You know you're getting old when you read something about an historical event,
but protest, "That's not history - I was there. It can't be history yet." Guess
what buckaroos -- if you remember the silver boom and bust (like me), you're getting a little
long in the tooth. This article from Marketplace profiles Nelson Bunker Hunt, the man behind
the 1979 silver craze. -Editor
Nelson Bunker Hunt, the billionaire oil tycoon who once tried to corner the world's silver
market, died yesterday in Dallas at the age of 88. He was an heir to the Hunt oil fortune and at
one time, among the richest people on the planet. But a huge bet on the silver market in the late
'70s led to a silver craze and a financial debacle.
Hunt's obituary in The Dallas Morning News describes him as an oilman, patriot, horseman,
Christian and John Birch Society member, among other things. But in financial circles he and his
brother were best known for owning a frighteningly big chunk of the world's silver. They wanted
to hedge against raging inflation, they said.
"They bid up the price of silver from $9 an ounce to, at its peak, something like $50 an
ounce in January 1980," said John Coffee, a professor at Columbia University.
But when worried regulators set new trading limits on silver, the Hunts couldn't meet a
margin call. Silver prices collapsed, they lost over a billion dollars, their lenders were in
trouble, and yes, a federal bailout of sorts ensued. Hunt declared bankruptcy – the largest
personal bankruptcy in American history.
Jim Stone, who chaired the Commodity Futures Trading Commission at the time, today said the
silver crisis "nearly torpedoed top financial institutions in much the same way mortgage
derivatives did in 2008." The Hunts were highly leveraged, and that problem, Stone says,
remains "unfixed" and "the lesson unlearned."
The silver bust led to a crash in the coin markets, too. I'd love to hear from
some of our readers about their experiences in the coin business in those days. By dumb luck I rode
the market up in a small way, and got out in time. I had bought a nice proof three cent piece from
a vest-pocket dealer for $200 and a couple years later sold it to another dealer for nearly $2,000
to help pay for my first car. After the bust I ran into a guy at a coin show with a briefcase full
of proof type coins. Desperate to raise cash, he was selling them all at $100 apiece, your pick.
To read the complete article, see:
oil man who caused a silver craze - and bust
To read the Dallas News obituary article, see:
Nelson Bunker Hunt, second son of legendary wildcatter H.L. Hunt, dies
Wayne Homren, Editor
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