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How to Convert Your Loose Change into a Silver Treasure Chest

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It’s time to reach for the piggy bank, cookie jar, shoe box or any other place where you might have an assemblage of old coins stored. Empty the contents onto a well-lighted table covered with a soft cloth, and look for U.S. coins dated 1964 and before. Any pre-1965 U.S. dime, quarter, half dollar or dollar coin you pluck from the pile will contain 90% silver, with 10% copper added to harden the metal. Any combination of these pre-1965 coins that has an equivalent face value (legal tender value that is indicated on the coin) of one dollar will be worth at least 70% of the silver troy ounce price. (“Troy ounce” is the unit of measure for precious metals. One troy ounce is 31.1 grams; a regular ounce is 28.35 grams.)

The silver price fluctuates, sometimes considerably. With silver valued at $17.29 per troy ounce on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, four quarters or ten dimes or two half dollars, for example, would be worth $12.10 or more, with silver dollars commanding a bit more value apiece.

Using that $17.29 per troy ounce value, a silver dime would be worth $1.21; a silver quarter would have a value of $3.02; and a silver half dollar would command $6.04. A silver dollar is also made from 90% silver, but contains about 10% more silver for its face value than the other coins, so it would be valued at $13.37.

And it gets better. Although each and every dime, quarter, half dollar and dollar coin dated before 1965 is valuable for its silver content, nickel five-cent coins dated 1943 through 1945 contain 35% silver, as do some “nickels” dated 1942—those that display a large letter “P” (for the Philadelphia Mint) or “S” (for the San Francisco Mint) above Monticello, the building pictured on the coin’s reverse. Those silver nickels, produced during World War II, are worth about 80 cents each, with silver valued at $17.29 per troy ounce. Kennedy half dollars dated from 1965 through 1970 contain 40% silver. These have a value of $2.25 each when silver is at $17.29 per troy ounce.

The coins I refer to here are common-date silver coins that are in average circulated condition. In the coin trade, the term for these coins is “junk numismatic silver.” Numismatic refers to the study of coins, paper money and medallic art. Coins that have no wear and are Mint State often bring higher prices, as do coins that have scarce or rare dates. Listings of scarce or rare date coins can be found in my book, The Insider’s Guide to U.S. Coin Values or online from the Professional Coin Grading Service.

If silver is in great demand, U.S. coins that fall into the category of junk numismatic silver might trade at a premium of 10% or more. However, when demand for silver is lagging, sometimes Mint State coins bring junk (or “melt value”) prices.

Junk numismatic silver coins fluidly trade in $1,000 face-value bags that contain about 715 ounces, taking the wear of the coins and the silver worn away into consideration. These coins, when originally minted, contained 723 ounces of silver. Investors like to buy these silver coin bags by their denomination. Some investors are holding bags of silver coins as an insurance policy against economic calamity, as these silver coins can be used for barter purposes in the event of an economic collapse. A bag of silver dimes, quarters or halves would be worth about $12,000, with silver at that $17.29 per troy ounce level.

Back in 1965, the U.S. Treasury was granted Congressional approval to change the composition of the dimes and quarters that it was manufacturing to contain copper and nickel and not be made from any silver, as silver was rising in value. Treasury lowered, but did not eliminate, the amount of silver contained in the half dollar. Beginning in 1971, that coin saw production for circulation without silver.

After Treasury removed all silver from the dimes and quarters it was producing in 1965, there was a mad rush by the American public to remove these silver coins from circulation. Many of those silver coins were ultimately melted for their precious metal value by refineries. But a large number remain scattered around the nation in attics, dresser drawers, home safes and even in secret hiding places within walls.

Since 1970, no U.S. coins manufactured for people to spend have contained precious metals. The Eisenhower and Susan B. Anthony dollar coins made for circulation contain no silver and are made from copper and nickel. However, the U.S. Mint has become the world’s largest coin dealer by selling special issue coins made from gold, silver and platinum at premium prices to collectors.

As long as we are on the topic of searching your coin stash for silver coins, it might be helpful to know which Canadian coins have silver content. Canadian dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollar coins dated 1967 and earlier are usually made from 80% or more silver. In 1967 and 1968 (a transition year), some of the dimes and quarters manufactured by Canada for people to spend were made from 50% silver. Canadian silver coins with their approximate 80% silver content are valued at $9 per one dollar face value, with silver at $17.29 per ounce.

Whether your silver coins are American or Canadian, you can visit a reputable coin and precious metals dealer or check for the next American Numismatic Association convention, where you can go to the proverbial cash window and celebrate.

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