Silver coins were once commonplace in American currency. Many of the most well-known and recognizable pieces of United States coinage were what experts refer to as 40% silver coins.
Following supply shortages in the early 1960s and an increase in the price of silver, the United States gradually stopped using fine silver in circulating coins, eventually eliminating its use in 1971.
However, a transition period existed from 1965 to 1970 where U.S. coins used an alloy with a reduced silver quantity known as 40% silver. Today, coins made of this alloy are highly desirable collectibles and an excellent choice for investment.
What Are 40% Silver Coins?
From the day the U.S. Mint began making silver coins in 1794 to 1964, most dimes, quarters, and half dollar coins minted in the United States were manufactured using an alloy of 90% silver (900 purity) and 10% copper. This material was referred to as “junk silver,” as the coins were not considered to have any numismatic value and were only worth their weight in silver.
However, the United States began experiencing a shortage of coins in 1959. Many people hoarded them for their silver, which reached $9.48 per troy ounce in July 1959. In response, the government passed the U.S. Coinage Act of 1965, which eliminated all silver from dimes and quarters and reduced the quantity of silver in half dollar coins.
Starting in 1965 and until 1970, the U.S. Mint began issuing half dollars with reduced silver content. Pre-1965 half-dollars, such as the Franklin Half Dollar, were made using 900 silver and contained about 0.36 troy ounces of pure silver.
The pure silver content of 1965-1969 half-dollars was reduced to about 40% of the coin’s total weight (equivalent to 400 purity), with the remainder of the alloy being copper.
Types of 40% Silver Coins
Two of the most iconic coins in U.S. history were once made of 40% silver: The Kennedy Half Dollar and the Eisenhower Dollar.
Kennedy Half Dollar
The Kennedy Half Dollar coin was authorized by Congress just one month after the death of John F. Kennedy and was first minted in 1964. It is one of the most iconic U.S. coins, easily recognizable by its left-hand profile of the 35th President on the obverse.
Although the original 1964 version used 900 fine silver, all Kennedy Half Dollars produced from 1965 to 1970 used 40% silver. This composition remained until the U.S. government eliminated silver from the coin in 1971.
Despite the change in composition, the 1965-1970 Kennedy Half Dollar coin retained a silvery appearance due to using different materials on the outside and in the core.
The exact composition of a 1965-1970 Kennedy Half Dollar consists of an outer layer of 80% silver and 20% copper clad around a core of 79% copper and 21% silver.
Issued by the U.S. Mint between 1971 to 1978, the Eisenhower Dollar was the first $1 coin in circulation since the 1934-1935 Peace dollar.
Authorized on December 31, 1970, and first minted in 1971, the Eisenhower dollar features the left-hand profile of the 34th president and former General of the Army on the obverse. The reverse features an eagle clutching an olive branch, referencing the insignia of the Apollo 11 mission, which took place in 1969, just a few months after Eisenhower’s death.
Per the rules outlined in the 1970 Coinage Law, which eliminated silver from the half-dollar, the coin’s composition depended on whether it was destined for circulation or as a collectible. The circulation version contained no silver and was manufactured from an alloy containing 91.67% copper and 8.33% nickel.
The collectible version is known as a “silver-clad” and features an outer layer manufactured from 800 silver and a core made of 20.9% silver and 79.1% copper, for an aggregate total of 60% copper and 40% silver. Silver-clad mint years include 1971 through 1974 and 1976. These coins were produced in Philadelphia (P), San Francisco (S), and Denver (D).
The 1976-dated coins are notable for two reasons: They have a specially designed Liberty Bell over the moon on the reverse and feature a 1776-1976 double date, chosen in honor of the bicentennial of American independence.
How Valuable are 40% Silver Coins?
U.S. coins made of 40% silver or “junk” silver contain relatively low quantities of pure silver. While higher than their face value, the melt value of these coins is relatively low.
For instance, a 40% silver 1966 Kennedy Half Dollar contains about 0.1479 troy ounces of pure silver. As of March 1st, 2023, the spot value of silver was approximately $20.996 per troy ounce. If a collector were to sell this coin for its melt value that day, they would earn about $3.10.
However, if they were to sell it as a collectible coin, a good-condition coin is typically worth $6.96, and mint-condition uncirculated examples can reach up to $87. This difference indicates they are worth more as collectibles.
Why You Should Buy 40% Silver Coins
Investing in 40% silver coins is relatively simple. Junk silver coins minted by the U.S. government are easy to recognize and don’t require an appraisal to determine the pure silver content.
The value of junk silver coins typically tracks closely with the spot price of silver, making it an excellent investment option. While less valuable than silver bullion coins, junk silver coins are accessible and have the following benefits for investors:
- Easy to store
- Easy to transport discreetly
- Easy to liquidate quickly
- Low buyer’s premiums
- Accepted by virtually any silver buyer
- Good hedge against inflation
To invest in 40% silver coins, visit AU Precious Metals. We are a reliable local precious metals and coin dealer in Michigan. Our two storefronts have a wide selection of silver coins that you can purchase to add to your collection.
Speak with one of our knowledgeable staff about specific 40% coins for your portfolio. You can also discuss numismatic coin options or purchase silver bars to diversify your portfolio and grow your wealth.
Get the Best Value for Your Silver Coins with AU Precious Metals
When selling your silver coins for cash, select a professional precious metal buyer with the experience to assess your collection’s worth accurately.
Whether your collection includes silver bullion or junk silver, AU Precious Metals will offer you the best value for your coins. Our friendly staff will assist you throughout the process and help you determine the pure silver content in your coins using non-invasive XRF technology.
Contact us today for a quote on your 40% silver coins, or visit one of our locations in Rochester or Novi, MI, to learn more about our precious metal buying, selling, and assaying services.