90% Silver coin bags have become a popular way to invest in precious metals. These 90% Silver bags contain pre-1965 U.S. silver coins whose composition is 90% silver. As the price of Silver began to increase in the 1960s, the United States government passed a law that eliminated Silver as the underlying exchange for $1 and $2 bills. By 1965, the government had ceased minting 90% Silver dimes, quarters, and half-dollars. As a result of the change in Silver content, the 90% Silver coins quickly faded from regular circulation.
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All major U.S. coins before 1965, excluding the nickel and penny, contained 90% silver content. The term “90% silver” is a short way for investors, collectors, and buyers to refer to pre-1965 dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollar coins, as a group. The term also serves to differentiate these coins from post 1964 coinage. Typically these coins are not considered for their numismatic value, and they are often traded for their silver bullion content in $100, $500, and $1000 face value rolls or bags.
Many people have all kinds of questions about 90% junk silver coins. We at U.S. Coins and Jewelry would love to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about these silver coins here.
What are junk silver coins?
Junk silver coins have two main characteristics. 1.) They are common-date silver coins. 2.) They are encountered in grades usually just below a threshold considered collectible for its type.
Silver Washington Quarter
Among the most widely sold junk silver coins are the 90% silver Roosevelt dimes, Washington quarters, later-date (post-1933) Walking Liberty half dollars, Franklin half dollars, and 1964 Kennedy half dollars that grade below Very Fine-20 to Extremely Fine-40. This isn’t necessarily a rule, but it’s a fair representation of a typical junk silver coin.
Technically, any silver coin worth only its bullion value could be considered junk silver. However, even common-date Barber coinage and Standing Liberty quarters are numismatically collectible in the grade of About Good-3 or even cull state. Thus these earlier pieces are generally not included in generic junk silver offerings.
BOTTOM LINE: Any silver coin worth only its bullion value could be considered "junk silver," but the phrase usually refers to common 90% silver U.S. coins.
There may not be a "best" junk silver coin to buy. Yet you will often pay a slightly lower numismatic premium, gram for gram, when you buy coins in bulk.
Some of the silver coins with the highest numismatic premiums per coin (ergo, most expensive) are the 35% silver war nickels of 1942 through 1945 and 40% silver Kennedy half dollars struck from 1965 through 1970.
Surely, these are worthwhile coins to buy! But you might find you get a little more silver for your money when buying 90% junk silver coins. These include pre-1965 dimes, quarters, and half dollars.
BOTTOM LINE: In general, 90% junk silver coins are more cost-effective than coins with lower purities.
A bunch! In fact, all dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollar coins minted for circulation before 1965 are made from a 90% silver composition. The exception is if those denominations struck before the 1840s, when they were minted from an 89.24% silver composition.
Here is a list of all United States 90% silver coins minted for circulation during the 20th century:
Again, this list above includes only coins struck for circulation. There are many collector-only strikes that have been made since the 1980s and 1990s that are 90% silver (or purer) in composition but were never formally released into or intended for regular circulation.
BOTTOM LINE: All U.S. coins with a face value above 10¢ that were made before 1965 are 90% silver.
A $1,000 bag of silver means there are enough silver coins in that bag to equate to $1,000 face value. This may represent any combination of coins to arrive at that figure.
If all coins in a $1,000 face value bag of silver consist of just one denomination, the number of coins is as follows:
Some coin dealers will offer bags of silver composed of only one denomination. Others will offer so-called mixed bags, using a variety of coins to equate $1,000 in face value.
Bag of 90% silver coins
A typical $1,000 bag of silver contains approximately 723 troy ounces of silver. However, this assumes the coins in that bag are in average-circulated condition. In other words, they're not overly worn. A bag full of 2,000 slick (worn nearly flat) half dollars will surely contain less than 723 ounces of silver. That's due to the metal loss through wear over time.
This reason in itself explains why it's absolutely critical to buy silver from a reputable coin shop or bullion dealer. These sellers can be trusted to provide a fair deal and quality coins, even in a sight-unseen transaction such as one involving a sealed bag of silver.
BOTTOM LINE: A bag of $1,000 face value junk silver coins will contain slightly less than 723 troy ounces of fine silver.
If you’re looking to invest in precious metals but don’t have a lot of money to buy gold coins, platinum coins, or other types of more expensive bullion items, then junk silver coins may be worth buying. There are many advantages to buying junk silver coins. In addition to their relatively low nominal cost, an old junk silver coin is just that—money. It can be spent like any other coin.
Some people prefer to buy junk silver if they are ever in a dire situation in which they would need to barter silver coins for survival items like food, water, blankets, lodging, or other necessities. There is also the remote—but nonetheless possible—chance that the price of silver could drop below the face value of the coin. In that case, the coin still has guaranteed legal-tender monetary value.
Another benefit to buying junk silver coins is that they enjoy a crossover market with coin collectors. Many collectors seek such silver coins—even common-date, low-grade pieces—to fill holes in albums, folders, and displays.
There is also the possibility that a keen-eyed collector (or silver stacker) may spot a valuable error or variety on one of these junk silver coins. It would be a worthy find that might make the coin redeemable for far more than its intrinsic bullion value!
BOTTOM LINE: There are a variety of compelling reasons to buy junk silver coins.
It’s a question of whether you would rather buy silver at the lowest possible premium or pay a little more but also enjoy better liquidity. Gram for gram, silver bars as well as silver rounds are usually cheaper than legal-tender silver coins.
This is so for a variety of reasons, including low production costs and processing fees. There is also a much smaller pool of collectors and potential buyers. If you’re looking for the absolute cheapest method to buy silver, silver bars and rounds are often the way to go.
But silver coins, for their slightly higher price, offer many things a silver bar can’t. For one, coins are legal-tender money, while bullion bars aren’t. You really can’t pay for a meal at a restaurant with a silver bar. You can’t trade silver bars at your bank to deposit funds into your savings account. But with silver coins? You can do all those things and a whole lot more because they’re real, hard money. You may not wish to spend your silver coins at face value. But if you have to, you can.
Silver coins are also much more widely recognizable to buyers than silver bars. Some folks may not trust buying a silver bar—especially one from an off-brand. This can make a silver bar harder to sell at fair market value, especially if you’re trying to sell to someone outside the bullion industry.
But a 1939 Mercury dime, 1946 silver Washington quarter, 1947 Walking Liberty half dollar, 1958 Franklin half dollar, or 1964 Kennedy half dollar? You can bet your bottom dollar that virtually everybody will recognize those coins and understand their inherent value.