When most of us think of gold bullion bars, we envision the plain rectangular bars most often traded by gold dealers, or perhaps the larger ingots or London good delivery bars that governments and banks prefer. They’re the standards, because they take up a minimum of room and are easily stored.
But other cultures think a bit differently from us Westerners — and even some Western producers like to offer gold in unusual forms. If you look, you can find everything from coils to donuts to boat-shaped bullion. It’s all gold, so it’s all valuable, and you may well run across such non-standard “bars” someday.
So let’s take a quick look.
Round and Round
Some bullion bars are round. So how do they differ from coin bullion? Well, coin bullion tends to be struck by a mint, and displays not only a standardized diameter and thickness, but other characteristics of coins, including images on both sides and face value as a national currency.
Round bars, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily perfectly round or uniformly thick, are often cast, and tend to be very plain. The Australian company AGR Matthey issues a half-ounce round bar, while Thailand’s Toa Kang issues 1 and 3 baht bars. A baht is a Thai unit of measure weighing roughly 0.49 ounces.
Tezabi bars from Pakistan are also round and decorative, but aren’t coins, Small “backyard” foundries cast these little rounds out of whatever jewelry comes to hand. The sizes are non-standard and they tend to be very small, usually weighing 10 grams or less.
All the Other Shapes of Gold
Other popular gold “bar” shapes include squares (Australia and Thailand), ovals (Thailand), yin-yang symbols (Japan), thick rectangular blocks (Hong Kong), decorative twin-coin filigree (Thailand), bones (Brazil), and coils (India).
In Thailand and Hong Kong, some foundries manufacture donut (or doughnut) bars in the traditional torus shape of some Asian coinage; that is, round with a hole in the middle. They’re easily stacked on a wooden dowel, or strung on a rope. Like most Asian gold bars, they come in baht and tael (1.3 oz) weights.
Then there are the Asian boat bars, fashioned in another traditional Asian shape in use for thousands of years. Gold producers in China, Hong Kong, and Thailand offer them in varying baht, tael, and gram weights.
Let’s not forget the flat gold sheets and plates that some manufacturers produce, which meet the general criteria of bars; while not particularly common, they do appear on the market. And then there are the “model bars” issued by LG Metals in South Korea.
These little gold figurines take the shape of pigs (symbolizing wealth), toads (good luck) and turtles (long life). They come in 3, 5, and 10 don denominations, where a don is about 3.75 grams, and people often give them as gifts at weddings and anniversaries.
And all this doesn’t even touch all the wide variations in the shapes of actual rectangular bars, which can be as narrow and thin as a yardstick, cast with intricate base reliefs, prepared with a crackled surface…well, it’s amazing what variation people can come up with, even within a limited format.
The Bottom Line
All these bars are curious and novel, and you shouldn’t hesitate to pick one up if you can get a good price and verify the purity. But be aware that they usually demand a bigger premium than most bullion because of their unusual nature. For investment purposes, standard gold bullion bars are usually a better deal.