UPDATE 1-US Mint silver Eagle coin sales hit monthly record
* US Mint's silver Eagles hit record 4.6 mln oz in Jan.
* Silver product sales approaching Q4 2008 level-dealer
* Silver prices drop (Recasts, updates with comment from coin dealer, details, adds byline)
By Frank Tang
NEW YORK, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Sales of the U.S. Mint's American Eagle silver coins have already hit a monthly record in January as prices have declined enough to attract buyers seeking exposure in precious metals and those who expect industrial demand for silver to grow.
Sales of the popular one-ounce silver American Eagles rose to 4.6 million coins so far in January, the Mint's website showed on Wednesday. That makes for an all-time monthly high since the coin's introduction in 1986, with more than 10 days left in the month.
The previous record was 4.3 million in November.
David Beahm, vice president of U.S. retail gold coins dealer Blanchard & Co, said sales of silver products are close to the level they hit in the fourth quarter of 2008 during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
But he said that while demand in 2008 was prompted by the search for a safe haven from collapsing financial markets, now demand is being fed by hopes for a strong recovery.
"People are generally thinking that the economy is improving. Since silver has such a higher use than gold from an industrial standpoint, if you are going to be exposed to precious metals right now, silver is the way to go," Beahm said.
Coin sales have also benefited from lower market prices as silver has dropped more sharply than gold this month after an 80-percent gain last year. Silver is down about 7 percent so far in January, versus gold's 3.5 percent decline.
Last year, precious metals coin and bar dealers reported strong results as the European debt crisis and uncertainty over economic recovery prompted investors to buy gold and silver coins to protect their nest eggs from market turmoil.
For gold American Eagles, January sales to date totaled 75,500 ounces, surpassing December's 60,000 ounces but in line with the average in October and November at around 100,000 ounces. (Reporting by Frank Tang; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
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