The History Of 90% Silver Coins

If you’re looking at acquiring US Minted Coins for your collection or portfolio, then it would be wise to familiarize yourself with 90% silver coins (otherwise known as “junk silver”). These coins were produced for generations by the United States Mint, which has caused their market value to consistently increase. The coins are not in production anymore, however, and this has caused them to become highly sought-after by collectors and investors alike.

Today, numismatists recognize the important role that 90% silver coins played (and are still playing) in the world of U.S. minted currency. What are these coins, and why should you add some to your precious metals collection?

History Of 90% U.S. Silver Coins

Before 1965, most coins minted in the United States consisted of 90% silver and 10% copper, a combination that made the coins durable yet attractive. Silver served as the ideal option because it was affordable, and the cost of producing the coins fell well below their face value.

Pennies and nickels never appeared in 90% silver (although nickels, for a few years, were produced with 35% silver). Every other U.S. coin denomination, however, at one point was made with 90% silver. This included dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollars in varying designs.

1965 stands out as a landmark year for the U.S. Mint, because that is the year that Public Law 88-36 was enshrined in the books. The law more than halved the amount of silver in coins, taking it from 90% to 40%. Silver took another hit in 1970, when most coins stopped containing any silver at all.

Why the change? The rising cost of precious metals made producing silver coins impractical. Most 90% silver coins are valuable, not because of their legal tender status and denomination, but because of their silver content. Hence, you will often hear the term “junk silver” associated with 90% silver coins. The term refers to coins with a value that lies primarily in their melt value.

Popular U.S. 90% Silver Coins

The “junk silver” label does not necessarily mean that these coins only are fit for a furnace. Some coins have great historic value and should make their way into the collections of coin enthusiasts and history buffs.

Kennedy Half Dollar

The U.S. started minting these 12.5-gram 50-cent pieces in 1964, only a couple of months after President Kennedy’s assassination. The only year that they contained 90% silver was 1964 (Note: Kennedy Half Dollars still are minted today, but without any silver). This gives them extra value for collectors. Depending on the condition of the coins and the location where they were minted, the value of these pieces can vary widely.

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Washington Quarter

Each 90% silver Washington Quarter weighs 6.25 grams, 5.625 grams of which is silver. If you put aside the historic value of the coins and look at only the value of the silver, this makes each coin worth just a few dollars. However, uncirculated Washington Quarters from the early years of production (which began in 1932) with a Denver or San Francisco mint mark can have a much higher value.

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Walking Liberty Half Dollar

Numismatists love Walking Liberty Half Dollars for their beautiful design. They weigh as much as Kennedy Half Dollars, so the silver in both coins holds the same value. Walking Liberty coins which were minted 1916-1947 are much more than “junk silver” to history enthusiasts, so ones in good condition are worth more than their weight in silver.

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Franklin Half Dollar

Franklin Half Dollars replaced Walking Liberty Half Dollars and were the bridge between them and Kennedy Half Dollars. These 90% silver coins weigh 12.5 grams each. The historical value of Franklin Half Dollars comes from the fact that they were the first circulated coins in U.S. history that featured an American who was not a president. As with any coin, the value varies depending on its condition and age.

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Mercury Dime

Around the time that the U.S. Mint was making Walking Liberty Half Dollars, it also was making Mercury Dimes (from 1916 to 1945). These compact coins weigh 2.5 grams and have approximately 0.07 ounces silver each. Although it would take a large amount of these 10-cent beauties to equate to a significant amount in terms of silver bullion value, some Mercury Dimes hold a greater value for collectors. Uncirculated dimes minted in Denver are among the most sought-after Mercury coins.

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Barber Dime

Barber Dimes, the predecessors of Mercury Dimes, are 90% silver and 10% copper; they weigh 2.5 grams each. Their numismatic value, however, far outweighs the value of their silver content. The U.S. minted these dimes from 1892 until the Mercury Dime emerged. Most Barber Dimes have sharp strike quality. The rarest Barber Dimes are those minted in 1894 in San Francisco. Only 24 were minted, 9 of which have survived to modern times. An 1894-S can go for more than a million dollars. However, as long as you don’t set your sights on an 1894-S, it isn’t too difficult to complete a Barber Dime collection.

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Barber Quarter

Barber Quarters, minted 1892-1916, do not encompass anything that resembles an 1894-S Barber Dime in terms of collectability, but they still hold some significant numismatic value. These 90% silver coins weigh 6.25 grams each, making their silver bullion value equal with that of Washington Quarters.

However, Barber Quarters’ antiquity gives them an edge when it comes to worth. Some of the oldest Barber Quarters, particularly those minted in San Francisco, can go for hundreds of dollars.

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Peace Dollar

Peace Dollars weigh 26.73 grams each; they contain 24.057 grams of silver. The value of the silver in Peace Dollars rides the market roller coaster; so, as with any other bullion product, you should check current prices before buying.

The rarity of Peace Dollars adds to their value. The U.S. minted them for a total of only 10 years, 1921-1928 and again in 1934 and 1935. Peace Dollars struck in 1921, 1928, 1934, and 1935 have special appeal to collectors.

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Morgan Dollar

Like Peace Dollars, Morgan Dollars boast a weight of 26.73 grams and share the same metal composition. The U.S. Mint produced Morgan Dollars from 1878 to 1904 and in 1921. As with any coins, some Morgan Dollars are worth more than others. Collectors look for ones minted in Carson City in 1881 and 1885 (to name a few).

Also, while 1878 Morgan Dollars are not exceedingly rare, they do offer a point of interest. Some have a reverse that features an eagle with eight tail feathers, while the reverse of other coins has an eagle with only seven tail feathers (which is how many the birds actually have).

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Expand Your Portfolio With 90% Silver Coins

Junk silver” is not junk. Some 90% silver coins that fall under that umbrella have a value that goes far beyond the worth of their silver content. As you expand your precious metals collection, you will become ever more familiar with these coins and how they enrich your investment portfolio.

US 90% Silver coins can be purchased in either bags or rolls based on their face value. Most commonly, an investor can purchase junk silver bags and rolls in $1, $10, $100, $500 and $1,000 face value. These bags and rolls can be purchased in specific denominations or in generic bags of mixed coins. Some investors like to purchase a specific variety of coins, like a $10 face value bag of Washington Quarters or Franklin Half Dollars for example. Generally speaking, if you are buying a generic bag, it will cost less than buying a specific variety of coins. If you’re interested in acquiring some of these coins for your own collection or portfolio, check out our wide selection of 90% silver coins at JM Bullion.

All Market Updates are provided as a third party analysis and do not necessarily reflect the explicit views of JM Bullion Inc. and should not be construed as financial advice.