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How Much Silver is in These Popular 90% U.S. Silver Coins?

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How Much Silver is in These Popular 90% U.S. Silver Coins?

One of the most confusing silver coin investments, even for veteran investors, are 90% U.S. silver coins. These coins differ from nearly all other popular silver coin investments in that they are non-standard sizes and weights. In contrast, most other silver coins are in 1 oz increments or fractions of one ounce. Due to the confusion of 90% silver coins, many investors choose to stay away from these investments, when in fact they may be one of the best options depending on that individual’s unique circumstances.

In this article, we’re going to try and shed some light on 90% silver coins, provide some rules of thumb and share with you their actual silver weight (ASW) or silver content so that you’ll feel confident when investing in these often overlooked, but significant coins. We’ll also provide some guidelines when trading them, how many to use if you ever find yourself in a barter situation and will touch on the history of these coins.

 

History of 90% US Silver Coins

The history of using silver in our coinage began in the late 18th century. While the first U.S. coins were produced in 1793, the U.S. Mint didn’t begin producing silver coins until the following year, as we shared in a previous article. In fact, our Founding Fathers intended for gold and silver coins to be used as legal tender. Article 10, Section 10 Clause 1 of the Constitution states that no State shall “…make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts.” These days it’s hard to believe that at one point in time our government mandated the use of gold and silver as legal tender.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, which is exactly what happened in the U.S. beginning in 1965. Effectively, the price of silver became too expensive to continue to use it in the production of our coinage, which was primarily driven by increased debt, deficits and inflation. In other words, the Federal Reserve, which is the central bank of the United States, was forced to print money to monetize the debt and deficits incurred by the Federal Government. The increase of liquidity drove up prices in all commodities, including gold and silver, making it cost prohibitive to be used for our coinage.

Beginning in 1965, dimes and quarters were completely debased of silver.

In other words, silver was removed from the coins. It was subsequently replaced by a combination of nickel and copper. These are base metals, which are much less expensive and have an underlying metal value that is less than the face value of the coins.

The amount of silver in half dollars was also debased, but not eliminated – at least at first.

A composition of 40% silver and 60% nickel-copper was used from 1965 – 1970, after which all our coinage produced for general circulation was completely debased of silver.

Considering that silver is a precious metal, it is in demand by individuals who are concerned about the long-term viability of the dollar and are interested in investing in a hard asset. Silver has been used as money for thousands of years, has historically been an excellent inflation hedge, and will likely continue to be. This is because time, effort, labor and equipment must be used to mine, produce and fabricate silver, which effectively puts a floor in the price of this popular white metal. In other words, it can’t be produced out of thin air like the Federal Reserve is able to do with dollars. 

Now that we’ve provided a bit of history on 90% U.S. silver coins, we’ll highlight each denomination coin, provide the silver weight of each, see how it compares to an ounce of silver, and provide some suggestions on how these coins may be used in the future.

 

90% U.S. Silver Dimes

The production of U.S. silver dimes began with the Draped Bust dime in 1796. Various type dimes have been produced since that time, including the Capped Bust, Seated Liberty, Barber, Mercury and Roosevelt dimes. Draped Bust, Capped Bust and Seated Liberty silver dimes trade for above their silver content. Some Barber dimes do so as well, but except for a few coins, Mercury and Roosevelt silver dimes in circulated condition trade for their underlying silver content. A common term used in the industry for these coins in “junk silver.” It simply means that the value is derived from the silver content as opposed to any type of collectible value.

Since silver is a precious metal, it’s softer than base metals, such as nickel and copper, and over time tends to wear down. This is why an uncirculated silver dime has a silver content of .0728 while an average condition circulated dime has a silver content of .0715. We understand – working with these fractional amounts can be a bit confusing, so let’s break it down a bit more.90% US Silver Dimes

Considering that most people want to know how many dimes it takes to equal an ounce, we merely divide 1 by .0715 and arrive at 14. This means that 14 dimes are equal to an ounce. If the item that you’re purchasing has a value of less than an ounce, silver dimes offer you the flexibility to make smaller purchases without selling all of your silver, as you may need to do with a 1 oz silver coin.

While not perfect, you might want to think of a silver dime as being equal to a loaf of bread, which will likely continue to be the case considering that it’s an inflation hedge. Since the price of silver is well below its all-time highs, by the time you read this article, the value of a dime may be closer to a gallon of milk. Based on conversations with our customers over the years, we’ve been told that folks that operate in certain sectors of the economy, such as the farming industry, may be willing to accept silver coins as payment for various items.

If all you remember from this section is that 14 dimes are equal to an ounce, you should be armed with enough information to confidently trade in these coins.

 

90% U.S. Silver Quarters

Like the silver dime, the production of U.S. silver quarters began in 1796 with the Draped Bust design. As with the dimes, Capped Bust, Seated Liberty and Barber silver quarters came next, but unlike the dime, Standing Liberty quarters were the next type of coin to be introduced.

Like the dimes, Draped Bust, Capped Bust and Seated Liberty silver dimes all trade at a premium over the silver value of the coins. Most Barber and Standing Liberty quarters sell for closer to their silver content while all Washington quarters, except for 1932-d & 1932-s, sell for their silver value in circulated condition. The90% US Silver Quarters Washington silver quarter was introduced in 1932 to commemorative the 200th year of George Washington’s birth and is still the design used at the time of this writing.

The actual silver weight of an uncirculated silver quarter is .1808 while a circulated quarter is slightly less at .17875 troy ounces. Unfortunately dividing 1 by .17875 doesn’t work out as nicely as it did with the silver dimes at 5.6 quarters. On the other hand, we don’t need to be exact, as we’re not talking about gold, so let’s just round up to 6 for simplicity purposes. By our calculation, you’d be leaving less than $1.50 on the table based on the current spot price by rounding up to 6 quarters.

While not quite as flexible as silver dimes, silver quarters also provide you with a lot of latitude when viewed from their silver value or for bartering purposes. I commonly use the analogy that a silver quarter is worth about a gallon of gas. Of course, the price of gas is about as reliable as Mother Nature, but you get the gist of it. In other words, silver quarters, or their equivalent value, can still be used for relatively small purchases. You might want to try and slap down a few silver quarters as payment for gas the next time you fill up at an independently owned gas station. You might be surprised at the gas station attendant’s response and their potential willingness to accept these coins as payment. We’ve heard from at least one of our long-time customers that he’s done just that.

To recap, we would like to leave you with the reminder that approximately 6 quarters equals an ounce.

While not perfect, this should give you a general idea of your spending power, and again, in a worst-case scenario if using silver coins to barter, a good idea of what you’re paying for a product or service.

 

90% U.S. Silver Half Dollars

The first U.S. half dollar was produced slightly earlier than the first U.S. silver dime and quarter. In 1794, the U.S. minted its first silver coins with the introduction of the Flowing Hair half dollar and silver dollar. The Flowing Hair half dollar had a mintage of approximately 23,000 coins and has a value of over $1,000, even in poor condition. Next came the Draped Bust, followed by the Capped Bust, Seated Liberty and Barber half dollars.

As is the case with the other denomination coins we highlighted, Draped Bust, Capped Bust and Seated Liberty half dollars all trade above their silver value. The proper term to describe these coins is “numismatic,” which means that90% US Half Dollars they have collectible value. While most Barber half dollars are common coins, there are a few better date coins in the mix. Furthermore, most of these coins are somewhat worn, so if you’re able to find one in Very Fine condition or better, they should trade at a premium, even if it’s a common date coin.

The next three types of half dollars produced by the U.S. Mint were Walking Liberty, Franklin and Kennedy half dollars. For the most part, these coins trade for their underlying silver value, but as is the case with most other coins, there are some exceptions. Walking Liberty half dollars in XF condition or better and Franklin half dollars in AU condition or better trade at a slight premium, while 1964 Kennedy half dollars only trade at a slight premium in uncirculated condition.

The actual silver weight (ASW) of an uncirculated 90% silver half dollar is .3616, while a circulated half dollar is roughly .3575.

Again, this is as a percentage of a troy ounce of silver, which is 31.1 grams. As is the case with silver quarters, the conversion of half dollars to ounces doesn’t work out perfectly at 2.8 coins, but if we round up like we did with the quarters, we can use an estimate of approximately three half dollars in an ounce of silver.

What will 90% silver half dollars buy you, or at least the silver value of the coins? Even though we’re currently in a high inflation environment, a silver half dollar will still buy you lunch at most fast-food restaurants. When I used to work at the corporate office of Arby’s years ago, we referred to the restaurant sector as “quick service,” but let’s be honest – it’s fast food. Well, at least it still is at Chik-fil-A.

A silver half dollar should also be able to buy you one to two pounds of your favorite protein. Try using these recognizable coins at a Farmer’s Market, and you should have no problems filling up your arms with a bag full of produce.

Again, the important thing to remember with half dollars is that approximately three equal an ounce. This may be slightly easier to remember, as they’re approximately a third of an ounce each.

 

Summary

We’ve thrown around a lot of numbers and percentages today, but the big takeaway is to remember approximately how many silver coins equal an ounce. We’re only referring to “junk silver” coins, as you never would want to trade a collectible or numismatic coin for its silver value.

We began our discussion with silver dimes. The most common silver dimes available in the marketplace are Mercury and Roosevelt silver dimes, which by and large are valued for their silver content. They may be the easiest coin to remember, as there are exactly 14 silver dimes in an ounce. The small size provides a good bit of flexibility with this denomination coin.

We then talked a bit about 90% silver quarters. A good rule of thumb is that 6 silver quarters equals an ounce. The value of these coins over the years has been on par with the value of a gallon of gas. This should help to visualize the approximate spending power of these coins. It’s a safe bet that all the Washington silver coins in your collection trade for their silver value.

We brought up the rear with 90% U.S. silver half dollars. These are the most popular of the three denomination coins by investors and collectors alike and tend to trade for a bit more on a per ounce basis than dimes and quarters. They’re roughly 1/3 oz each and as of this writing trade for around the price of a fast-food lunch. We recommend testing the waters in your area to see how many privately-owned companies are willing to accept these popular coins.

Whether your primary reason for buying silver coins is as an investment, for diversification, as an inflation-hedge or for bartering purposes, 90% U.S. silver coins fit the bill. These flexible small denomination coins provide investors with a good bit of flexibility. Furthermore, since they’re U.S. legal tender, they should be easily recognized nationwide.

The silver coin experts at Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers can guide you through the process and regularly trade in all sizes of silver coins. Contact us today at 404-236-9744 to see why we’re the leading coin dealer in metro Atlanta and beyond.

Atlanta Gold and Coin Buyersse

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Tony Davis
Tony Davis is the owner of Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers, a full service Atlanta based coin and bullion dealer specializing in buying, selling and appraising coins and coin collections of all types and sizes. Tony frequently writes on various economic and numismatic related topics affecting the coin and bullion markets and has been published on some of the industry’s leading websites, including Coin Week, the American Numismatic Association, Coin Collector, Coinflation, and Coin Auctions Help, just to name a few. Visit Atlanta Gold & Coin’s website at atlantagoldandcoin.com to obtain additional information on the products, services and educational resources offered by his company. Tony can be reached at sales@atlantagoldandcoin.com or at 404-236-9744

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