It's kind of ironic when you think about it. Metals are the best (portable/non-land) store of wealth around, and Bitcoins are digital.
It is. But when you think about it, metal coins are also still just as much a symbolic representation of economic value as the the digital data in a bank account. The intrinsic value of the metal in a coin is not equivalent to the economic value it represents. So in the end it's really all just symbols and tokens, no matter what the currency is fabricated out of...
Money is more an idea than it is a thing. Possibly it's the closest thing to "pure information" the human race has ever created representative objects for.
Well, yes and no. You're referring to money in a fiat system where it isn't tied to a commodity. (Which is what we have now.)
What I was referring to there was "metals" as in silver, gold, palladium, etc. I wasn't referring to coinage so much, but I can see why you'd take it that way.
The issue of coinage is a bit more involved than just not being equal to the face value. However, that's linked to the monetary system, and in a system where the money is linked to the currency in a strong way, then things are different. But, that's getting off-track.
Current coinage in circulation is basically worthless. It has a face value, but the value of the metals is virtually nothing. Even pennies aren't made of copper anymore because copper is too expensive (?).
However, mints create coinage that has value far above the face value. Take a $50 coin made of platinum that trades at around $1,700 or so.
Probably, or at least IMHO, the best valued coin out there is the 1 oz 9999 fine silver $5 Canadian Maple Leaf. It has the highest face value of any coin in its class, and currently trades at about $37, or $34.50 spot + margin. It's also 4x9's pure instead of 3x9's pure.
Other common coinage before about 1965 was 90% silver (or so), and $1,000 face value trades at around $25,000 (715 oz about). Take $1,000 of any current coin in circulation, and you have no hope of getting even face value for its metal. Zinc is trading at around $0.91 per pound or so, which is what is in a lot of coins. Nickels aren't even nickel anymore, which isn't surprising as it trades at over $8 per pound. Copper is almost $4.
There is a fundamental disconnect between currency and metal now, but that is entirely due to the current fiat monetary system, and private central banks that manipulate interest rates and currencies, but not a necessary disconnect - you can well imagine a system where currency is tied to a commodity.
The metal itself is far from symbolic. The metal in common coinage is basically worthless, but plain old "metal" (not the Judas Priest variety) still has very real applications that make it valuable. e.g. Silver in semiconductors or solar panels, etc.
Paper currency (or plastic as in Vietnam or Australia) is fundamentally worthless. Toilet paper is intrinsically more valuable because it has a real use beyond burning. Take US Confederate currency now - it has no value at all except to collectors.
But, I suppose that's still about the same for Bitcoins - how can 1's and 0's on a screen have an intrinsic value? You can't "use" the 1's and 0's. That stands in stark contrast to something like a 1 oz silver coin that you can actually use the material from, and make something with it. Same for old pennies that were made of copper - you can use the copper from them to do lots of things - they have an *intrinsic* value on their own, and even entirely outside of any monetary system, they have real uses. Bitcoins only have use inside of the system - in the exact same way as US, Canadian, British, Australian, and other currencies are only valuable inside of the monetary system -- otherwise, they're worth less than toilet paper. Literally.