Silver Hunting: Coin or “Junk” Silver

By , November 14, 2015

Previously in this series on silver hunting, I wrote about collecting silver against the possibility of a future “soft collapse” in the economy (see Silver Hunting for a Less-Than-Ideal Future).

After jewelry and keepsakes, mentioned in the last post, coins with silver content can still be found circulating in our country.

Prior to 1965, U.S. quarters and dimes were struck from silver amalgam. As with jewelry and keepsakes, metalurgists added stronger metals to pure silver to make the coins wear better. In 1965 our mints began coining these denominations in “sandwich” form, mixing copper and other less precious metals to form coins that, rather than carrying the value of silver, represented monetary value symbolically.

Should our normal economic systems break down, as long as people continue to value precious metals, silver coins would likely displace more modern coins and paper currency as mediums of exchange.

The advantage of silver coins, often called “junk silver,” is that value listings often include this type of silver. They refer to “face value,” which makes it easy to calculate value. If silver trades at $14.00 to the dollar, your dime, quarter, or half dollar represents an obvious fraction thereof. Not very many people would bother to fuss around with scales to figure out the value by weight. Each coin represents its face value percentage of the going rate.

Sharp eyed people who are interested may still find silver coins in their pocket change. This grows increasingly difficult as the older coins wear out, and as like-minded people cull silver from circulating currency. A lot of people routinely buy rolls of coins from the bank, sort out the silver, and return the rest.

Even so, they’re out there.

Silver Content of U.S. Coins:

Dollars, half dollars, quarters, and dimes minted 1964 or earlier: 90%
Kennedy half dollars 1965–1970: 40%
Eisenhower dollars with “S” (San Francisco) mint mark 1971–1976: 40%
Nickels 1942–1945: 35%

Living so close to Canada (we’re bordered by Canada on the east, west, and north!) Canadian coins are considered legal tender here. We can’t use them at the laundromat or in vending machines, of course, but otherwise, they’re literally taken at face value in Haines. That gives us an extra source of junk silver to consider. Likely, wherever you are, you occasionally see Canadian coins by accident, so you might find this information useful as well.

Silver Content of Canadian Coins:

Quarters and dimes minted 1967 or earlier: 80%
Some 1968 dimes: 50%. Others in this transition year were all nickel. Check with a magnet to decide which you have.

Finally, simply because I got interested in the “silver sixpence” of history, song, and story, here’s the silver content of the British sixpence:

Prior to 1920: 92.5% (sterling silver)
1920–1946: 50%
1947–recent: No silver content at all

Most other countries abandoned silver content in coinage earlier than Britain and the U.S. so their older coins may have more value as collectibles than as silver. Coin collecting definitely muddies the waters for the amateur silver hunter!

I already have a small coin collection, nothing fancy, just odds and ends that have attracted my attention. It makes sense to add any silver change I might come across to that stash. If life continues as it always has, it’s an interesting addition to the collection. If a survivable disaster overtakes us, they might become far more important. It’s a small step; nothing major. But really, what have we got to lose?

2 Responses to “Silver Hunting: Coin or “Junk” Silver”

  1. Here is a good site to get up to date coin values:

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    I like this site, Al, especially because it shows the metal value of all current U.S. coins, not just silver. I don’t use that information, generally, but I do find it interesting. Thanks for your comment!

    Folks, remember, too, that it’s illegal to melt down circulating coins for metal. FYI.

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