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Tip of the Week – How to Tell if Your Coins are Silver

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Tip of the Week – How to Tell if Your Coins are Silver

We’re excited to announce that we’re going to be providing weekly tips for subscribers of our newsletters, so sign up now to receive help hints, tips, tricks and inside information that you’re not likely to receive anywhere else.

Our first tip of the week is on “how to tell if your coins are silver.”

This is a frequently asked question and one that we thought would have broad appeal. For purposes of this piece, we’re going to limit our discussion to United States minted coins. We’re also only going to be addressing coins produced for general circulation – not obvious silver coins, such as American silver eagles.

90% US Silver CoinsUS 90% Junk Silver Coins

All U.S. silver dimes, quarters and half dollars minted in 1964 or earlier contain 90% silver content. These coins are commonly referred to as “junk silver.”

Junk silver is just another term for silver value. It basically means that these coins don’t have collectible or numismatic value. Dimes and quarters minted after 1965 and half dollars minted after 1970 are clad, which are base metal coins composed of nickel and copper.


While this is helpful information to know, if you’re like some of us, your eyes aren’t what they used to be. Furthermore, 90% silver coins can have a substantial amount of wear, which can make the date difficult, if not impossible to read. Lastly, if you have a large lot of coins, it can take hours to read the date of each coin.

Inspect the Edge of Your Coins

Fortunately we have a solution! The best way to determine if your coins are silver is to view the edge of the coin. If the coin has a solid silver stripe, then you can feel confident that it’s silver. If you can see a copper stripe, then the coin is clad.

A more subdued silver stripe with faint traces of copper could mean that the coin is 40% silver. The only U.S. silver coins minted for general circulation that contain 40% silver are Kennedy half dollars minted from 1965 – 1970.

Eisenhower silver dollars produced by the San Francisco Mint from 1971 – 1976 also are also 40% silver. These coins were only available by special order and were never intended to be circulated. They typically come packaged in blue or red envelopes or brown boxes.

US Coins 90% Silver Rim vs 40% Clad Rim

The above picture is a perfect example of what we’re trying to illustrate. A solid copper stripe can be seen on the coin to the right, which indicates that it’s clad. The coin to the left has a solid silver edge with no traces of copper, which means that it contains precious metal content. While inspecting the edge of coins works great for U.S. coins, it doesn’t necessarily apply to foreign coins, which may or may not have evidence of copper on the edge.

Inspect Bank Rolls for Silver Coins

While we’re on the subject of silver coins, it’s relatively easy to put our tip into practice. Some of our customers obtain dime, quarter and half dollar rolls from the bank in search of real silver coins. Considering that the silver price has increased in recent years, this is a viable way to earn some extra cash.

Once you request rolls of coins from your bank (preferably hand rolled rolls), you can use a straight blade or box cutter to lightly cut length-wise along the roll. Peel the wrapper open and look for silver items based on our recommendation above. Pull any silver coins, replace with nickel-copper coins and tape the rolls back up. While you may not make friends with your local bank teller, hopefully the silver coins you find will be worth your time.

Silver War Nickels