Letter Re: Silver Content of U.S. Silver Dollars Versus Smaller Denomination Coins

Dear Editor:
Perusing your wonderfully informative blog and static pages I stumbled across a bit of inaccurate information I thought you may be interested in correcting:

Silver dollar bags ($1,000 face value) contain approximately 765 ounces of silver

90% .50/.25/.10 bags ($1000 face) are calculated at 715 ounces of silver.

The “industry standard” is 715 ounces.

Respectfully, – Shawn

JWR Replies: To the best of my knowledge, what I posted was accurate.

Because of a long-standing congressional mandate, the silver composition of Silver Dollars has always been higher (per dollar increment) than that used in dimes, quarters and half-dollars.  Oddly, this dates back to a pre-Colonial precedent set by the Spanish Milled Dollar which was widely used in both international trade and local trade by our forefathers in Colonial America. (They were used alongside the British Pound, long before we created our own currency.)

There is indeed less silver in four quarters than in one Silver Dollar.

See Coinflation.com or The Official Red Book, for details.

The “industry standard” that you cite is for dimes, quarters and halves, NOT for Silver Dollars.  If they are paying you based on a silver content of 715 ounces for $1,000 in pre-1936 silver dollars then they are robbing you.  (Not even to mention the numismatic value of the coins, which is always greater for silver dollars.)

There IS a difference in composition between U.S. silver dollars and the smaller U.S. denominations:

A silver dime presently has $2.3307 in silver content.   (Hence, 10 of those would be worth $23.307)

Meanwhile, a Peace or Morgan Dollar has $24.9205 in silver content.

The Red Book will show you the same thing, as expressed in weights, namely:

Silver Dollars:

Metal Composition:    90% silver, 10% copper
Total Weight:    26.73 grams


Metal Composition:    90% silver, 10% copper
Total Weight:    2.5 grams

Thus, 10 pre-1965 silver dimes (or four quarters) contain 6.48% less silver than that found in one pre-1936 silver dollar. That small difference in silver content adds up a lot in a $1,000 face value bag! ($1,613 difference in value, in today’s market.)

And BTW, many coin dealers allow even less that 715 ounces per $1,000 for the silver content of “junk” (numismatic) dimes, quarters, and halves, to allow for the wear on coins that have been circulated. The circulation wear on silver dimes is particularly pronounced. (To illustrate: A $5 stack of typically well-worn Mercury dimes from the 1930s and 1940s is considerably shorter than a $5 stack of mint state 1964 dimes.)

An Important Proviso: As I’ve written many times before: I’m advocate buying precious metals only after you have your family’s food storage and other key preparations fully squared away. Physical gold and silver in you personally possession are wonderful investments because they aren’t someone else’s liability. They are compact, recognizable, non-perishable, and divisible. I prefer silver over gold because gold has become too compact a form of wealth. Along with common-caliber ammunition, pre-1965 mint date circulated U.S. 90% silver coins will be great for use in barter, even if most other commerce has come to a halt.

And, to clear up a common misconception: Unlike dimes, quarters and halves: There is NO DISTINCTION WHATSOEVER to pre-1965 Nickels. The dates with a different composition are those minted from 1942 to 1945. These “War Nickels” are 35% silver, 56% copper, 9% manganese. As of this writing, they are worth around $1.75 each! All other U.S. nickels minted from 1866 to present are 75% copper and 25% nickel. (And BTW, Canadian nickel issues are more confusing, with a wide variety of compositions over the years, including those minted from 1955 to 1981 that are 99.9% nickel. But the later mintings from 2000 to present are 94.5% steel.)