off.

    Realizing that something more akin to a drug dealer model would be much more resistant to thuggery (of all kinds) I tried to make a system where pretty much anyone could make their own. So I put the idea into the public domain (kinda like “open source”).

    I chose to use grams for my cards, but there’s nothing stopping people from using whatever they feel they’d like for their own cards. Fractions of ounces and grains have been discussed as possibilities, and one competitor makes cards using pre-64 dimes.

    I am hoping that many people take up the idea. There’s safety in numbers, and my “mint” is small enough to fit in a small suitcase and is almost entirely stuff that would be found in a standard home office. I would like to be just one of many producers, although I’d like to think of mine as a premium product 🙂

  4. Ken,

    I certainly wouldn’t advocate melting pennies or nickels for their metal value, legal or not; same for other coins. They, and their silver brethren, are more useful as money, as they were created to be. Coppers and nickels should just trade for their honest value, after the fiat money era, as do silver coins already. There’s not much of a market for three-cent pennies or seven-cent nickels now; you’d have been hard pressed to get $7 for a quarter in 1964, too. Some folks are actively hoarding nickels; I’m not. But I ask for them as change, never spend them, and roll ’em as I acquire them. Get ’em now, because when they are debased — as all other US coins have been — real nickels will begin to disappear from circulation, and real ones will need to be physically separated from “paper” ones. Real copper, pre-1982 pennies are tougher to find now, for that exact reason — one must sort them out, which seems tedious. But there are no other economic activities in my life where I can be guaranteed to triple my money every time, and that’s what makes the exercise worthwhile. Thanks for reading and commenting on my article.

  5. Also think of it this way: When was the last 1964 quarter you saw randomly in a pile of quarters? Almost all of them have been taken out of circulation, and are on places like AMPEX, Ebay, in private collections, or for sale in coin stores. Working in retail for several years, I’ve see A LOT of quarters. And I’ve only seen TWO (2!!) pre-1965 quarters, one I managed to switch out with a quarter I had in my pocket at the time, another one I stupidly didn’t notice, and gave away as change in a transaction…

    I like precious metals, a lot. I like looking at my small, but slowly growing collection of shiny silver. Bars, coins, nuggets, as well as silverware and decorative plates and the like scattered about the house.

    But in the end, I don’t think they should ever take priority over water and food (Yes, those two are in that order.)

    If your kids are starving to death, you won’t be feeding them some silver pre-1965 coins. If you’re without water, a shiny rock, which is all that silver bars really are, won’t quench your thirst. When your in the rain and snow, silver won’t give you warmth, or put a roof over your head.

    The ~40 dollars or ~1700 dollars (who knows how high the price of gold and silver will be going soon…) you used to buy gold/silver bars and coins could have gone to water, food, shelter, guns, ammo, batteries, etc. etc.

    I think it’s important to keep it in perspective. If you have several months/years worth of water and food and other preps stashed away, then by all means, you have my blessing and encouragement to proceed to make Scrooge McDuck look like an monk with a vow of poverty!

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