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How to Identify Silver Dollars

Thomas Jefferson was one who was in favor of a silver dollar coin.
morgan silver dollar image by John Sfondilias from Fotolia.com

Beyond the standard collector’s historic view of silver and gold coinage, more and more people have begun to take an interest in hard currency as the U.S. paper dollar continues to suffer from inflation. Also, since silver is currently easier and more affordable to acquire than gold, the silver dollar is a good coin to invest in. But how can you tell the real silver dollars from the fake ones? While there are numerous ways to do so, the following will give you a good “silver standard” on which to base your investigations.

Look at the date. Any U.S. silver dollars (or even half dollars and dimes) minted before 1964 are silver. From 1964 onward, they are often made of copper-nickel clad. Even the coins containing silver after 1964 are only 40% silver.

Stick a magnet to the coin. Some coins can look like silver, copper, or gold, but actually be steel. If the magnet lifts it up, then it’s steel.

Measure the coin’s diameter and compare its size with similar authentic coins. If the size varies, then it’s either a rare variant or (most likely) a forgery. The diameter of Eisenhower dollars are 38.1 mm, and the rarer Morgan dollars are 31.1 mm.

Weigh the coin. Real silver coins are always heavier than their copper-nickel clad variants. For example, the silver-clad Eisenhower dollar weighs 24.59 grams, while the CuNi-clad Eisenhower weighs 22.68 grams. Any Morgan dollar that doesn't weigh 31.1 mm is not a true, silver, Morgan dollar.

Look closely at the coin’s details, and have a magnifying glass handy. Most counterfeits will differ in small details, and legal copies that aren’t real silver coin but legally “counterfeited” will have COPY or the letter “R” somewhere on the coin to differentiate them from the real coins.

Things You'll Need:

  • Magnet
  • Measuring tape
  • Weight scale
  • Magnifying glass


Another useful method to determine the difference between a silver coin and copper-nickel clad is to place a Kleenex tissue on the coin. If the coin shines through the tissue, then it’s silver.

Because silver coins are heavier, the copper-nickel clad will sound “hollow” compared to the silver coin when dropped onto a hard surface.

If you have no means of measuring the coins, stack one on top of the other to see if they have the same diameter.

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