2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the debasement of silver from our coinage for general circulation. All coins, with the exception of half dollars, were completely debased of silver beginning in 1965 The following article from The American provides a nice summary of the history of our coinage and how our coinage has been debased of precious metals over time. It also reminded us that there still seems to be a lot of confusion in the marketplace as to which coins contain silver content versus those that don’t. In this article, we’ll attempt to clear up the misconception by identifying the clinkers (valuable coins) and the clunkers (face value coins), as well as a few in between, in hopes that this will assist you when the time comes to sell your silver coins.
Before proceeding, we thought we’d take a moment and define exactly what we mean by the term “clinkers.” Clinkers refer to coins that make a high-pitched ring when you drop them, which helps you to immediately identify the coins as silver. While not an exact science, typically speaking, the higher the silver content, the higher the pitch and the more prolonged the ring. Below are a list of the most common “clinkers” that we see in our day to day dealings:
- American Silver Eagles – American silver eagles are the official one ounce bullion coin of the United States and contain exactly one troy ounce of .999 fine silver. The U.S. Mint has helped to eliminate any question as to the purity and weight of the coin, as both are stamped on the reverse side of the coin. Since these are bullion coins, their value is primarily based on the current spot price of silver in the commodities market, which can be found by viewing this link.
- Morgan & Peace Silver Dollars – Morgan and Peace dollars refer to U.S. silver dollars that were minted in 1935 and earlier. Morgan silver dollars were named after their designer, George T. Morgan, and were minted from 1878 – 1921. Peace silver dollars, minted from 1921 – 1935, were inspired by the United States’ victory in World War I. The letter “V” in the word “TRVST” is not an error, but rather symbolizes our victory in the war. While they’re only 90% silver and have a silver content of .774 troy ounces, Morgan and Peace silver dollars have collectible, or numismatic value, which means that their value is partially based on coin collector demand. We recommend never selling Morgan and Peace dollars for less than the silver content of the coins, unless they’re extremely worn or damaged.
- 90% Silver Coins – Dimes, quarters and half dollars minted in 1964 are composed of 90% silver content, and are oftentimes referred to as “junk silver coins.” While the term may imply that the coins are worthless, that’s anything but the case. It simply means that the value of the coins is primarily determined by the silver content of the coins. In other words, the coins have little to no collectible value. While all denominations are consider junk silver coins, 90% half dollars tend to sell at a slightly higher rate than their dime and quarter counterparts.
Clink & Clunk
For purposes of our article, the term “Clink & Clunk” refers to coins that have a sizable clad content. In other words, the coins are partially composed of silver, but also have a substantial nickel and copper composition. These coins are more difficult to identify on the surface and typically don’t perform well on the “drop test,” as the ring is more subdued and shorter in nature. We’ll highlight below two coins that fit the definition of “Clink & Clink:”
- 40% Silver Half Dollars – As mentioned in our opening paragraph, all coins minted for general circulation were debased of silver in 1965, with the exception of half dollars. Many folks don’t realize that Kennedy half dollars minted from 1965 – 1970 contain 40% silver content. While in relatively low demand compared to their 90% silver counterparts, these coins still sell at a multiple of their face value, which fluctuates based on the current price of silver in the commodities market. Considering that many people aren’t aware that these coins contain silver content, they can still occasionally be found in general circulation. Our friends at Brink’s can attest to this fact.
- Silver War Nickels – Another coin that fits the category of “Clink & Clunk” is the silver war nickel. Minted from 1942 – 1945, silver war nickels are the only nickels that contain silver content. The composition of the coins changed in 1942 from nickel copper to 35% silver, as copper was needed for ammunition during World War II. A common misconception is that all nickels minted from 1942 – 1945 are composed of 35% silver. While that’s the case for nickels minted from 1943 – 1945, only 1942 nickels that have a “mint mark” above the Monticello on the reverse side of the coin contain silver content.
Clunkers are coins that contain no silver content and produce a “thud” type sound when they’re dropped. These coins are merely worth the face value of the coins, contain no collectible value, and can be used for every day purchases. We frequently receive phone calls from individuals that are interested in selling their clunkers, so we thought that we would take this opportunity to highlight some of the most common clunkers that are thought to contain silver or collectible value.
- Eisenhower Silver Dollars – Eisenhower silver dollars were minted from 1971 – 1978 by the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints. Since they’re rarely seen these days in circulation, they’re commonly thought to be valuable coins. Unfortunately that’s typically not the case, as all Eisenhower silver dollars, with the exception of those minted at the San Francisco Mint from 1971 – 1976, are composed of nickel and copper. Furthermore, since Eisenhower silver dollars minted in San Francisco were packaged in blue envelopes, red envelopes and brown boxes, they’re even less frequently found in circulation than their Denver and Philadelphia counterparts.
- Susan B. Anthony Dollars – Susan B. Anthony dollars, much like Eisenhower silver dollars, are rarely found in circulation today, and are oftentimes mistaken for silver and/or valuable coins. While no Susan B. Anthony silver dollars were composed of silver, proof versions of the coins are more difficult to come by and typically sell at a premium. Unless you happen to have a proof version of the coin, or a mint error/variety design, then you simply have a one dollar coin in your possession.
- U.S. Bicentennial Coins – The 200 year anniversary of the United States was commemorated by the issuance of bicentennial dimes, quarters, half dollars and silver dollars. Unfortunately these coins are “clunkers,” with the exception of special commemorative sets, and are only worth the face value of the coins. Many of our customers are disappointed to find that the hundreds of dollars of bicentennial coins saved by their parents or grandparents are only worth the face value of the coins.
We hope that the above article helped to shed some light on which coins are considered clinkers and clunkers and contain silver or collective value. It should be noted that not all of the coins listed above are necessarily of equal value. Factors to take into consideration are the number of coins minted, where they were produced and their condition, so it’s important to visit with a reputable and knowledgeable coin dealer to maximize the full value for your silver coins.