The 400-Ounce Gold Bar
To the uninitiated, the mention of a gold bar conjures up images of the large bulky bricks (right) often seen in films like The Italian Job or The (First) Great Train Robbery. They are actually replicas of a 400 troy ounce/12.5kg gold bullion bar, most commonly used by central banks or financial institutions. Of course, smaller denominations of gold bars are more easily traded but it’s worthwhile understanding more about them and how exactly they are used.
London Good Delivery Bar
The trapezoid bars seen in films are representative of what are known as London Good Delivery Bars. The strict criteria for acceptance of these is set by the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA), which demands strict standards of purity, quality and appearance. An LBMA accreditation is highly valued and a removal off the Good Delivery List of approved refiners can have serious implications for any substandard producer.
Among the LBMA’s rules for Good Delivery Bars, they must be:
- Trapezoidal so that it can be easily and safely stacked
- Free from surface cavities, cracks, holes or blisters
- Flat and smooth (although not necessarily having a mirror-like finish)
- Of general good appearance, with no attempts to conceal defects
The general specifications for these bars are to have a weight of between 350-430 fine troy ounces, and the following dimensions:
- Length (Top): 250mm (9.843 inches)+/- 40mm (1.575 inches)
- Width (Top): 70mm (2.756 inches) +/- 15mm (0.591 inches)
- Height: 35mm (1.378 inches)
- Undercut: 5° to 25° (This is the slope on the sides and ends of the bar)
These bars must be stamped with a serial number, name/stamp of the refiner and the fineness (minimum 995.0 parts per thousand of fine gold).
Any bars that do not meet the specifications must be stamped “NGD” (Non-Good Delivery). This addresses bars which are produced in a similar form but would likely be delivered to an industrial customer for the raw material.
United States "Bricks"
Until 1986, 400-ounce bars in the United States were usually in the form of rectangular bricks. The particular shape of these bricks often indicates where they were cast. The Denver Assay Office produced bars with rounded sides (below, 3rd from left), whereas the San Francisco branch produced bars with rounded corners. The New York Office bars have square edges.
Since 1986, the US has conformed to the international standard of trapezoid-shaped bars.
Use in Financial Markets
A 400-ounce bar is out of financial reach for most individuals, but they serve a very important role in international and governmental transactions.
The uniformity, and manageability and market value of these bars means they attract much lower premiums compared with smaller sized bars and coins. Also, the lack of liquidity of these bars do not help facilitate markets for Exchange-Traded Funds, where “claims” to gold are traded.
Central banks hold gold reserves due to its importance in foreign exchange transactions. The Bank of England holds gold for the UK Treasury, foreign governments and commercial companies, allowing access to the London gold market. In these instances, gold storage is held on an allocated basis, meaning the customer retains ownership rather than a claim to the gold.
The Italian Job
The 1969 film’s plot revolves around the theft of $4 million in these 400-ounce gold bars using Minis as getaway vehicles. Considering the average gold price in 1969 was around $41.00 (£17.19) per troy ounce, this equates to roughly 244 gold bars. In today’s prices 244 bars would be worth over £142.5 million!!
On a related note, if someone were so inclined to relieve the Bank of England of their gold holdings, it would take around 4000 Minis to complete the job!!
To see what gold bullion products we have in stock, click here.