Silver and Silver Coins

Over the holiday weekend, people talked of the possibility of silver reaching $50 per ounce on Monday. They were almost right. In the wee morning hours, Eastern Time, the Asian market peaked close to $50 per ounce. But, it was only momentary.

Today, Tuesday, the silver market has fallen to below $45 per ounce, but it stayed near the $45 mark for the afternoon and closed at $45.60. Some claim this drop in price is due to the silver contracts. As soon as they are finalized, today, they expect the price to go back up.

Stating the obvious, markets are volatile – they go up and they go down, but they don’t continue in one direction or the other indefinitely. Several market pressures including supply and demand along with economics and politics play a role in the price points.

Recently, as silver prices climbed, more and more 90% silver and 40% silver coins became more valuable as silver rather than as a collectible coin.

As a refresher, let’s look at the amount of silver in US minted coins that contained silver. These values reflect the amount of silver in the coins in troy ounces. (Note: Because the US Mint kept the silver content consistent among the coins, coin dealers provide the rate they will pay for silver in coinage based on face value for either 90% or 40%, but not mixed.)

  90% silver 40% silver
dime 0.07234 n/a
quarter 0.18084 0.07390
half dollar 0.36169 0.14792
dollar 0.77344 0.31610


Looking at those denominations, quarters and dimes produced by the US Mint through 1964 contained 90% silver.

For half dollars, the first year of the Kennedy half dollar, all of the Franklin half dollars and all of the other half dollars minted earlier than 1964 contained 90% silver. Plus, in 1982, the US Mint produced a 90% silver commemorative half dollar recognizing the 250th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. Generally, the commemorative half dollars are cupro-nickel, but a limited few have been silver, for example, the 1993 Bill of Rights 90% silver commemorative half dollar.

For 1965 through 1970, the Kennedy half dollar coins contained 40% silver. Though, in 1970, the Kennedy half dollars were only minted for collectible sets, either uncirculated mint sets or proof sets.

The 90% silver dollar coins are those minted in 1935 and earlier plus any of the commemorative silver dollars from 1983 and up. Examples include the Olympic, the Statue of Liberty, the Bill of Rights and the US Constitution commemorative dollars, to name just a few.

In 1971, the Eisenhower dollar was introduced. For 1971 through 1974, 40% silver coins were minted for collectible one-coin sets, either uncirculated mint sets (“blue” Ikes for their blue envelope) or proof sets (“brown” Ikes for their outer brown, wood grain designed sleeve). Circulating Eisenhower dollars, however, were cupro-nickel for those years.

To celebrate the nation’s 200th anniversary in 1976, the Mint produced 40% silver, three-coin sets with the bicentennial versions of the quarter, half dollar and dollar coins. The proof version came in a blue, folding wallet-style holder, and the uncirculated version came in a red envelope.

In 1992, the US Mint re-introduced 90% silver coins in their silver proof sets which have continued each year since. Those coins should not be in circulation, but some of the sets now break for more value as silver rather than their market value as a collectible set.

Once silver stabilizes, the numismatic market values will readjust. Until then, several of the 90% and 40% silver coins retain more value as silver rather than their numismatic market value.