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Collecting Treasures in Your Set: Silver Coins
By Arlyn G. Sieber
February 15, 2013

Excerpted from Instant Coin Collector by Arlyn G. Sieber, available from


The story behind the coins

Until 1961, the U.S. government controlled the price of silver in the country, setting it at 92.5 cents an ounce. But after 1961, silver bullion was allowed to trade on the free market and government controls on its price were lifted. Silver soon shot up to $1.29 an ounce.

By 1964, it cost the government more than 25 cents to produce a quarter because of the increase in silver prices. The high cost of silver coupled with increasing demand for coinage, in part from the growing popularity of vending machines, led to a coin shortage in the country.

In response, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Coinage Act of 1965, which eliminated silver from the dime and quarter, and replaced it with a clad composition consisting largely of copper. The half dollar was reduced to 40 percent silver.

The act also suspended the production of proof and mint sets for sale to collectors so the U.S. Mint could concentrate on circulating-coin production. It also eliminated mintmarks on coins in another effort to streamline production.

Any silver coins still produced in 1965 were to be dated 1964; the new clad coins were to be dated 1965 until the shortage was resolved, even if that was into 1966 or beyond.

The clad coins continue to be struck today, and are fixtures of U.S. circulating coinage. As the clad coins entered circulation, the public hoarded the old silver coins, which were worth more than face value because of their precious metal content and the rising price of silver.


What to watch for

The silver dimes, quarters, and half dollars are easy to distinguish: Any example dated 1964 or earlier has a composition consisting of 90 percent silver. In addition, it’s always a good idea to check found coins for key dates—those with lower mintages that command a numismatic premium over their bullion value. To determine key dates, consult a current value guide, such as Coin Prices magazine, available on many newsstands.


How much?

Many websites report current silver prices, including the financial sections of daily newspapers, which you can use to calculate the silver value of your coins. Additionally, guides such as U.S. Coin Digest offer pricing and information on key dates.


What to do if you find one

No special precautions need to be taken with silver coins found in circulation if they display the typical amount of wear one can expect to find on them. For a coin in better condition or a key date, follow the rules for safe handling of coins and place it in a 2-by-2-inch holder or another storage system in which both sides of the coin are protected.

If you want to sell the coin, it’s unlikely a dealer will want to mess around with purchasing just one silver dime or quarter unless it is a key date. The dealer may, however, be interested in purchasing a larger quantity of silver coins for their bullion value.

Consider keeping any silver coins found and using them as a start to a complete collection of Roosevelt dimes, Washington quarters, or Kennedy half dollars.

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On February 18, 2013 james j cullen said
I began collecting only about 8 yrs ago and am in my 60's. The last 4 yrs I have found a decent amount of silver coinage ,mostly qtrs .jfk 40%, and wartime nickels,and other 40-50's cents ,nickels,dimes....I reason this was due to the recession...lately the lasting effects is are the large amt. of BU state qtrs from the early yrs I find in my change. I used to teach HS and in my last 4 yrs tried to teach the kids about "making $ from your change" and other interesting things regarding coins. As a genl rule of thumb youll get abut 70% of the silver melt for 1 oz of silver and the back of the redbook has a chart for the melt values of these coins,

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