Detailed guidelines for buying and selling Franklin Mint (Danbury Mint, Hamilton Mint, etc.) silver/gold art medal sets, ingots, and coins.
I have collected Franklin Mint and other private mint sets for almost 30 years, and at one time or another have owned the majority of the sets ever made. I have bought and sold these sets on Ebay for over 10 years now as big*bob, and I am an [on and off] Ebay Powerseller. I'm writing this guide to help those who may be new to this area of collecting or bullion investing and are interested in buying or selling such sets on Ebay.
Ebay has become the primary marketplace for Franklin Mint and other private mint silver sets (Danbury Mint, Lincoln Mint, Hamilton Mint, etc.). Most of these sets were minted from the mid 1960's until the early 1980's. Very few new art medal collectibles like these have been produced since about 2000 because the high price of gold and silver coupled with high minting and direct marketing costs make the price of a new set almost prohibitive. However, because the existing sets typically sell today based primarily on the precious metal value, they represent an attractive alternative to bullion coins or simple precious metal ingots because you can get fantastic artwork, proof quality minting, and beautifully presented collectibles for prices similar to raw silver or gold bullion!
- Determine the silver or gold bullion weight of the item. Precious metals (gold, silver, and platinum) are measured and priced in units called troy ounces. A troy ounce is not the same as the commonly used ounce weight - an avoirdupois ounce - which is what you get if you weigh a medal on a postal scale, although they are close (about 10% difference). Both types of ounces can be measured in terms of smaller units called grams or grains.
- 1 troy ounce = 31.103 grams = 480 grains = 1.097 avoirdupois ounce
1 avoirdupois ounce = 28.35 grams = 437.5 grains = 0.911 troy ounce
- Find the current spot price of gold or silver. This is easy - it's listed daily in newspapers in the business section under Commodity Prices, or just search the Internet for "gold price" or "silver price". This will be the price per troy ounce, e.g., $14/oz for silver or $800/oz for gold.
- Determine the current silver or gold bullion value of the set you are looking at. You can determine the bullion value by calculating (weight * purity * price). Since most Franklin Mint sets are sterling (.925) silver instead of pure .999 silver, don't forget to adjust the bullion value accordingly. For example, for a set of 50 500 grain sterling silver medals, with spot silver at $14/oz, the calculation is:
- 50 pieces * 500 grains = 25,000 grains
- 25000 grains / 480 grains per troy ounce = 52.08 troy ounces sterling
- 52.08 troy ounces * .925 purity = 48.12 troy ounces equivalent pure silver bullion
- 48.12 troy ounces * $14 spot price/oz = $673.68 actual bullion value.
- As an easy guideline, the 500 grain sterling silver size is about .96 oz. pure silver, and the 1000 grain size is about 1.93 oz. These are commonly thought of as 1 oz and 2 oz pieces and are often described that way in auctions, but to my knowledge the Franklin Mint did not make any exact 1 oz or 2 oz size pieces, although other private mints did.
- Is it a complete set? Partial sets are common, and the value is generally less than for a complete set.
- Is it in mint, excellent, average, or poor condition? The better the condition, the more the set would be worth.
- Does it include the display case or other packaging? Again, attractive packaging tends to make the set worth more to a collector.
- Does it include the paperwork (Certificate of Authenticity/descriptive brochures)?
- All Franklin Mint sets are rare by most collectible standards. Mintages typically ranged from only several hundred to several thousand, perhaps ten thousand for popular sets.
- Many sets, especially those minted in the early 1970's, contained a lot of silver, and many of these may have been melted down for the bullion when silver prices spiked in 1979-80.
- Mintage doesn't always correlate to how often a set appears for sale on Ebay. There are some sets with typical mintages of several thousand that I see fairly often on Ebay and others with similar mintages that I very rarely see.
- Most sets typically sell for close to the silver or gold bullion value (say plus or minus 10-20%), although there are always anomalies of items that sell for very much more or less than could be expected. The bullion value of a set is objective - all you need is a scale and a calculator.
- Smaller sets generally sell on the higher side of bullion value and larger sets on the lower side, because there are more people who will spend, for example, $200 on an item, than $2000.
- Mini medals or ingots are generally less desirable than full size - they are harder to see, handle, and appreciate as collectibles, and have much less bullion value. Most of the mini size sets have total silver bullion weights of only 4-8 oz. Be careful about this and know what you are buying - in a picture you can't judge the size of the pieces. Ask the seller the size of the pieces if in doubt. Many of the mini sets look great in pictures, but when you get them you may be disappointed at how small they are.
- The impact of the rarity and eye appeal factors is the most difficult part in determining a reasonable price. For my personal ratings of many sets based on 30 years of collecting experience, you can check the ratings on my website www.franklin-mint-silver.com (Note: I can't insert an actual link in this Ebay guide, you will have to search for it.)
- If you see a nice set listed at a reasonable Buy-It-Now price, buy it! I have gotten some of my best Ebay bargains this way. In fact, I regularly check new Franklin Mint silver listings with Buy-It-Now options for just this purpose - bargain hunting.
- Read the Buyer Guidelines. The exact same factors apply to the value of a set for sellers as for buyers. A complete set, in mint condition, that is rare and has a lot of eye appeal will fetch more than average, and conversely. Be accurate and honest about precious metal weights, especially for larger sets. If necessary, you can take a medal into any coin shop and they will weigh it for you free. State the size and weight of the pieces in the auction - if you don't, you will just get questions about it. If the set is in mint condition and has all the paperwork, play that up. If it's not, play up the precious metal bullion content.
- Take Good Pictures. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Very few potential buyers are intimately familiar with these items, so your pictures are the primary selling tool, much more so than the written description. Attractive pictures, including closeups, are very important to get the best price. Digital photos are much superior to scans. Always use Gallery photos.
- Price Realistically. Many sets are worth today only a fraction of the original purchase price. Almost none are worth more except perhaps solid gold sets sold when the price of gold was very low. You can get a good idea of an approximate price target by determining the bullion value of the set as described in Buyer Guidelines 1-3.
- Set a good opening bid or use Buy-It-Now or Best Offer. Many of these items get only one or two bids, so try to make it something that you can live with if it sells at the opening bid price, unless you are a low-opening-bid seller (e.g., $0.99), in which case you may want to use some promotional features. I have had success with using a low opening bid with a Featured Listing for more expensive sets, especially those with a high rarity and eye appeal rating.
- Ship Securely. This is one of my biggest peeves. Many sellers on Ebay are not experienced packing this type of set and do it poorly. Items in display cases will not stay in place during the rigors of package handling. If you want satisfied buyers, the medals MUST be removed and wrapped separately or with something soft between or the medals will end up all in a heap - scratched and dinged - on arrival. Shipping insurance will not cover this kind of damage, as it was not packed correctly.
For more detailed information on many specific Franklin Mint and other private mints commonly seen on Ebay, including mintage information, original prices, pictures, rarity and eye appeal ratings, cleaning tips, etc., you can check my website www.franklin-mint-silver.com (Note: I can't insert an actual link in this Ebay guide, you will have to search for it.)