What Are Junk Silver Coins?

By Michael Black
Junk silver coins
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Collecting U.S. silver coins is a great investment as well as a window into America's past. In many cases, a silver coin is worth significantly more than its silver content. This is because of the relative rarity of the coin, or because of its physical condition. However, some silver coins are worth nothing more than their silver content, and are known (perhaps unfairly) as "junk silver."

Junk Silver Coins

Pile of old and new silver coins
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Junk silver coins are coins that derive the vast majority of their value from their silver content as opposed to their numismatic value. The main reasons for a coin to have little to no collector's premium are very poor physical coin quality and overabundance of a specific coin date. Despite the fact that these coins are not great collector's pieces, they are still a quality investment as they are, at the very least, worth several times their face value.


Row of old U.S. silver dollars
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Most silver coins in either the basal or poor state are junk silver coins. Basal coins are in such poor condition that they are difficult to even place as a certain type of coin, while the dates on coins in poor condition are unreadable. Very old, but identifiable, silver coins missing their date may still hold a numismatic premium. In general, the older this type of coin is, the more it will be worth on top of its silver content.

Coin Compositions

Pile, old U.S. silver dimes, quarters
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When a coin is worth little more than its silver content, it is important to know exactly how much silver it contains. Most United States silver coins are about 90 percent silver and about 10 percent copper. Notable exceptions to this rule are Kennedy half dollars minted from 1965 to 1970, which contain 40 percent silver, Eisenhower dollars minted at the San Francisco mint (S mint mark) from 1971 to 1976, which also contain 40 percent silver, and silver nickels minted from 1942 to 1945, which are 35 percent silver. With the exception of the Kennedy half dollars and Eisenhower dollars, no circulating coins minted after 1964 contain any silver.

Buying Junk Silver

Collection, antique U.S. silver coins
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If you decide to invest in junk silver coins, learn where to purchase them. Some coin stores sell bags of junk silver coins, and sometimes you can find them at auctions. Some sellers also sell junk silver coins over the Internet or through mail-order catalogs. Be careful, as junk silver coins in poor condition can be easy to counterfeit; make sure to buy from a trusted source.