In the early 1960’s, the silver supply for the nation’s coinage was dwindling rapidly. As Congress and the Administration debated over silver’s future role in coinage, the silver market jumped 10% immediately, and another 30% by 1962. This set the stage for the complete elimination of silver from our coinage by the end of 1964.
Any United States dime, quarter, half dollar or dollar that is dated 1964 or earlier is made of 90% silver. In the dime series, all coins dated 1965 or later are clad coins and contain no silver at all. Quarters dated 1965 or later are all copper-nickel clad coins except for the dual-dated Bicentennial Quarters that were sold by the Mint in special Mint Sets and Proof Sets. These quarters contain 40% fine silver and have an “S” mint mark. They are different from the Bicentennial quarters you can find in circulation and were sold by the Mint at a premium to collectors.
In the Kennedy Half Dollar series, the 1964 of course is 90% silver. Halves dated 1965 through 1970 contain 40% silver. Halves dated 1971 or later are copper-nickel clad coins with the exception again of the special Bicentennial halves sold in the Mint Sets and Proof Sets with the “S” mint mark, which are 40% silver. Among Eisenhower dollars, coins dated from 1971 through 1974 with the S mintmark are 40% silver. In addition, the special Bicentennial Sets contained 40% silver coins. All other Eisenhower dollars are copper-nickel clad coins.
The value of these coins is tied directly to the price of silver. At $25 per ounce, 90% silver coins are worth about seventeen times their face value. A dime would be worth about $1.70, a quarter about $4.25, and a half dollar, about $8.50. At the same silver price of $25, 40% silver half dollars are worth approximately $2.75 each.
In fast moving markets, the prices for 90% and 40% silver coins can vary widely from the actual melt value of silver contained in the coins. Occasionally, even the retail price will be less than the melt value. In 1980, as silver approached $50 per ounce for the first time, and the public rushed to sell, $1000 face value bags of silver coins had a melt value well over $35,000, but were selling between dealers at about $30-32,000 a bag – reportedly due to a backlog at smelters. Conversely, as the Y2K scare heated up in 1998-99, the premiums on bags reached nearly 50%, even though silver’s price remained essentially flat throughout 1999. In 2011, as silver had its second run at the $50 per ounce mark, the premium on silver coin bags quickly rose, only falling to historical norms as silver’s price retreated. More recently, the huge drop of the silver price in the Comex futures market in April 2013, which was met with ever increasing demand for physical silver, resulted in the premiums rising once again.
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