Sign In or Create Account

Knowledge Center

The History Of 90% Silver Coins

The History of 90 Percent Silver Coins


Adding junk silver to your collection is an excellent way to invest in silver because of its currency and bullion value. These coins are called junk silver because their precious metal content is worth more than their numismatic value. This does not mean, however, that junk silver coins are in poor condition. On the contrary, they come in all kinds of conditions, from brilliant uncirculated to circulated.

Junk silver coins were produced by the United States Mint until 1965 and are 90% silver. These coins can have nostalgic value for some who collect coins, as well as melt value, making them collectible additions to any collection or portfolio.

History of 90% U.S. Silver Coins

Prior to 1965, U.S. silver coins such as dimes, quarters and half dollars were composed of .900 fine silver. The Coinage Act of 1965 eliminated silver altogether from United States’ dimes and quarters and reduced the silver quantity in half dollars from 90% to 40%. Just a few years later, though, another law would be passed in 1970 that would eliminate the use of any silver in the half dollar.

There was a high demand for silver in coinage and its various industrial uses going into the 1960s and the U.S. Mint did its best to keep up. Because there was so much pressure on the silver price, the government capped the silver price at $1.29 per ounce in government sales. However, these silver coins were more valuable as bullion than as money, resulting in many people hoarding silver coins.

This, coupled with the high demand for the widely popular 1964 Kennedy half dollar, started severely depleting the U.S. government’s silver stores.

Coin bags of pre-1965 silver half dollars, quarters, or dimes are known as junk silver even though they are valuable because of their silver bullion content.

Cull silver coins, or coins that are in very worn or cleaned states, like old Barber half dollars, quarters and dimes, or old Morgan dollars, are common junk silver coins. They can be found in bags of junk silver.

The most common coins that are sold as junk silver are the 90% Roosevelt dimes, Washington quarters, post-1933 Walking Liberty half dollars, Franklin half dollars, Liberty Head “Barber,” and 1964 Kennedy half dollars that grade below Very Fine-20. Each of these coins and the more common 90% silver coins will be reviewed in more detail.


Morgan Dollar

The Morgan Dollar was minted from 1878 to 1904 and as a unique, uncirculated coin in 2021. This coin was the first standard silver dollar to be minted by the United States Mint after the passage of the Coinage Act of 1873 which put the U.S. on the Gold Standard. The Morgan Dollar coin was authorized shortly after the passage of the 1878 Bland-Allison Act, a law that stated that the U.S. government must purchase a certain amount of silver and turn it into circulating coinage.

This beloved coin was named after its designer, George T. Morgan. While the obverse depicts a portrait of Liberty, the reverse shows a flying eagle with its wings outstretched.

Peace Dollar

The Peace Dollar was minted from 1921 to 1928, 1934, 1935, and as a commemorative coin in 2021. The coin’s design was selected as the winner of a competition to best portray a representation of peace. This design idea was to mark the years of peace that followed World War I. Although Congress never passed a bill to require a redesign, the Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, approved the new design.

Anthony de Francisci created the new design that showed the Goddess of Liberty on the obverse, and a bald eagle grasping an olive branch with the word “Peace” underneath it.

Half Dollars

Kennedy Half Dollars

The 90% silver Kennedy Half Dollars were first minted in 1964, a mere month after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Kennedy Silver Half Dollars were hoarded after its release out of love for JFK and the coins’ collectibility. Despite the U.S. Mint’s efforts to increase supply, the demand for the 1964 half dollars was so high that the denomination was hardly seen in circulation. In 1971 all silver was removed from Kennedy Half Dollars that were produced.

Gilroy Roberts and Frank Gasparro acted quickly to create the half-dollar design and cut the dies. Roberts used a portrait of JFK from a presidential medal to base the obverse design on, while Gasparro adapted the image of the presidential seal to the reverse.

Franklin Half Dollars

The Franklin Half Dollar was minted from 1948 to 1963. It was also the first coin to feature a historical figure, rather than a president, on its obverse. The coin was designed by the artist, John R. Sinnock, but he passed away before it was completed, so his successor, Gilroy Roberts, saw his work through to the end. The obverse features a bust of Benjamin Franklin and a depiction of a double eagle in flight with outstretched wings spread on its reverse.

An interesting feature of this silver coin is that it can receive a Full Bell Lines certification from grading companies if the lines on the reverse Liberty bell are struck all the way across. This adds unique collectibility to the Franklin Half Dollar.

Walking Liberty Half Dollars

The Walking Liberty Half Dollar was minted by the U.S. Mint from 1916 to 1947. It was designed by Adolph A. Weinman and is considered to be one of the most beautiful coins ever minted in the United States. The famous Walking Liberty was based on the Baltimore sculpture Union Soldiers and Sailors Monument that Weinman himself had created.

The obverse of the coin features an elegant woman wearing a dress that is blowing in the wind, with a large sun behind her. The reverse of the coin features a bald eagle with its wings spread, clutching an olive branch in its right talon and a bundle of arrows in its left talon.


Washington Quarters

The Washington quarter was first struck in 1932 and is still issued by the U.S. Mint today. It is the only quarter that has not changed its design, and it was designed by the acclaimed sculptor, John Flanagan. He was an American sculptor who has been recognized for his work on the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 medal, the Verdun medal, and a bronze bust of his mentor, Augustus Saint Gaudens.

The coin features George Washington on the obverse and the Great Seal of the United States on the reverse. The first design was created by John Flanagan to honor the bicentennial birthday of President Washington. The quarter was issued with different reverse designs to represent each state. The United States Mint has minted quarters as legal tender with the same obverse design for 48 years, from 1932 to 1972.

Silver Standing Liberty Quarters

The Silver Standing Liberty Quarter was minted from 1916 to 1930. Designed by artist Hermon Atkins MacNeil, these silver coins succeeded the Barber quarter.

MacNeil’s obverse artwork depicted Lady Liberty with a shield in one hand and an olive branch in another facing east, towards Europe where World War I raged on. This illustration of Liberty facing and stepping towards the east represented Liberty, or the United States, stepping in to defend and stand up for peace. The reverse shows a highly detailed, realistic-looking eagle soaring from left to right.


Roosevelt Dimes

The Roosevelt dime was first struck in 1946 and is still issued today. It was the first new coin design to be released in 1940. The design is based on the profile of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, commemorating the late president who passed away in 1945, shortly after the end of World War II.

Roosevelt served as President of the United States for four terms from 1933 to 1945. He was a man of great energy and intelligence and his leadership helped the United States to recover from the Great Depression with his New Deal domestic plan.

John R. Sinnock designed reverse features a torch with an olive branch and oak branch on each of its sides, as well as the obverse of FDR’s likeness. John R. Sinnock, who also created the designs for the Mercury, Roosevelt Dime, Washington Quarter, and Jefferson Nickel. The design was later modified by George T. Morgan.

Liberty Head “Barber” Dime

Charles E. Barber was the Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint at the time and designed the Barber Dime. The Barber Dime was designed in 1892 and was produced from 1892-1916. This coin was minted in 90% silver and 10% copper. The Barber design is similar to the Seated Liberty Dimes’ design.

The obverse side of the coin features a profile of the Liberty Head and the reverse side of the coin features a wreath with a ribbon reading “ONE DIME.” The Barber Dime is now valued as a collectible and is no longer used as currency. Although Barber Dimes are easy to come by, the San Francisco struck 1894 dime with a mintage of 24 is a rare find.

Winged Liberty Head “Mercury” Dime

Usually referred to as the Mercury Dime, the Winged Liberty Head dime does not actually feature the Roman messenger god, Mercury. Sculpted by Adolph A. Weinman, the obverse depicts the goddess of Liberty in a Phrygian cap. The hat has wings on its side to symbolize the freedom of thought that is widely valued in the United States. The reverse, on the other hand, features fasces, an Italian symbol of a government’s power, that is surrounded by olive branches.

The Mercury dime was struck by the U.S. Mint from 1916 to 1945. Weinman’s dime and half dollar designs were selected from a competition held by the Mint officials.


Explore More On APMEX



Rare Coins