Dear Mr. Berko:

For Christmas gifts, I usually buy 100 mint-condition Susan B. Anthony dollar coins (which are not silver) from a coin dealer for $1.50 each. I give them to friends and put them in stockings for our kids. This coin dealer offered me an opportunity to buy 10 beautiful, gleaming 6-by-2.5-inch silver-proof $100 coins minted with 480 grains of pure silver. They’re engraved with the Liberty Bell and the likeness of Benjamin Franklin. He has 12 remaining, and he will sell me 10 of them for $121 each, which is a very small markup. I’d like to buy the other two, but I am tight on money and would have to sell a couple of my power tools to raise the cash. He won’t take a credit card. This is $21 over face value, but this is a very rare issue, and if silver rises back to $50 per ounce this year, my money on this investment would more than double. This sounds like a really good opportunity. Could I be missing something here? Please advise quickly, because this dealer is retiring and will be moving to Florida next month, which is your state.

K.J., Moline, Ill.


Dear K.J.:

Yep, you’re missing something, and it’s your brain, which is probably in the back of your pickup. I’m almost convinced that our government has been covertly adding a brain atrophy chemical to our water supply for the past 40 years. This has created an increasingly evident phenomenon, described by knowledgeable observers as the dumbing down of America. It’s apparent in the election of our national leaders, especially those in the U.S. Congress and, of course, your Illinois General Assembly.

New York Mint LLC, a slinky for-profit private company, purchases huge picturelike advertisements in daily newspapers that attract mooks like you. Every time a mook calls New York Mint’s toll-free line to purchase the company’s swill, management hammers a huge gong, and cheers resound in the boiler room call center.

This ersatz mint uses a 1973 445-pound secondhand fortune cookie press that’s been jerry-rigged to stamp 188 of these silvery 6-by-2.5-inch $100 plates each hour. But instead of inserting a small paper strip with comforting words, it infuses 480 grains of silver into the pressing process. Wake up and smell the buffalo chips, K.J. New York Mint’s clever, disingenuous advertising is designed for borderlines who believe that football bats and puckey hocks should be illegal.

I’m sure you don’t want to believe me, but this glitzy 6-by-2.5 gimcrack is basically a trashy bauble that isn’t worth $30 of foul air. It’s not legal tender! It’s produced by a private company posing as a federal mint! It contains one troy ounce (480 grains) of silver and has a resale value (after smelting costs) of about $26. And you can buy thousands of these things all day long from New York Mint for $89 plus $16.95 for shipping and handling. It has zero value for collectors. Its rarity is a function of low demand. And I suspect that this mendacious coin dealer purchased those trinkets from a hapless New York Mint investor who got snookered by clever advertising.

If you must invest in silver coins, consider buying the $1 American Silver Eagle coin or the Canadian Maple Leaf coin. Those coins are just as shiny, just as brilliant and, though not rare, always in demand. Stay away from private mints such as Franklin Mint, Danbury Mint, Westminster Mint, National Collector’s Mint and New York Mint. They succeed because they easily convince good folks like you that there’s value where no value exists. I don’t know of a single product New York Mint has sold to the public that is worth today what the public paid for it 10 or 20 years ago.