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A valuable metal is a rare metallic chemical element of high economic value. Chemically the valuable metals are less reactive than most elements, have high luster, are softer or more yielding, and have higher melting points than other metals. In the past, valuable metals were important as currency, but are now regard mainly as investment and industrial commodities. Gold, silver, platinum, and palladium each have an ISO 4217 currency code.
The best-known precious metals are gold and silver. As both have industrial uses, they are better known for their uses in art, jeweler and coinage. Other valuable metals contain the platinum group metals: ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium, and platinum, of which platinum is most widely traded.
The demand for precious metals is driven not only by their sensible use, but also by their role as investments and a store of value. Historically precious metals have commanded much advanced prices than common industrial metals. In the early part of the 21st century, valuable metal prices rose considerably and recycling precious metals became more and more attractive.
A metal is deemed to be precious if it is rare. The discovery of new sources of ore or improvements in mining or refining processes may cause the value of a precious metal to diminish. The status of a precious metal can also be determined by high demand or market value. Precious metals in bulk form are known as bullion and are traded on commodity markets. Bullion metals may be cast into ingots or minted into coins. The important quality of bullion is that it is valued by its mass and purity rather than by a face value as money.
Many nations issue bullion coins, of which the most famous is probably the gold South African Krugerrand. Though nominally issued as legal tender, these coins' face value as currency is far below that of their value as bullion. For instance, Canada issues a gold bullion coin (the Gold Maple Leaf) at a face value of $50 containing one troy ounce (31.1035 g) of gold as of September 2007, this coin is worth about $737 as bullion. Bullion coins' issuing by national governments gives them some numismatic value in addition to their bullion value, as well as certifying their purity.
The level of purity varies from issue to issue. 99.9% purity is common. The purest mass-produced bullion coins are in the Canadian Gold Maple Leaf series which go up to 99.999% purity. Note that 100% pure bullion is not possible as absolute purity in extracted and sophisticated metals can only be asymptotically approached. Many bullion coins contain a stated quantity such as one troy ounce (31.1035 g) of the marginally-impure alloy. In contrast the Krugerrand is one of many historic and modern bullion coins of 22 Kt Crown gold, with a stated content of "fine gold", with the other component(s) of the alloy making the coin heavier than one little in total. Still more bullion coins (for example: British Sovereign) state neither the purity nor the fine-gold weight on the coin but are known and reliable in their work, and many historically stated a quantity in currency (example: American Double Eagle).
One of the largest bullion coins in the world is the 10,000 dollar Australian Gold Nugget coin minted in Australia which consists of a full kilogram of 99.9% pure gold. There have been a small number of larger bullion coins but they are impractical to handle and not created in mass quantities. China has produced coins in very limited quantities (less than 20 pieces) that exceed 260 troy ounces (8 kg) of gold. Austria has issued a coin containing 31 kg of gold.
Gold and silver are often seen as hedges against both inflation and financial downturn. Silver coins have become popular with collectors due to their relative affordability and unlike most gold and platinum issues which are respected based upon the markets, silver issues are more often valued as collectables, far higher than their actual bullion value.
An interesting case of a precious metal that is now common is that of aluminum. Even though aluminum is one of the most commonly occurring elements on globe it was at one time found to be extremely difficult to win from its various ores. This made the little obtainable pure aluminum which had been sophisticated at great expense, more valuable than gold. Bars of aluminum were exhibited alongside the French crown jewels at the Exposition Universally in 1855, and Napoleon III's most important guests were given aluminum plates, while those less worthy dined with mere silver. In addition, the pyramidal top to the Washington Monument is made of pure aluminum. At the time of the monument's construction, aluminum was as expensive as silver, however the price of the metal has dropped, the invention of the Hall-Héroult procedure in 1886 caused the high value of aluminum to permanently collapse.
A bullion coin is a coin struck from valuable metal and kept as a store of value or an investment rather than used in day-to-day business. Examples include Krugerrands, the American eagle series and the Canadian Maple Leaf series. Other examples include the Mexican Libertad, The Chinese Panda bear, The Austrian Philharmoniker and the British Britannia.
Bullion coins are presented in Gold and Silver, with the exception of the Krugerrand which is only available in Gold. The American eagle series is available in Gold, Silver and Platinum and the Canadian Maple Leaf series is available in Gold, Silver, Platinum and also Palladium. Bullion coins are also naturally available in different weights. These are generally multiples or fractions of 1 Troy little but some Bullion Coins are shaped in very limited quantities in Kilograms and even heavier.
Bullion coins sell for a premium over the market value of the metal on the Commodities Exchanges. This is due to their comparative small size and the costs connected with manufacture, storage and distribution. The edge that is paid varies depending on what type of coin it is, the weight of the coin, and the valuable metal. The premium also is affected by current demand.