I also prefer NOT to leave a paper trail. I've got thousands in silver and the gov't doesn't know about a single dime of it. I need to preface all this by saying though A LOT OF PEOPLE buy Silver online and even buy the SLV stocks and don't pay any mind to the whole government not knowing about it thing. Trying to keep your silver out of the Government's eyes will end up COSTING YOU MORE MONEY. I however, believe it's a cost worth paying... but just remember there are a ton of people out there that don't worry about it at all.
Anyway, consider the premium the price you're paying for the gov't to not know about your purchase...
Silver Eagles ARE GREAT to buy... they are the most popular coin in the world and they are guaranteed by the US Treasury as 1 fine OZ of silver. When you get an Eagle you KNOW it's not a fake and people are much more comfortable buying them off of you because of the security.
HOWEVER, Silver Eagles come with the HIGHEST premiums
because they are much easier to sell and because the confidence in authenticity is very high. Typically a SE premium will be between 3-5$... if you can find 3$ that's pretty good, 5$ is a bit too steep for me but it really depends on your budget. I will occasionally pay 4$ but i'm never happy about that either. A lot of places will sell you a stack of 20 Eagles and only charge you 2-3$ per OZ if you buy ALL 20. You can also try to haggle with people if that's your thing but consider 3$ on Eagles very good. If you find anything under that it's an automatic buy imo.
Just remember... if you buy a Silver Eagle at 30.91 plus 5$ premium then you'll need silver to hit 36$ before you're out of the red. This is why premiums can be killer and why finding the lowest ones is key.
But... typically the lower premium OZ coins were privately minted and do not carry the confidence of Silver Eagles. In all the time i've been buying i've NEVER run across a fake silver OZ but still... you know with Silver Eagles they are legit.
Canadian Maple Leafs are also a solid buy because it's the same story with the Eagles except it's Canada backing them instead of the US... Again though, Premiums will be an issue.
Buying the bars will come with less of a premium (especially the more you buy in weight) but if you're going to buy bars, or any silver that's not government minted for that matter, try to buy from reputable assayers. Like Johnson-Matthey, Ampex, Engelhard, etc... do research on the more reputable assayers before you buy silver.
But then there's JUNK COINS...
Junk Coins are an engima... I still haven't figured out if I like them or not and I just started to get into them but i'll let you in on the pros and cons...
Junk Coins are all pre1964 half dollars, quarters, and dimes... they were minted by the US Gov't and are 90% silver and 10% copper.
A GREAT PLACE to look at the values of these coins is coinflation.com
The Pros to Junk Coins:
The Premiums ARE DIRT CHEAP most places will charge just over spot on their junk coins so you won't get slammed at 3-4-5$ per OZ on premiums.
Now keeping this in mind i'll give you my personal opinion... Silver Half Dollars are the only junk coins worth holding and there's a number of reasons for this (before I go on, a lot of people like the dimes and quarters because they believe when the currency collapse hits they will be used as the new currency. I don't really think this way but if you really think that's coming than you might want to go into the dimes and quarters too... dimes are also much easier to weigh out in OZ form... I have dimes and quarters but MANY MORE half dollars... anyway)
The reason I LOVE the Half Dollars is because 3 pre 1964 half dollars = 1.085 Troy OZ of Silver
The guy I buy from charges me 25cents over spot for each Half Dollar... so the reason I LOVE the half dollars is because if I get 3 of them (thus 1.085OZ of silver) i'm only paying 75cents in premium for just over an OZ.
PLUS the US Mint guaranteed these coins silver content 50 years ago so you know that they are legit and also VERY difficult to fake (plus, if you go into banks and ask for half dollar rolls you might find a couple in there for free).
The other reason I like the half dollars is because they weren't circulated very much which means the condition of the coins themselves are usually MUCH nicer than the quarters and dimes.
The other interesting thing about going with the Junk Coins is even if Silver CRASHES HARD you may discover that these coins still hold COLLECTOR value meaning that you can still get SOMETHING for them in the event of a serious silver crash.
I've got a 1913 Barber Half Dollar that is going for like 20$ on Ebay even though it's only worth 11.17$ in silver right now. I bought the Half Dollar at 30cents over spot because the dealer doesn't really give two shits about the collecting aspect because generally they just toss all their "junk" in a bin and let you pick through it for what you want.
Anyways... I LOVE pre 1964 half dollars because of the lack of premium, because they were guaranteed 90% silver, and because their condition is largely solid because of lack of use.
HOWEVER... some cons to junk coins and half dollars...
1st- Silver is ALWAYS priced in Troy OZs so if you've got a dime, quarter, or half dollar, and don't have access to coinflation.com 's silver calculator it's very difficult to figure how much silver you've actually got.
This is why I prefer stacking in the 47 half dollar method (47 half dollars = 17Troy OZs) the issue with that is if you're trying to sell and the person only wants say 1OZ of silver it's IMPOSSIBLE to weigh that out with half dollars. 3 half dollars is 1.085 and then you've got to figure the readjustment.
However... 14 pre 1964 dimes does weigh basically 1Troy Oz (it's not totally exact which is why I prefer 83dimes = 6 OZ of silver but it's almost exact - 1.01OZ) this is another reason people like the dimes. It's much easier to sort them out in 1OZ stacks to resale later.
Still, I think the premiums on half dollars are too good to pass up. So I largely stick with them.
Now... when it comes to the Half Dollars I absolutely recommend you try to ONLY BUY the Franklin Half Dollars which were minted from 1948 to 1963
... there's a lot of reasons for this actually.
1st- The Walking Liberty Half Dollar (1916-1947) is generally VERY worn because of it's age and it's hard to say that it's still got its original silver weight due to usage. The same can be said for the Barber Half Dollars (1892-1915). Then there's the 90% JFK Half Dollars which were only made in 1964...
The 1964 JFK ones are also solid but I try to stay away from them because from 1965 to 1970 they made JFK Half Dollars out of 40% silver... so when trying to resale if the person you're trying to sell too doesn't understand this he may think you're trying to rip him off with 1964 JFK Half Dollars because he could be under the impression that they ARE ALL 40%.
I think the Franklin's really are the best bet when it comes the Half Dollars but i've got a little bit of all 4 (but mostly Franklins). The Franklins are not as worn as the older ones, they were never diluted down to 40% like the Kennedy's were, and there's actually not as many of them out there as people think because a lot of them were melted down when that was still legal.
I guess my advice is do what you are most comfortable with...
some people are comfortable going in with the SLV stock because there's 0 premium (I on the other hand do not trust paper so I refuse to get into that) some people are comfortable with only Silver Eagles because they are so popular, guaranteed, and are VERY nice looking coins. Same can be said for the Maple Leafs but the premiums on both are too rich for my blood.
Privately minted OZs and Bars carry more risk with it being fakes but you will typically pay a little less in Premiums.
Junk Coins carry the LOWEST premiums by far but are hard to weigh out in OZ form and you end up stacking a ton of them (at least Dimes and Quarters).
I like to have a little bit of all of it (i've got privately minted bars, rounds, SEs, Maples, 83 dimes, 94 quarters, and a massive amount of half dollars) so my suggestion would be to get a little bit of everything just because they all have their own pros and cons.
However, I still find the Franklin Half Dollars to be your best buy because the premiums are so low, they are typically in good condition (especially the 1962-63 ones) and 3 of them gets you 1.085OZs with a small premium.
I would also take this moment to say... don't not get caught into buying jewerly or silverware or any other plated stuff like that. Stick with the real physical or the junk coins.
Now... how to buy...
I live in Chicago so this isn't a problem for me... there's more pawn shops than I can count in the city and there's a lot of very reputable coin dealers around as well. I researched the different coin dealers and also talked to people I knew who were already buying and asked around about the best places/prices until I found a guy I really liked and now I typically stick with him.
Another place I like to go is Craig's List... I know it seems a little shady but as long as you meet in a public place there's not a lot to worry about and i've actually met a lot of really cool and like minded people this way because the people selling their silver are almost always of a similar mindset as you are.
Through some of the people I met on Craig's List I also found out about coin shows that go on in the Suburbs every couple of weeks... this is another great place to make cash exchanges and not have to worry about a paper trail.
Finally, a trick I was taught that I'd like to pass on to you...
Since most people don't carry around nitric acid to test if it's real silver there's a couple of decent and very easy methods to test silver with. One is by using a magnetic... silver is not magnetic so if you put a magnet to it and it attracts then you don't want to buy it.
My cheaper and easy method is one I learned from a friend who started hoarding silver about 10 years and he told me he learned it while he was in China...
Take your silver coin (this actually works with bars to) and balance it on your thumb... dead center if you can... and then very lightly flick the silver coin with your other hand (it takes a while to get the hang of this because it's kind of a balancing act but once you get the touch it's pretty easy).
If, when you flick the silver with one finger while balancing it on the other thumb, you hear a ringing sound then you know you've got REAL SILVER.
If it makes a thunk sound then you do not have real silver.
A good way to tell the difference is to take a pre 1964 half dollar and a post 1970 half dollar and then flick the silver one. You'll hear the ring... then flick the post 1970 one and you'll hear the thunk.
Once you can tell the difference between the two sounds you've got yourself a solid (but not totally fool proof) method of checking to see if your silver is real.
I don't know the numbers off the top of my head but I believe if you purchase more than 1000$ of silver in one transaction the dealer is forced to take your name and information. Try to keep it below 1000$ so this doesn't happen. Luckily for me since I've got so many shops to go in and out of If I buy just under 1000$ in one I can just hop over to another and buy more... it's not like the dealers talk to each other or even know my name.
I also tend to use fake names when talking to any of them just because i'm paranoid like that... anyways... keep stacking and feel free to ask questions. I'm sure there are many more people on here that know much much much more than I do about the stuff... you can really never stop learning about any of it and at the very least it's a very fun hobby.
One that I truly believe will end up making us a pretty penny in terms of purchasing power. Experts say the magic PMs number is 10% of your net-worth - don't go over that. I've heard great cases now for 20% being the absolute max, right now i'm at 40%.
I'll either crash with this ship or sail home with it. Good Luck and Keep Stacking...