The Most Comprehensive Source on U.S. Silver Coins
While most individuals are aware that the coins we use today are no longer composed of precious metals, the use of U.S. silver coins in our country’s history is fascinating and worth exploring.
Before minting our own coinage, we used silver coinage from other countries. Eventually, we began producing our own coins and established specific purities as part of those Acts. However, as with most things in life, change is inevitable, and subsequent Acts were passed that changed the metal composition of our coins.
In this piece, we’re going to delve into the history of U.S. silver coins, discuss some of the coins that we used prior to the establishment of the U.S. Mint and highlight some of the subsequent Acts and Executive Orders that eventually reduced and ultimately completely debased U.S. coins of silver.
The U.S. Mint Begins Coining Silver
Before the establishment of the U.S. Mint with the Coinage Act of 1792, the silver coins used came from various sources. The Spanish dollar was particularly popular, partly because it had such consistent silver content. Other coins used included German thalers, British pounds, and some coins produced by individual states. For those interested, we shared in a previous article the history of coins used in the United States.
Not having its own coinage system created multiple problems, including a lack of coins as legal tender for trade. The fledgling new country needed its own nationwide currency. With the 1792 act, the government Mint began producing coins, tho
ugh it started slowly.
The same year the United States Mint was built, it produced 1500 silver dimes, but they were never released into circulation. In 1794 and 1795, the facility began minting silver dollars and half dollars. The first Flowing Hair Silver Dollars were minted that first year, along with silver half-dimes, dimes, quarters, and half-dollars.
An interesting thing about this act was this: it stipulated that anyone caught debasing U.S. coins of silver or gold would receive the death penalty!
The Fineness Secret
We’ll begin our discussion with the silver content of U.S. coins from the inception of the mint. Coins minted at that time were 90% pure silver. However, that fineness was illegal. The legal fineness for U.S. coins, as set by the coinage act was 89.24%.
Yet, coins were being produced by the mint with .900 fineness. You might wonder how the U.S. Mint could have overlooked this discrepancy?
Assayer Albion Coxe felt that 89.24% silver was not pure enough. He thought that coins produced with a purity of less than 90% would turn black after use and that they would be difficult to roll.
Surprisingly, the Mint Director, David Rittenhouse, agreed to increase the precious metals content of these coins. From then until 1965, the silver content of U.S. coins was .900 fine.
Pre-1965 Pocket Change
If you’ve ever considered buying junk silver, you probably know that the coins before 1965 had significant silver content. While collectors look at the mint mark, mint errors, condition, and rarity, those who are interested in the silver content of U.S. coins don’t tend to care about such things.
So, even if the condition of your 1964 & earlier coins prevent them from being collectible coins, they are still worth more than today’s coinage. That’s because their melt value is higher, which is calculated by multiplying the spot price of silver by the purity and weight of the coin. Here’s how some of these coins stacked up in terms of the silver content of U.S. coins.
Pre-1965 90% Silver Coins
- Draped Bust
- Capped Bust
- Seated Liberty
- 3-cent silver pieces
- Liberty Head “Barber” half dollars, dimes and quarters
- Winged Mercury “Mercury” dime
- Washington Quarter (through 1964)
- Roosevelt Dime(through 1964)
- Standing Liberty Quarter
- Walking Liberty Half Dollars
- Franklin Half Dollars
- Kennedy Half Dollars (1964 only)
- Morgan Silver Dollars (1878-1904, 1921)
- Peace Dollars (1922-1935)
Although the silver content of U.S. coins before 1965 was 90% in most cases, there were exceptions. As you would expect, nickels had always been minted of their namesake metal. However, surprisingly, nickels only contain 25% nickel. The other 75% is composed of copper.
During World War II, there was an increased need for nickel and copper to support the war efforts. For this reason, the metal composition was changed from 1942 – 1945 and contained 35% silver, along with copper and manganese.
Executive Orders 6102 and 2039
In 1933, the United States was in the grips of the Great Depression. President Roosevelt
believed that people were hoarding gold and silver to combat the hard times. Therefore, the president signed Executive Order 6102 in April 1933. This order prohibited the hoarding of gold.
A month later, in March 1933, he signed another document, Executive Order 2039, which not only prohibited the hoarding of gold but also of silver. Because of this second order, the Mint’s tradition to mint silver dollars with 90% fineness ended by 1935. Still, the order didn’t completely end the production of 90% silver coins. Half-dollars, dimes and quarters were still being produced with a purity of 90% silver.
Coinage Act of 1965
Fast-forward to 1965, and things in the United States had changed dramatically. Silver was now in demand for industrial uses. Additionally, the price of silver started to rise due to the introduction of new government programs, increased spending and higher inflation rates.
People were hoarding half dollars, mainly because the silver in the coins was worth more than their face value. For this and other reasons, there was a coin shortage in the U.S.
All this caused the value of silver to rise. The country was already losing money by continuing to produce coins with 90% silver. If it continued doing so, and the price of silver continued to rise, the losses would increase.
Considering the above factors, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1965. This act reduced the silver content of half dollars from 90 to 40 silver percent. Half-dollar coins were now produced with 80% silver cladding or plating over a 21% silver core. Half dollars only contained silver content until 1970.
Meanwhile, quarters and dimes were completely debased of silver, now containing no
ne at all. While no coins produced for general circulation after 1970 included silver content, 40% silver coins were available for purchase directly from the San Francisco Mint.
While the San Francisco-issued Eisenhower silver dollar is most well known for containing 40% silver, quarters and half dollars composed of 40% silver were also available as part of a three coin proof or uncirculated set. Dates of the San Francisco coins containing silver content are as follows:
- Eisenhower Dollars – 1971-1974; 1976
- Kennedy Half Dollars – 1976
- Washington Quarters – 1976
Today’s Silver Bullion
Today, silver bullion offers investors the best opportunity to purchase silver coins with a high level of purity. In fact, American Silver Eagles are 99.9% pure silver, higher than earlier silver dollars. The coin program that led to their production came about because U.S. leaders felt that the country’s excessive stockpile of silver could be put to better use by minting silver coins.
President Reagan’s feeling was that this would help balance the budget. However, it proved to be good news for investors because of the American Silver Eagles’ solid silver content compared to 90% U.S. coins.
Where to Trade Coins with High Silver Content
Whether you have or want to acquire U.S. silver coins, you need to look no further than Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers. We offer both silver bullion coins and rare silver coins at excellent prices. If you are interested in selling silver coins, you can count on us for fair and transparent pricing and responsive customer service. Call us today to learn more about silver coins and what they can mean for your wallet, collection, or precious metals portfolio.
Today’s Silver Bullion
Today, silver bullion offers investors the best opportunity to acquire new silver coins with a high level of purity. In fact, silver eagles are 99.9% pure silver, higher than earlier silver dollars. The coin program that led to their production came about because U.S. leaders felt that the country’s excessive stockpile of silver should be better used by making silver coins.
President Reagan’s feeling was that this would help balance the budget. However, it proved to be good news for investors because of the silver eagles’ increased silver content of U.S. coins.
Where to Trade Coins with High Silver Content
Whether you have or want to get high silver content U.S. coins, you need to look no further than Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers. We offer both silver bullion coins and silver collectible coins at excellent prices. If you are interested in selling silver coins, you can count on us for fair and transparent pricing and responsive customer service.
Call us today to learn more about silver coins and what they can mean for your wallet, collection, or precious metals portfolio.