What is Junk Silver?

From the 1794 through 1964, America’s dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollar coins were composed largely of silver (90% to be exact). During that time period, the goal was to ensure that United States currency contained real, tangible value in the form of bullion. Silver coins were ultimately discontinued in 1965, but today these pre-1965 silver coins remain a popular numismatic and bullion product.

A common question is why silver was removed from America’s coinage. In a nutshell, the answer is a combination of rising silver prices and declining silver reserves. In the early 1960s, the price of silver rose to the point where dimes, quarters and halves were worth more “dead” as bullion than face value. To ensure that the melt values would not surpass the face values, the federal government attempted to flood the market with silver. Before long, however, federal silver reserves would run dangerously low.

The proposed solution was to convert dimes, quarters and halves to a strong but relatively worthless alloy of nickel and copper. The new metallic mix was durable and more resistant to wear, but it lacked the flash (not to mention the value) of silver. Americans very quickly plucked silver coins from circulation and the new copper/nickel coins quickly took their place.

Since the transition to copper/nickel clad coins, pre-1965 silver coins have become a popular collectible and bullion product. Numismatists enjoy buying quantities of 90% silver coins due to the variety of dates and mintmarks found in this category—a random sample of 100 pre-1965 silver coins will likely yield 20+ different date and mintmark combinations.

Bullion investors, meanwhile, gravitate towards 90% silver as an affordable way to own US government-issued silver. Not only are 90% silver coins often available at relatively low premiums, but they are conveniently denominated into small, easy-to-understand units. It’s often difficult to find sovereign-minted silver products under one ounce, but pre-1965 silver coins fill this void. For those who believe silver will be used in everyday commerce again, these pre-1965 coins could very well become everyday units of exchange.

Buying 90% silver coins also allows collectors and investors to own vintage coinage designs. Classic vintage coins like the Mercury Dime, Walking Liberty Half Dollar and Franklin Half Dollar can be bought in quantity for a small premium over melt—making them a great value as both a bullion product and collectible. Sometimes scarcer coinage designs like the Standing Liberty Quarter and Barber Dime can be bought in quantity for modest premiums too.

  • Posted on August 6, 2015
  • By TPM
  • Library

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